Social work in a remote community (SM)

Identify the personal growth and skill development as a result of the WIL placement

Since commencing placement at [Town] School I have developed skills and knowledge related to direct practice with children under 12 years of age, the environmental, cultural and historical factors that influence a child’s learning and development, a greater understanding of the primary school as a mesosystem of socialisation and a product of political will, the centrality of cultural sensitivity and curiosity in good social work practice, increased confidence in working across multiple interprofessional teams, and an appreciation of the benefits and risks related to community connectedness.

The concepts of intergenerational trauma, entrenched and locational disadvantage have become tangible during my placement in [Town]. Hearing families’ children’s accounts has been a privilege and a heartache. Their personal experiences are demonstrative of the effects of compound and complex disadvantage and the multiple difficulties involved in ‘turning their luck around.’ While most will accept the relationship between education and improved life outcomes, many of [Town]’s families defy a number of barriers to even have the child attend school each day. While a deficits-focused approach leaves insufficient space for hope and opportunity, I believe that learning about these unique challenges and seeing the ways they are continually overcome has been instrumental in building my learning around resilience and rural social work.

Working with children has proved a steep learning curve, requiring me to revisit, apply, revise or discard the theoretical approaches provided by the adult-centric social work course. Despite undertaking extensive research to establish an evidence base for the proposed strategies, I have found that listening, watching and asking questions to be the most useful tools I have had to understand how best to work with children with complex needs. Positioning the ‘client as expert’ has not been a deliberate practice but a natural one, as I have been astounded by the clarity, insight and wisdom of children and their peers in developing solutions to complex issues. In the second half of placement I will continue to be open to children as my teachers and encourage those who have stepped up as positive role models to continue to support their peers after I have left. The social work student to succeed me will arrive with a set of personal and professional ideals and values, and I am open to learning from her about how my practice may have been improved.

How the ACEN Scholarship supported career aspirations

The ACEN Scholarship supported me during my WIL Placement in [Town], which has been instrumental in establishing my future career direction. Having gained invaluable experience in remote NSW with young children, I recognise I am well positioned to apply for positions that will exploit those unique learning opportunities. Without the scholarship, I would have needed to undertake part-time work outside the full-time hours of the placement in order to support myself. This would have had a detrimental effect on my productivity levels, increased stress and distraction, and hampered my capacity to engage in community networking opportunities, critical reflection and evaluation processes. Having financial support from ACEN allowed me to more fully immerse myself in the placement tasks and [Town]l community, the corollary of which has been improved placement performance and professional relationships. Positive performance appraisals and good working professional relationships, made possible through the ACEN Scholarship, will support my future career endeavours.

Evidence of the ability to think critically and question biases and assumptions

I recognise that I have demonstrated a high level of independence and pro-activeness due to the absence of an on-site supervisor or pre-determined activities. However, the necessity to be proactive has challenged my personal and professional value of culturally-sensitive practice; being an outsider I would have felt more comfortable receiving greater direction from those that know the school and community well, and I recognise there are some ethical dilemmas involved in the process of student-led activity.

Finding creative solutions to organisational constraints and drawing on the resources available are two strengths of mine I had not recognised until they were identified during the mid-placement visit. My initial plans to engage upper primary levels with therapeutic arts program was not supported by the [School] executive staff as the critical area of concern this year has been the Kindergarten cohort. However, applying a critical ecological framework to my understanding of the primary school setting, I recognise the benefit of non-conventional, arts-based therapeutic interventions for young children experiencing disadvantage. Increasing local children’s access to the arts within a wellness framework is a goal I consider valuable, however, and having the idea supported and incorporated into the Arts for Health and Wellbeing funding stream proved rewarding. Similarly, my group work with Kindergarten children, individual work with boys resistant to talk-based therapy, and informal drumming sessions drew on the communicative and therapeutic benefits of arts to aid intervention.

The learning that came through the development and delivery of a Kindergarten group work program have been broad. The process unveiled areas of child psychology and behaviour that I was previously unaware of. Being led by some within the Aboriginal community was humbling and reinforced the importance of culturally sensitive and inclusive practice. The process of developing and trialling activities challenged my preconceptions about how we learn about emotions and pro-social behaviour. Interactions with and observations of the children gave meaning to theories of trauma-informed practice. The program required a high level of independence and organisational skills, diligent record-keeping, and vigilant monitoring of children to assess risk. While there have been many areas of significant learning, one that will stay with me throughout my personal and professional journey is the way value judgements of behaviour are internalised, integrated, performed and confirmed; therefore, children must have opportunities to achieve, be celebrated and recognised for their strengths.