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Social work as profession has various ways to contribute to the society and aims to make society a better place. There are various fields of social services where social workers work directly with service user or indirectly aiming to bring social change and reform. In this paper I will discuss about the key social issue I came across in Australian context, my own background values and ethics, interpersonal skills and knowledge and how it made me think critically to understand social work in Australian context.
Social work and Australia
Social work has always been under the influence of the neoliberal, managerial ideologies and due to capitalist globalization, it is now experienced in almost all modern western countries including Australia (Morley, McFarlane, & Ablett, 2014, p. 36). Morley (2014) argues that social work practice faces conflict with neoliberal ideology and critical social work as few workers doesn’t work to change the individual according to the social context but in fact in collaboration with them to change the social situation to meet their need.
If we talk about Australia, it is multicultural, democratic nation where people with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background reside here. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017, people from Philippines, China, New Zealand, England and India are the top contributors and now more than 300 languages are identified to be spoken in Australian homes (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Its each nation states have their own laws, policies and legislative acts which in turn the govern the overall organisational structure. As a social worker, we must be aware of the legal context and politics at micro and macro level as mostly all our actions are defined by these and we have the responsibility towards our agencies and the service users. One of the Key issues which left me in deep sense unease is the history of Colonisation and the acts which were done on the Aboriginals and Torres strait Islander people. As a Non-Australian student, I was very less informed of the history and the impact of colonisation on the Indigenous community. I came to learn that how laws, policies and practices in history has caused grief and loss which can be still be seen in intergenerational trauma. For instance, if we look critically at Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), It was an intervention introduced in 1992, as a thought process to save women and Children from Abuse in Aboriginal community (Castan Centre Home, 2017). But it has failed in the basic principle of human right and is viewed as racist and Oppressive (Calma & Priday, 2011, p. 151) Intervention caused restriction on alcohol, quarantining the welfare payments, compulsory children heath check for child abuse, compulsory acquiring of land owned by community (Castan Centre Home, 2017). All these acts are purely incompatible with human rights as it limits the capacity to control their own lives (Calma & Priday, 2011, p. 151). I feel this act is rather detrimental than improving community in north. I cannot fathom the injustice that is being committed till now and see it as purely dominant and uncompassionate without considering the voice of the community and their need. This made me aware about my nation’s history of colonisation, but we never faced dispossession and loss of generations and I cannot imagine the about of trauma that might have left on them.
Anti-Oppressive and critical practice approach is a core for the Critical social work in Australian context. This practice in my view makes a social worker think critically and asks them to look beyond the their own views, background and social structures and seek the barriers and work to bring the social justice by reforming the laws and policies rather than the individual to adjust in structure that is causing unjust and oppression (Dominelli , 2002, p. 36). When I thought about my own experience as international student in this country, I realised that use of language, cultural understanding and responsiveness and established social context plays a component for oppression, which takes away the human rights of the oppressed group. I understand that my own view, background and recognition of this social structure plays a pivotal role in downsizing its impact on the individuals and this I believe is a critical social work.
Values and Ethics
Personal values and ethics are the core of the social work practice. And I believe each of us as a social worker are driven with the common integral values and ethics to seek justice for the underprivileged. We as a social worker always look for what is right and wrong and question what is happening in specific context in relation to harm, benefit, rights and responsibility (Banks, 2016). Code of Ethics in AASW states two keys principles for ethical practice is human dignity and worth and social justice which involves ethical responsibility towards clients, colleagues, to the professions and the broader society (Schön, 2017). I believe that our own experience, cultural background and the dominant social context shape us as humans and our understanding which greatly reflect in our practice. Usually we understand and act according to the preformed notions and according to our believes which raises a question of being ethical and critically reflective in our practice as we try to bring just through our own social lens and overlooking the individual need and broader social context. To be critical reflective in ethical practice I would need to step back and look and understand of the problems at the micro and macro level in society and really ask to myself how and why this is happening and advocate my views in broader social context on justice and human rights. I also believe, the organizations are usually run by the political governess and has its own policies and views which may not align with my own views, such ethical dilemma are usually felt by critical social workers. For instance, my believes are highly driven on clients need and justice and understanding of the holistic need to approach, which comes through my learnings, social and cultural background and experiences in my life, this may interfere with established view of the organization and lead to some ethical dilemmas. To state an example, I might be in uncomfortable situation due to my own cultural background where family bonds is imperative (Harms, 2015), particularly in cases of child protection in Australian context, where my thoughts on child staying with parents seems right similarly in Aboriginal community the wellbeing is related to family and community connectedness (Harms, 2015, p.16), but it might not be justified in terms of child’s welfare, agencies policy or it may move away from the code of ethics for social workers. As a critical social worker, I would need unpack this and be aware of my own thoughts and values and how this can affect the welfare of clients and the organization. Moreover, I believe that my thoughts and practice may be helpful in one case but may not be justified for another as all individuals are unique and have their different story and needs.
Theoretically informed interpersonal skill
Every social worker comes with the self-acquired interpersonal skills. Communication and soft skills are powerful tool in social work practice where listening and talking are first basic step which we horn over the period through experience and the theoretical knowledge (Harms, 2015). It has two major dimension such as verbal and non-verbal where each of the component has different impact in different circumstances and can be perceived in various ways depending of social, cultural and organizational context. During this course we had involved in face to face and online interaction with peers and did role playing activity on a case study. It was great learning tool to understand and practice how to use the language, listen, understand and form the personal rapport with client. Through this activity I gained knowledge of deep listening which is very essential for critical practice which involve listening to person without having own thoughts to understand the context and understand the person, their need and the background. Usually we have our own monologues thoughts during the conversation, which can affect the interpretation. To listen deeply, I believe will come with experience and practice. In social work when we are working with client our communication and skills should be linked to the theoretical skills, knowledge and use of ourselves as a social worker (Harms, 2015, p. 56). Harms (2015) further states that theoretical knowledge provide the structure, inform us what to ask and further helps in interpreting the interaction and how to respond to the situation. For instance in the activity I became aware about the critical, feminist and task centered theory, it also gave me insight how I have to ask questions and be mindful of the cultural background, the use of eye contact and body language specially in aboriginal context where direct eye contact should be avoided (Harms, 2015, p. 39). The critical and feminist theory informed me of knowledge base and its principle provided insight on how it works on seeking the structural problem and undo effects of oppression with use of appropriate language and listening to the problem from clients perceptive which helps bringing social justice. I understand that use of communication and interpersonal skill is important in critical way as my use and understanding of language can cause unjust and power imbalance in client social worker relationship. For this I must be mindful of my own views on how I interpret things with my own understanding and views which can be harmful or useful.
Social work is a complex profession where we work on common goals that is welfare of human being at micro and macro levels and seek social justice for the marginalized and people in problem. Australia being multicultural country I believe we as social worker need to be aware of diversity and use of right skills and knowledge to provide social justice. And be critically aware of ourselves, our own biographies and perception and be able to critically analyze the situation through border social lens. I aim to work with the skills and knowledge that I have received through this course.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN AUSTRALIA (Rep. No. 2071.0). Commonwealth Australia. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Lookup/by Subject/2071.0~2016~Main Features~Cultural Diversity Data Summary~30#.
- Banks, S. (2016). Ethics and Social Welfare. Everyday Ethics in Professional Life: Social Work as Ethics Work, 10(1), 35-52. doi:10.1080/17496535.2015.1126623
- Calma, T., & Priday, E. (2011). Putting Indigenous Human Rights into Social Work Practice. Australian Social Work, 64(2), 147-155. doi:10.1080/0312407x.2011.575920
- Castan Centre Home. (2017, September 05). What is the Northern Territory Intervention? Retrieved from https://www.monash.edu/law/research/centres/castancentre/our-areas-of-work/indigenous/the-northern-territory-intervention/the-northern-territory-intervention-an-evaluation/what-is-the-northern-territory-intervention
- Delany, C., Richards, A., Stewart, H., & Costa, L. (2017). Five challenges to ethical communication for interprofessional paediatric practice: A social work perspective. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 31(4), 505-511. doi:10.1080/13561820.2017.1296419
- Dominelli, L. (2002). Anti-Oppressive Social Work Theory and Practice (1st ed.). Retrieved from file:///C:/Geetika/James Cook/Social work/ws4514 thories/at2/epdf.tips_anti-oppressive-social-work-theory-and-practice.pdf
- Harms, L. (2015). Working with people: communication skills for reflective practice. (2nd ed.). Australia: Oxford university press
- McMullen, J. (2008). Reporting back: The Northern Territory intervention one year on. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, 32(5), 14-18. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://search-informit-com-au.elibrary.jcu.edu.au/documentSummary;res=IELHEA;issn=1037-3403;py=2008;vol=32;iss=5;spage=14
- Morley, C., McFarlane, S., & Ablett, P. (2014). Engaging with Social Work: A Critical Introduction (1st ed.). Australia: Cambridge university press
- Radzikh, O. (2015). Social Work Students’ Perspectives on Anti-Oppressive Practice (Master’s thesis, The University of Manitoba, 2015) (pp. 10-37). Winnipeg: Faculty of Social Work. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/bitstream/handle/1993/30903/radzikh_olga.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- Schön, D. A. (2017). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Routledge.
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