A man who was a driving force behind social workers becoming a permanent part of the military is the New Zealand Defence Force Civilian of the Year.

Liam Cunnah provides professional clinical social work services to personnel at Burnham Military Camp as well as their whanau and, in his spare time, the wider Canterbury community.

He was part of a trial to introduce social workers to the NZDF four years ago – a trial which led to them becoming permanent employees. Mr Cunnah said the importance of providing this service to personnel could not be under-estimated.

“We live in an ever-changing and unpredictable world which can place significant pressures on soldiers and their families.

“As the types of issues become more complex in their presentation, a more holistic approach to wellness support and management is required, and this is where social work comes into its own. 

Mr Cunnah said the trusting relationship built between local Command teams and the social work service was crucial.

“Without this, I would not be in the position I am to have been nominated and chosen as a recipient of this special award,” he said. 

“As someone who prefers to be behind the scenes promoting the successes of others, this is an unfamiliar yet humbling experience to be receiving this award.” 

“The success of the Burnham Social Work service has been supported and enhanced by the exceptional work of my fellow colleagues within the Burnham Integrated Wellness team.” 

Mr Cunnah last year undertook Postgraduate study in Family Therapy, as well as having studied Gottman Couples Therapy this year.

“I chose to do this as it was a need that I identified around the ever-changing relationship challenges faced by soldiers and their dependants,” he said.

“As social workers we are innately driven by our desire to promote and enhance the self-determination and empowerment of both our clients and often the wider organisations that we are employed by.”

Mr Cunnah also supported the wider Canterbury community in his own time by providing clinical input as a board member for Salisbury Street Foundation, a rehabilitation centre that aims to reintegrate serious offenders back into the community.

His citation said his dedication to the work he did within the community demonstrated that he was an outstanding ambassador for the NZDF.

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