Georgia Morsley joins Vacro as our new Specialist Disability Practitioner and Educator, where she works on our post-release program ReConnect to strengthen the skills of case managers working with participants with disabilities. Learn more about her background, what she likes about working inside prisons, and what she hopes to achieve in her role at Vacro.

Hi, Georgia! You’re a qualified occupational therapist – how did you go down that path?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school, and I fell into OT. I loved it – you get to come up with practical ways to support people, which I really liked. I really took a liking to the mental health and disability aspect of it – specifically within prisons and in that forensic environment.

Do you remember your first visit to a prison?

In my last year of uni I did a placement with Forensicare [mental health care for people involved with the justice system] at Metropolitan Remand Centre and loved it. I thought it was the coolest thing to be able to go in and work with a population that probably hadn’t been offered the support or had the same opportunities that a lot of people do to access support throughout their lives. I loved the complexity of it, the little bit of adrenaline you get working in that environment, and the changing nature of it – every day was different.

You started your career working at another community organisation, ACSO. What were you up to there?

I started as a behaviour support practitioner, and then moved into occupational therapist role when they got some funding – I helped set that up within their clinical services team, which works mostly within their forensic residential houses. A lot of it was around supporting people who had come into contact with the criminal justice system who had a disability. I worked within the residential house with people on supervision and civil orders to develop the staff’s skills in how to deal with challenging behaviours.

How do your skills as an occupational therapist translate to working with people with cognitive impairments?

Through ACSO I found that the skills I had as an OT really leant themselves to working with people with disabilities – for example, the ability to translate information and break down tasks into something that a person can find manageable.

OT focusses on seeing a person as a whole: the person, their environment, their social and sensory and spiritual environment, and taking that all into consideration when looking at a person. For example – I’d help people develop insight into why they’re engaging in self-harming or aggressive behaviour. Insight into what’s going on for them, how to read or notice their own emotions when they’re having outbursts. Teaching them to notice signs within themselves and their environment, and figuring out what might be impacting on their behaviour.

Is that focus on your client an important part of your approach to your work today?

Definitely. My first thought is how can I best engage with, or build rapport with, the person I’m working with. Being really transparent about what we’re trying to achieve through therapy and intervention.

I hate reading articles and reports with language and jargon you can’t understand – and if it’s on someone’s NDIS support plan or assessment, and their parent or worker picks up the report, you want everyone to be able to understand it.

Your most recent role was as an occupational therapist at Ravenhall Prison. Why did you make the change from ACSO?

I missed working within the prison environment. I really enjoy working in prisons –you’re so restricted with what you can and can’t do; with what you can bring in, what resources you can give someone, the fact that the person doesn’t have the option to run away if they’re distressed. It forces you to be creative with your approaches.

How do you help someone to have control and agency over their own life when they’re in prison and nothing’s in their control and they start to lose their individuality? In prison you can’t control everything – but we can engage somebody with what they can control. If you can’t have control over what you’re going to eat and wear, what do you have control over? How you interact with people, how you pass the time, how you manage your emotions, how you can become a productive part of your community.

How did you come to Vacro?

I was thinking about where I’m best placed to contribute to creating positive change for clients. The prison system isn’t really set up to support people with disabilities. And a lot of NDIS services aren’t sure how to work with people who are transitioning in and out of prison. I wanted to take a step back and look at that gap.

My passion is the intersection between forensic and disability – specifically cognitive impairments and challenging behaviours. I felt like moving back into the community while trying to build roads and ways to reach back into prisons through the NDIS was the right step for me. The Prison Disability Support Initiative, which is starting now, is part of starting to realise they’re not two separate systems; there’s so much overlap.

Vacro note: Laura Anderson, Georgia’s predecessor as Vacro’s Specialist Disability Practitioner and Educator, left Vacro to run that Prison Disability Support Initiative for Corrections Victoria!

What do you want to achieve in your role at Vacro?

Better outcomes for clients, first and foremost. Helping to develop case managers’ and the organisation’s skills in how we support clients who do have disabilities. Whether that’s by forging new relationships and developing relationships with service providers, or in how we support people using disability services when there’s a forensic overlay. It’s continuing to highlight that the two services – forensic and disability – can no longer be separate within the NDIS or forensic services, and highlighting the overlaps for both kinds of areas.

What’s something about you that we won’t find from reading your resume?

I play hockey, I love a cheese platter, and I’m currently hanging out with my three-year-old border collie, Finn.

What matters to you at the moment?

Continuing to highlight the profile of how we best support people with disabilities and their reintegration back into their community. Understanding the functions of people’s really complex behaviours and seeing the clients as a whole person. Continuing to develop my own skills and understanding of working with clients with disabilities. Teaching Finn to stop barking during afternoon meetings.  

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