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Exploring social workers’ experiences of working with bushfire affected families

Following the devastating Victorian bushfires in February 2009, social workers engaged with people affected by this event in a variety of roles, including Bushfire Case Manager, Counsellor and Community Development Worker. This research explored the experiences of social workers who worked with bushfire affected families in order to understand their role and the context in which they practised. It described the personal impact of disaster recovery work. Secondly, by drawing on the knowledge and experiences of these social workers, this investigation identified skills and personal qualities that can be used to inform the preparation and support of social workers responding in future disaster events or emergency recovery situations.

The research design featured a mixed methodology including an anonymous on-line survey completed by 22 participants and interviews with six social workers. Narrative data analysis was performed to identify themes. A key finding of the study was that, while social workers frequently work in contexts of uncertainty, the demands placed on practice were exacerbated by the lack of familiarity with geography, social networks and resources, as well as by higher levels of uncertainty and lack of clarity and detail relating to the event itself.

This grant was my first research funding. It meant I could pay someone to transcribe the qualitative interviews but the real value was that someone believed in me enough to support this project. The research was published in Australian Social Work (Hickson & Lehmann, 2014) and findings were presented at Rural Social Work, Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management, and National Allied Health conferences.

Dr Helen Hickson
Email: hhickson@netcon.net.au
AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers