Seven years ago Niki Wade was battling financial stress, solo parenting and studying late into the night.
Now she is one step closer to reaching her goal of becoming a community psychologist.
The Tauranga mum started studying at the University of Waikato in 2014 and last week she graduated with her masters in psychology.
Her thesis was on how solo mothers navigate and access support from Work and Income New Zealand - a topic that hit home for Wade.
Wade had been out of the workforce for nearly six years before she began her studies.
She was a stay-at-home mum receiving the sole parent benefit but was eager to find work in administration once her daughter started school.
After struggling to re-enter the workforce, Wade decided to pursue her passion for psychology.
Wade, who is now married, said her life before studying was "stressful and difficult".
"Being a sole parent out of work financially was difficult. It was daunting thinking about going back to work. I just wanted some help around refreshing all of that," she said.
"Stress does take a toll on people. When you're in hardship, all of your focus is on your kids and them thriving. So that often does put you on the back burner. It was tiring."
Wade completed her undergraduate degree in psychology in 2016.
These first few years of study proved particularly difficult for Wade as she was trying to juggle parenting, study and home life. She stuck by other single mums in the course for support.
"Studying is really time-intensive, and it is a lot of brainwork. I would often have to travel back to campus after my daughter had gone to sleep. My mum would watch her.
"I would stay there until late to get my stuff done and then start all over again the next day. There were lots of late nights and weekends studying. I was determined to finish, but at times I just thought 'oh my gosh, this is so big'.
"There were other single mums in my undergrad courses. We supported each other, there was a lot of understanding and awhi around that."
Wade was encouraged by her lecturers to apply for her master's degree, which was something she knew she needed to do. She was also awarded three academic scholarships, receiving about $20,000 towards her degree.
"It was a huge help. It felt so amazing, so humbling," she said.
Receiving a masters degree has helped Wade grow and realise her capability.
"I have grown a lot as a person. I have wanted to be a psychologist since I was 11 but I let that go, I never thought it was going to happen - here I am," she said.
She puts it down to family support and determination getting to this point in her studies.
"My husband has been amazing and has financially supported us. I wouldn't have been able to carry on post-grad without his help. My daughter is really patient with me, and my mum has always backed me," she said.
Wade said her vision for the future was clear - to help humans flourish.
"I want to support those in hardship. I have been there myself - being a beneficiary, you are not exactly at the top of the list in society. I think people deserve dignity, respect and equity and I want to work towards achieving that.
"I understand my privilege in that I had a lot of family support. I knew that if I ever got into trouble I would never be sleeping in my car. That is not the case for everyone."
She was undertaking a postgraduate diploma which would allow her to apply for registration as a community psychologist. Her ultimate goal was to work in the social policy sector.
"I would like to work at the grassroots level - to learn what is going on in the community. And one day to work in the policy arena to be able to effectively create and amend policies. So that it actually works for the people that have to live out policy."
The research project aimed to contribute to an alternative narrative in the welfare discussion, by speaking with and listening to the women's lived experiences.
Wade interviewed two local women who spoke about the mental and financial struggles they faced.
When asked what she learnt during this process, Wade said: "It is a system that has the potential to do a lot of good, but it doesn't because of the way it treats people.
"And how internalised and damaging that can be for people who are trying their hardest to parent and do the best they can for themselves and their families."
The interviewees spoke about the sacrifices they made to care for their children and the difficulty of accessing services.
"To feed your children, you might not go to the doctors for something that is causing a lot of pain. It costs too much, but you need to feed your kids or buy them a winter coat.
"You are in survival mode. You can't progress if you are stuck in the trap of survival mode and trying to do the best for your kids."
Ministry of Social Development group general manager client service delivery Kay Read said the ministry took its responsibility seriously to support clients and provide good service.
"Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity."
In the last few years, the ministry has taken a number of steps to help improve client experience, she said.
"As part of that work, we've been asking clients how they rate us. Surveying shows high levels of satisfaction with our service."
In the period from July 2019 to March 2020, the average client satisfaction rating from those surveyed was 8.5 out of 10, across 71,133 survey responses.
"We encourage anyone who feels they have received poor service to contact us."
Changes made to help improve client experience include making service centres warm and welcoming for clients, making it easier for clients to access information and support, making it more convenient to access services by improving online and phone services, and making further changes to streamline services in recent months to make it easier during the high time of need.
"While we've made good progress, we know there is always more work to do," Read said.