Meet our new Family Support Manager – Jessica Birnbaum

Image of Jessica smiling at the camera

We are excited to announce that Jessica Birnbaum has been appointed as our new Family Support Manager at Very Special Kids. Jessica has been with Very Special Kids for a decade, mostly as a Practitioner and more recently as the Deputy Manager of the department. She has significant experience in counselling support and has been a key support during COVID-19, helping to ensure families, staff and other stakeholders were continually considered and supported. 

We had a sit down with Jessica to learn more about her new role, her background and her advice to families considering Very Special Kids services.   

Can you share an overview of your new position at Very Special Kids and how you support the family support team? 

The Family Support Team Manager oversees the daily operations of the Family Support Team. This includes the development and delivery of therapeutic programs, regular engagement with families to ensure their needs are being met by the provision of high-quality service delivery and clinically supervising and supporting practitioners in their role working directly with families. 

You have been with Very Special Kids for 10 years, what has your journey been like so far? What inspired you to work as a Family Support Practitioner? 

My journey with Very Special Kids began back in 2006 when I was a disenfranchised, out-of-work actress, seeking new meaning and purpose in my life. I heard Sister Margaret Noone on the radio talking about the Very Special Kids volunteer program which I then went on to join and become a home volunteer for five years. This was such a beautifully rich experience, and I was so impressed by the organisation and their capacity to really make a difference in the lives of others that I completely changed career paths and went back to university to study Social Work. I went on to obtain a Masters in Family Therapy and work with homeless families and young people in a variety of roles before joining the Family Support Team as a professional in 2011. I still maintain a connection with the sibling I supported as a home volunteer, she was eight when we met, and she is now 24.  

What is something that other health professionals might not know about Very Special Kids?  

Very Special Kids stays involved with a family indefinitely after the death of a child. Grief doesn’t follow a lineal path – it is messy, wild and unpredictable in nature. By not placing timeframes around this, Very Special Kids is able to support families to do the work and tend to their grief as needed. We help them integrate the loss through counselling, therapeutic programs, rituals, meaning making and ongoing connection to a compassionate community with shared experiences.   

How would you like to see Very Special Kids programs advance in 2022?  

I am looking forward to strengthening the therapeutic component of the programs we offer. This is an exciting time to engage in evidence-based practice that meets the diverse needs of the families we support. We have several carefully crafted program proposals, currently in development, that will further complement our existing suite of programs. I am also thrilled about the launch of our Youth Advisory Group and continuing to increase capacity to include the voice, opinions and ideas of children and young people in new and meaningful ways. 

What is one piece of advice you offer when a parent is feeling overwhelmed navigating their child’s condition?  

Being overwhelmed is a completely normal and understandable response to navigating uncertainty. In addition, the systemic challenges faced by the families we support, can intensify the emotional load and serve to further disenfranchise. At Very Special Kids, we view the family themselves as experts in their own lives and it’s our job to help them mobilise existing resources as a mechanism for advocacy, change and growth. This is about offering choice at all stages of their support journey and recognising diversity as a strength. 

What is your favourite thing about working at Very Special Kids? 

The opportunity to continuously learn, grow and evolve, both professionally and personally. 

Do you have any advice for families thinking about using Very Special Kids services? 

It can be daunting and unsettling engaging with a paediatric palliative care service for the first time and developing new relationships with health professionals takes time. Very Special Kids is focused on meetings families where they’re at and providing them with the opportunity to live fully. We try to support the system as a whole and offer a range of services in a kind, compassionate, consultative way.