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Our Profession. My Association: member stories

Our Profession. My Association is why social workers are renewing their membership of the Association. Renew your membership for 2019-2020 and read why members are proud to be part of the Australian Association of Social Workers.

We will add to these stories in the coming weeks.

Our Profession. My Association

MichalaMichala, member for three years

Why did you become a social worker?

I was living and working in South Korea and while I was co-hosting a human rights event, someone commented that I must be a social worker back home. I had no idea what a social worker was. Luckily, the first site I stumbled upon was the Australian Association of Social Workers. With a background in psychology and a history of engagement in human rights and social justice activism, it was unsurprising that the definition of social work resonated with me to my core. So much so, that six months later, I was in Australia studying a Master of Social Work (Qualifying).

What is the greatest advice you have for the future generation of social workers?

The temptation to do it all yourself is real and so is burnout. Strong boundaries and some non-negotiable self-care practices will ensure that you’ve positioned yourself the best you can, to be the best social worker you can. Professional supervision, or a trusted mentor, can help define, and keep you accountable, to these.

What is the greatest impact your career has had on your community?

So far, it has been the opportunity to work alongside some champions of change within the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM) Victoria in the development of the Coolamon Strategy. The Coolamon Strategy is a living document and aims to make the services offered by BDM more accessible to members of Victoria’s Koori community. The impact of this in my current role in education and employment has been the ability to support young people to obtain a birth certificate, a key document for major life steps including enrolling in education and starting employment.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a social worker – how does AASW support you?

I have been the only social worker at my place of work; which can be quite isolating. The AASW, through its organised events, publications and highlighting of professional development opportunities greatly assists me in helping me feel connected to the greater social work collective, and our shared ethics and values.

How has AASW networking formed your career?

AASW networking was instrumental in forming my views on social work as a career. Through these meetings, I was able to develop a greater understanding of what social work looked like outside of the university space. At one particularly memorable network meeting, I spoke to social workers who worked in International Aid, as a counsellor in a community centre and at a not-for-profit. This greatly broadened the roles that I looked for when I graduated.

Jacqueline, member for two yearsJacqueline, member for two years

Why did you decide to become a social worker?

I came to study social work as a mature aged student after a career as a Producer/Director at the ABC. I made the decision to change my career because I wanted to pursue a profession that was more in line with my own personal values and ethics, a career that helps people and contributes positively to society. The real catalyst for me came about from volunteer work that I had been doing at a women’s refuge in King’s Cross. While volunteering I witnessed and was inspired by the social workers whose support of women’s empowerment was helping to change lives.

Why is social work invaluable/life-changing to a client and their family?

I see social work as invaluable to clients as it offers help without judgement or discrimination. Social work takes the time to listen to a client’s story. It motivates and encourages clients, and gives them the tools to construct their own lives. Social work treats all people with dignity, giving hope, inspiring and lifting the spirits of the disadvantaged, that can have far-reaching and lasting positive impact on their lives.

How do you define success as a social worker/as a profession?

Success for the profession of social work, would be recognition as a powerful movement, that is leading the transformation of our society towards a fairer and more equitable place for every citizen.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a social worker?

My biggest challenge as a mature aged social work graduate at the moment is finding employment. Even though I have extensive work experience, I face the same challenges as many graduates, in that most positions require two years’ experience in social work.

How has AASW networking formed your career?

I have joined the Association’s Environmental Social Work Practice Group, finding it a great opportunity to familiarise myself with the workings of the AASW. I have found the staff there very helpful and it is also a great opportunity to meet social workers from all different practice areas.

Toni, member for 21 yearsToni, member for 21 years

Why did you decide to become a social worker?

Upon reflection, I’ve always felt a strong sense of empathy for others. Even as a child, I had a deep desire to help others experiencing stress, pain or suffering. My personal values and ethics align perfectly with social work, and I aspire to serve people in the attainment of peace, joy and happiness.

Why is social work invaluable and life-changing to a client and their family?

Social work is in the fortunate position of helping people transform challenges into opportunities for growth. I often think of the lotus flower analogy. The lotus grows in the muddy water, to one day

come into the light and transform into a beautiful flower. For me, the mud symbolises our difficulties and challenges in life. Like the lotus, we too can grow from our experiences and social workers can help support this blossoming.

What is the greatest advice you have for the future generation of social workers?

Make sure you enter this profession for the right reasons. In my opinion, an effective social worker is one who truly cares and has a strong sense of empathy and compassion for others. Ensure that you have a strong desire to empower (not rescue) people. It’s also critical to have quality professional supervision and strong self-care practices, to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a social worker – how does AASW support you?

My biggest career challenge has been setting up my own social work private practice. My AASW Branch has supported me in this endeavor through providing links with key stakeholders and networking opportunities. I am currently in the process of establishing a Private Practice group, which has been supported and endorsed by the AASW.

How has AASW supported you during a crossroad in your professional journey?

Moving from an employee to a business owner is a highly challenging experience. The AASW has supported the promotion of my private practice and has invited me to various forums and workshops for networking purposes. Being a member of the AASW provides additional credibility, professional development opportunities and professional insurance.

MarthaMartha

Why did you decide to become a social worker?

Throughout high school, my brother experienced significant health problems and my exposure to trauma and grief whilst spending time in paediatric intensive care and hospital waiting rooms led me to change career aspirations from law to the helping professions.

Why is social work invaluable or life-changing to a client and their family?

In my work with people experiencing traumatic injury or sudden loss, it is incredibly powerful to be able to offer empathy, understanding, compassion and specialised skill in adjusting to their adversity, whilst also acknowledging the sociopolitical aspects of their lives and assisting with navigating the complex systems within which they find themselves. This multidimensional approach, with the client at the centre, is the point of difference that social workers provide. For my clients to feel heard, valued and understood in an empowering partnership, is an experience I feel privileged to offer.

What is the greatest advice you have for the future generation of social workers?

The role of social workers to ‘be the change we wish to see in the world’ deeply matters. Whether our work leads us to engage with individuals, families, communities or entire populations, our capacity to glide between the micro, meso and macro layers of the human experience and critically understand them through a lens of socio-political enquiry gives us a unique and intensely valuable tool to be change-makers and hope-givers. My advice is to be a social worker, rather than do social work. To approach each aspect of the work ‘on purpose’, with purpose. To see each piece of work, each task, each day as an opportunity to connect with your ‘why’.

How has AASW networking formed your career?

I have been an AASW member on and off throughout my 20-plus year career. For most of this time, I enjoyed the networking opportunities available as part of a large hospital social work department and helping to coordinate a statewide ICU social workers’ network. However, once I was made redundant, I sought a new community of social workers with whom to share support, resources and inspiration outside the public sector. This came in the form of an AASW Private Practice Group. They have generously helped me to transition to a different world, of offering quality social work services outside the public health system, where I had previously flourished. Now I can continue to grow my practice wisdom in innovative ways.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers