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In the reading by Bennett and Zubrzycki (2003) they write about themselves, a Polish-Australian and an Indigenous Australian who collaborated in a research project about Indigenous social work. They interviewed 6 Indigenous social workers and give details of the difficulties faced in contemporary social work practice. Those interviewed face many obstacles in their practice due to cultural issues in a profession that is dominated by another culture.
Green and Baldry (2008) argue that even though Australian social work clients are made up of many Indigenous people, the workers they deal with have their practice rooted in theories taken from European, British and Euro-American social theory. They talk about the role of social workers in past injustices inflicted on Indigenous people and the fledgling movement among social workers, especially Indigenous ones, to develop theory and practice specifically targeting the needs of Indigenous Australians.
The reading by Briskman (2007) looks at developing frameworks in response to the deficits of contemporary social work practice in five areas experienced by Indigenous Australians. These are social constructs of whiteness and “othering”, colonialist practice, racism and institutional racism, citizenship and human rights.
Wilson (1997) explores the failure of welfare departments in understanding Indigenous kinship systems and the removal of children from their extended families and lands. Wilson argues that the removal of children and placing them away from extended family is tantamount to child abuse in itself. It is also stated that welfare related interventions are best handled by Indigenous organisations as mainstream organisations use the term “culturally appropriate” without really knowing what it means.
The readings show that despite the many definitions of social work, Indigenous Australians do not receive the service delivery they should. Although Australia has moved away from using British and American models of social work to reflect our own history (Napier & George 2001, p.79) we are still lacking in our practice frameworks with Indigenous people.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1997 (cited in O’Connor, Wilson, Setterlund & Hughes, 2008, p.25) states that the historic colonisation, seen as invasion by Indigenous people, destroyed them, their culture and their land along with the imposing of alien laws, religion and social and economic arrangements upon them. The results of this have seen Indigenous people as the most marginalised people in Australia with many social problems including domestic violence, child care and poverty that needed to be responded to by the government (O’Connor et al. 2008, p.40).
Goldlust (cited in Briskman 2007, p.37) states that Indigenous Australians were not citizens of their country until the Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1948 granted them automatic citizenship but even so they were not given the right to vote until 1962. Anderson (cited in Whiteside, Tsey & Earles, 2011, p.114) states that even though Australia was a world leader in its welfare entitlement arrangements, Indigenous people were not able to access these benefits until the late 1960s.
When the Whitlam Labour government came into power in 1972 major social reforms took place which saw a large injection of funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs along with the dismantling of the White Australia Policy through the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (O’Connor, Wilson, Setterlund & Hughes, 2008, p.27).
One of the major problems in Indigenous communities has been the historic removal of children and their over representation in the child welfare system. It was not until the release of the Bringing Them Home: report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission [HREOC] (1997) that this issue began to be addressed. There is a conflict of values among welfare workers in the child protection system. Western society see differences in the way indigenous people live as “abnormal” and therefore this signals to them that there is a problem within the family (Wilson 1997, p.452). They have no understanding of the indigenous kinship system which then results in the removal of many children unnecessarily. Wilson argues that neglect is the primary reason for welfare intervention in Indigenous communities and that social inequality directly causes neglect. Racism in schools, housing problems, general poverty and structural factors also resulted in interventions (1997, p.453). Furthermore Wilson states that welfare departments fail to consult with Indigenous families, communities and organisations regarding interventions and that culturally appropriate welfare services should be provided by Indigenous organisations (1997, pages 453-458). There is a need for more Indigenous and culturally competent social workers in Australia today. Green and Baldry contend that social work in the past has been involved in racist, patronising and unjust practices toward Indigenous people and having now apologised is seeking to learn from Indigenous Australians how to work with their communities and individuals (2008, p.389). Bennett, Zubrzycki, and Bacon (2011, p.34) discuss that there is still much to be done in teaching social work students to be culturally sensitive to Indigenous Australians:
Social work practice with Aboriginal people and communities requires significant
resources and development. While some schools of social work (e.g., University of
Western Australia and University of New South Wales) offer students core units on
working with Indigenous Australians, there is still no national core curriculum that
requires this important subject to be included across all Australian schools of social
work. Theories of Whiteness, knowledge about the ongoing practices of colonisation,
knowledge of Aboriginal English, Aboriginal languages, and Aboriginal world views
are just some of the areas that remain marginal in social work education. Yet the
social justice outcomes for Aboriginal people indicate that these communities are the
most disadvantaged and marginalised in Australia. This means that social workers,
who have a central role in the delivery of welfare services, need to be educated and
supported to work in ways that are culturally respectful, courageous, and hopeful. (Bennett, Zubrzycki & Bacon 2011, p.34)
This advice should be followed in order for social work to address the needs of Indigenous Australians adequately. Indigenous people make up a small percentage of the Australian population. Therefore the number of Indigenous social workers is minute in terms of being able to service their people and communities. They also face challenges in their role as social workers due to the very fact that they are Indigenous. Soong (cited in Bennett and Zubrzycki 2003, p.62) contends that these workers are often seen as culture brokers who mediate between two cultures. This results in them experiencing tensions caused by being caught between professional and cultural expectations that are in conflict with each other. This dichotomy should not be and Indigenous social workers need a lot more support from their peers in practice.
As I reflect on what I have learnt in this unit I am reminded of the enormity of what will be expected of me in order to become a competent social worker in the future. The readings I have done in my chosen topic about Indigenous Australians have been of particular interest to me due to the fact that I manage an Indigenous Out of Home Care / Kinship Care service and am the mother of Indigenous children. The past injustices that have been visited upon the Indigenous communities in Australia are something that can never be changed nor forgotten but we can learn from this and move on to a future that will embrace social justice and human rights on a large scale rather than the way it is now, in a stage of infancy. I have learnt that there is a lot more to being a social worker than you would expect and that it takes a lot of grit and determination to practice justly and fairly. My beliefs and values have been challenged, especially around the whiteness theories and the position of privilege that I hold just because of the colour of my skin. The unit has raised awareness in me of the predicaments people find themselves in through no fault of their own and it has given me more compassion and the desire to go out and help those who are marginalised and in poverty. I am a natural advocator, it is something that I like to do along with it being part of my profession and I have been challenged to go out and advocate for those that are less well off more often. In regards to future learning this unit has spurred me on to want to know a lot more as this is only the start of my course. I would like to learn more about politics and sociology. Human rights is a subject that I would like to do a lot more study on as it is something that really inspires me. By the end of the course I fully expect to be a competent social worker with a strong foundation in theories both past and present. The readings I have read in the unit are able to be put to good use already in my workplace and in my life and as I go on I am expecting to change and be a better person because of what I have learnt.
The reading I have chosen is called “How White is Social Work in Australia” and the full reference for this reading is as follows:
Walter, M, Taylor, S & Habibis, D (2011) ‘How White is Social Work in Australia?’,
Australian Social Work, 64: 1, 6 – 19.
I got the reading from the Deakin Library under the journal section after doing a search on Australian Social Work. This reading sheds light on my topic as it enables white people to see that there is a world of difference between them and Indigenous Australians. It also brings an awareness of how we practice “othering”, even if unconsciously so.
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