Social workers from around Australia have contributed ground-breaking cultural learnings to a new book which could change the face of Indigenous social work in Australia.
Our Voices: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Work is a collection of writings about Indigenous social work practice, contributed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous social work educators and students, including Ms Violet Bacon from The University of Western Australia.
The book, which was released earlier this month, was Ms Bacon's last major project before her recent retirement. It brings together for the first time the collective voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social workers.
Ms Bacon, an Honorary Research Fellow who has been teaching the Indigenous People and Social Work unit at UWA for the past 14 years, said the book provided valuable insights into how social work practice could be developed, taught and practised in ways that are culturally safe and competent.
Another contributor, Associate Professor Dawn Bessarab of Curtin University, said the authors hoped the book would be used as a foundation to transform Australian social work into a model which honours its ethical and moral aims and serves the best interests of all.
Our Voices explores important contemporary social work practice issues including cultural supervision, working with communities, understanding trauma, collaboration and relationship building, and narrative practice.
Ms Bacon, who contributed the chapter Yarning and Listening: yarning and learning through stories, said the book would be a valuable asset to all social workers in the field and a great resource for social work academics. Each chapter would help current and future social workers learn about Indigenous social work practice through stories contained in the written word.
Ms Bacon's chapter strongly links Narrative Therapy counselling practice with the story-telling practice of Indigenous people in the Dreamtime which is still very present in Indigenous culture today.
"These oral stories, passed down through generation after generation, impart essential knowledge about Law, cultural values, belief systems and many other important elements that are essential to know," Ms Bacon said. "The introduction of digital technologies has now provided another avenue for the stories to be told but also for them never to be lost.
"What this book will do is open the door for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social workers to think about writing a second book for social work practice. This will mean our collective voices will continue to grow stronger."
She said an essential element of any Indigenous People and Social Work course should be to help social workers learn and understand Indigenous history, culture, communications and ways of living and working in Indigenous communities. To ensure culturally safe and competent practice, social workers should also learn about "self".
"Always commence each session with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a yarn and listen, really listen to their story," Ms Bacon said. "A quote from a non-Aboriginal social worker cited in the book and in our research is: ‘People like to know where you are from, why you are there, and that's a start in developing that relationship.'"
Having an Indigenous lecturer teaching and Indigenous guest presenters included in a social work course related to Indigenous people also was crucial for students' learning, so they became aware of the wide diversity among Indigenous people.
Ms Bacon was the first Indigenous lecturer appointed to the School of Social Work and Social Policy at UWA. In 2008, she won the national Neville Bonner Award for Indigenous Education. She was involved, with fellow book contributors Joanna Zubrzycki and Bindi Bennett, in research which won the Norm Smith Publication in Social Work Research Award for 2011. The research participants were Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal social workers.