Race and Self-Reflection in Social Work

2875 words (12 pages) Essay in Social Work

08/02/20 Social Work Reference this

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Framing of Aboriginality and Whiteness Politicised in Australia

Historically Indigenous Australians haven’t been correctly represented when written into history which was ‘manufactured’ by the Europeans exerting their dominant power since 1788 (Baxter, 2003). It wasn’t until 1972 when Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (Labour Representative) endeavoured to change Aboriginal Policy to restore to the Aboriginal people their lost power of self-determination (Kowal, 2008); influenced by decolonisation, a growing International Indigenous Rights Movement, and a US Civil Rights Movement. Prior to this change, Indigenous Australians were living with assimilation policies and this shift was under the premise that a new Department of Aboriginal Affairs was for Indigenous Australians to participate in decision and policy makings that affected their peoples. There was a notion that the Department would autonomously establish Aboriginal Organisations, however non-Indigenous Australians were still working in partnership. I perceive there was some control, authority and self-interest invested by non-Indigenous Australians in the roll-out of the ‘improved’ Aboriginal Policy. Over time, Liberal Representative John Howard, took the reins and the level of state spending increased in selected areas, but the institutions of self-determination were neglected (Kowal, 2008). Blame was placed upon Indigenous Australians and claims that the demise of this era was due to the lack of commitment and improvements within that community rather than the withdrawal of funding. When reviewing all Australian Governments in history, I find it important to draw on the fact that these are all ‘white’ leaders putting forward policies ‘they’ believe are best for the Indigenous Australians which leads me to suspect the system is racist and oppressive.

To put a ‘white’ Government policy into perspective it is evident westernised biomedical models domineer society and oppress Indigenous Australians with the lack of insight from a cultural perspective (Le Grande et. al. 2017). When measuring Indigenous Australians’ health, westernised research methodologies are being used which lack, in understanding cultural value systems (Kite & Davy, 2015) such as the Indigenous Social and Emotional Wellbeing (SEWB) model which addresses domains of cultural importance of connections to land, community, family and spirituality whereas the westernised model has a more clinical approach (Green & Baldry 2008). Therefore, it leads to questions around national policies such those aiming to improve health equality for Indigenous Australians, but these policies are based on westernised methodologies (Le Grande et. al. 2017).

In Summary, I believe it is evident that Australia is dominated by a white Government; colonised, working within institutionalised structures with racism, patronising Indigenous Australians with policies and subjecting a neoliberal capitalistic warfare of oppression. As a social worker, I believe that it is imperative that practice includes accepting and including cultural views and models (Green & Baldry, 2008) to be able to effectively practice without bias. Decolonising knowledge of ‘self’ and removing the postcolonial manufactured history, for holistic practice, are factors when working with Indigenous Australians. In saying this, it is still important to recognise that the colonised history does exist, and this, also, is a contemporary issue.

Social Work Challenges; Neoliberalism, Global Capitalism and increased Managerialism

I believe the world is a forever changing neoliberal society. Neoliberalism being the government that is charged with the maintenance and regulation of the polity, economy, and governance of the social province from which people seek their protection and rights (McDonald, 2003). I believe that Social workers are employed in society to undo the unjust served upon marginalised, oppressed, and disadvantaged people. Human Service workers are scrutinised when political, social, economic and ideological circumstances change (Rogowski, 2012). In saying that, I perceive this is due to Social Workers and other Human Service workers challenging the neoliberal system in which they represent their clients. My perspective is that if the Government were to shift from Liberal back to the Labour, which is the Welfare State, where Social Workers would have less scrutiny and would be a supported institution as this is supposed to be more focussed on the social realm in life. I say ‘supposed to be’ as Government agendas change; what once was the Welfare state might have future changes that affect Social Workers.

In terms of capitalism, I am of the understanding that presently there is an economy favouring those who could be placed under a privileged position of being able to afford private health, not live on benefits, pay their university debts, and live a life without being marginalised into an oppressed social category. All these private services are the neoliberal approach to prioritising the marketplace over the need to look after the people affected by this privatisation (Weinberg, 2018).

Spies-Butcher (2014) described the system as being a ‘dual welfare state’ where the government appears to attempt ease present social issues but puts fiscal restraints onto the service providers that are contracted to be the alleviators. I perceive that some social services are outsourced for cost effective reasons, then the responsibility to these service providers is so strained that the turnover of clients becomes more important than the actual ongoing support of the client; quantity overrides quality. As Weinberg (2018) described the system, resources reduced and demand for services increased. I feel that reduction of resources indicates that the actual neoliberal lack of need of the plethora of Social Workers thus wanting less workers to do more work.

Conclusion

The integrity of the social work profession, at times, seems so bound by the neoliberal structuring that their core values feel easily lost in the bureaucracy. Ethically practitioners can only do the best they can with the tools they have due to the shaping of economic and practical decisions (Weinberg, 2008). I feel that they must have ongoing critical self-reflection in practice to ensure that they are still aligning with the Social Work Core Values, reflect upon ethics for themselves and those using their service, and undertake continuous improvement to challenge the constraints that have been placed onto workers and organisations affecting service users. As Weinberg (2008) described, the ethical landscape that needs altering is the macrostructures within the politics of ethics.

Relationship-based practice

 Social work is a relationship-based practice as practitioners are providing a service to clients and building a relationship is imperative. Practitioners need to be able to draw on theories and knowledge and use this to benefit the client relationship (Bryan, Hingley-Jones, & Ruch, 2016). These clients look for the promotion of life change from these practitioners, thus putting their vulnerabilities and trust into the professional relationship. I believe that relationships create the foundation to which successful outcomes can be built from.

The use of ‘self’

Within social theories, the use of ‘self’ has been described as using tools of self-awareness, reflexivity, critical reflexivity, reflectivity, and critical reflectivity (Adamowich, Kumsa, Rego, Stoddart & Vito, 2014). Within the social work realm, it is essential to practice the exploration of ‘self’ tools as society is living under a hierarchy of oppression (Chinnery & Beddoe, 2011), discrimination (Howard, 2006), and influences of power (Kteily & Sidanius, 2012) in which social workers are strained within neoliberal governed practices. This then requires that in practice, mindfulness is reflected on due to the potential of harm that can be delivered upon clients (Chinnery & Beddoe, 2011). In saying this, the potential of harm or a positive outcome are built into relationships that one has with the ‘self’ which can influence or have transference effects on a client or the client on the ‘self’.

When defining our use of the ‘self’, it is important to understand that ‘we’ define our ‘self’ by using the tools as mentioned above (Adamowhich et. al., 2014). We need to be self-aware and take responsibility for our actions and thoughts when working as reflective practitioners. I believe that relationship-based practice requires positive sustainable rapports with clients, therefore the professional integrity of the practitioner is in jeopardy if they are unable to define their own ‘self’. The reflection of ‘self’ can realign ones ethics and morals as supported in the study of ‘Authenticity in Reflection: Building Reflective Skills for Social Work’ (Gursanky, Quinn, & Le Sueur, 2010).

 Carl Rodgers’ Person Centred Theory explains a notion of self-concept; being “the organised, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself” (as cited in McLeod, 2015, para. 8). This notion influences our perception of oneself and the world. However, the possibility arises that one’s own perception of themselves may differ to how others see them. I draw on the importance when reflecting on one’s ‘self’, if we find ourselves with a negative perception of our ‘self’, the practitioner and client relationship could be compromised. I also suspect that these negative perceptions can have a transference effect from the practitioner to client.

Conclusion

It is important to understand one’s ‘self’ as this is an integral part of the relationship that as a practitioner would reflect on the relationship one has with a client. I also sense that one can look at their own values and beliefs and draw on the Australian Social Work Core Values to get an indication as to whether their values align. After all, these core values are ethical responsibilities (AASW, 2010).

Question 7)     Language and the ‘self’

In social work, language comes in various forms. However, it is how we decipher and learn what we are listening to, observing or how we convey the message to a receiver that is important (Trevithick, 2014). How a practitioner speaks, presents in appearance, and their body language are all communicated to a receiver (Hanna & Nash, 2012). Language is linked in with the ability to connect and understand one’s ‘self’ and is imperative to building a relationship foundation and creating an emotional dimension (Trevithick, 2014).

Language as a tool and Product of Power

Communication has the power to dominate or relate in relationships (Hanna & Nash, 2012). A study found that voice quality, vocal features and paraphrasing can determine whether there is a displacement of power in social work practice. Paralanguage provides an emotional context and depth to spoken communication. In the study, it was found that power of paralanguage was essential in relationship building, but also highlights the use of authoritative power or concern and respect for others.

Discourse, being communication conveyed between parties, and can vary depending on the environment it is used (Melville & Bartley, 2013). People are able to interpret communication meanings in their own way and that a message can be misconstrued when not taking into consideration cultural and social structures (Gee, 2016). Evidence suggests that discourse also intertwines with abuse of power, enacting of dominance and inequality, which challenges and changes the way we talk politically and socially (De Bruin & Mane, 2016). In New Zealand, the Māori peoples experienced colonisation; in a postcolonial context, the English language then became dominant over native tongue. This caused long term issues such as assimilation within the various Māori cultures. When given the opportunity to reconnect with their cultures, this provided empowerment and shifted the challenged perception and highlighted their manufactured history and way of life. In this example, I believe that it outlines that postcolonial communication was an abuse of power; power used to westernise native cultures for political gain.

Conclusion

Reviewing communication and discourse and connecting this with the core values of the Australian Association of Social Work, I believe that as social workers, we need to be mindful and reflect on our communication. The language that I perceive to be acceptable is language that maybe misconstrued or misinterpreted by another person. I also believe that the language of a social worker is a tool and poor reflection on the ‘self’ can be connected to unintentional abuse of power by inadvertently trying to liberate another person with a postcolonial outlook. With critical self-reflection, alignment with social work core values, it is beneficial for social workers to adjust their practice to have respect for others, professional integrity, and strive for social justice for others. If lacking the insight to a client, we may very well become oppressors in pushing a postcolonial agenda.

References

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