This is a blog about social policy from a social work perspective.
I started this blog a couple of years ago, but during a hiatus, lost all my previous posts- and so- I am starting again.
I have been a social worker since 1976- mostly in health settings, with a stint in private practice and a bit of teaching.
I am a member of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) and am currently serving as Vice President on the National Board. I am also a member of the HSU, the NSW Greens and Dying with Dignity NSW.
Please note the views on this blog and my podcast are my own and do not represent any organisation in which I hold office or that I work for.
I welcome comment, but I will only publish your contributions if they add to the conversation. I will not publish gushing agreement, or abuse. (as much as I enjoy the former and am entertained by the latter)
For those who want to know a bit more about me- copied below is the post on my social work journey.
A bit about me
I am sure my family background and social circumstances had a lot to do with the profession I chose.
I was born in Trieste in 1955. At the time my mother was living in a refugee camp. She fled from Istria, which is now a northern province of Croatia, but was then part of a nascent Yugoslavia. Single and pregnant, she had run away from home, ashamed of the disgrace she had brought upon her family.
The US government paid our passage to Australia in 1956, the funding coming a program designed to help resettle people who had fled Communist Eastern Europe. I have looked at the passenger manifest of the ship that brought us to Sydney. We are described as “stateless”.
I often think about the irony of this, as we now have a government that brutalizes children to dissuade others from coming here on boats.
I grew up being called a wog and a dago. (Is this what George Brandis defends when he champions the right to be a bigot?)
My mother married in Australia and carved out some kind of life for herself, but she was forever damaged by what had happened to her during the war and after.
Much later when studying psychotherapy, I came across the Jungian notion of the “wounded healer”. It gave me some explanation for choosing social work; And perhaps my fierce commitment to social justice and left wing politics.
I have always loved books and reading; My twin passions – politics and psychology. I remember the pure pleasure of the world of ideas opening up at university; the excitement of reading Labor and Monopoly Capital, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as well as Freud and always Winnicott.
Whilst studying social work, I persuaded myself that I would be a community worker, but the first job I ever had was in a large psychiatric hospital….some bizarre experiences……chemical straight jackets and pompous psychiatrists. The best thing I ever did there was to set up a halfway house for some young men suffering from schizophrenia.
I was devastated to learn a year after I had left, that one of them had committed suicide.
I was pleased and relieved that my next job was in outpatient psychiatry in a large paediatric hospital. The younger clinicians were experimenting with a new fangled idea – family therapy. We were being paid to have fun.
In those years I also devoted myself to the Australian Social Welfare Union. Students of AASW history will know that this was a spin off from the AASW, based on the AASW divesting itself of its trade union registration. The ASWU did some great work, establishing awards for social welfare workers in the non government sector, eventually merging with the ASU.
The 1980’s passed in a blur of my partner and I juggling part-time work and child rearing.
Parenting is a role of such extremes; joy, pleasure, unconditional love, as well as the helplessness of nursing a sick child, and the impossibility of adolescence.
I did some TAFE teaching and some private practice in those years. I learnt a lot, but in all my work, I have been painfully aware of how little one can ever know, and how paradoxically illuminating it can be to acknowledge that we are just “dancing in the dark”.
For many years now I have worked in a large city hospital – from neonatal intensive care to aged care, and everything in between. I am fascinated by the complexity of large hospitals. So many different kinds of hospital (paediatrics, birthing, surgery, etc) all under the same roof, all competing for finite dollars; So many tribes with their own rituals- doctors, nurses, administrators, physios, social workers, speech therapists, and many more. Fluid but rigid, conservative but always changing.
I have learnt a lot about the art of leadership and the skills of negotiation.
For many years I chaired the Board of the independent school that my kids attended. (one still there!)
I have learnt to listen and to be inclusive. I kept reading and studying. I have never lost my curiosity.
I have become cynical about large trade unions connected to right wing labor, chewing up workers resources, so that their officials can become part of the ruling elite.
I have had moments of despair, wondering whether social work can make a difference….but here’s the thing. Independent professions are a fundamental part of civil society. The values of our profession include an uncompromising commitment to quality work, ethics that puts the client first, and a firm commitment to social justice.
But the thing I love most about our profession is our commitment to reflective practice. “An unexamined life………………..”
I have always thought of social work as a vocation, and my professional colleagues as brothers and sisters. Sometimes we squabble- but at heart we understand each other.
Indeed we do squabble but I do agree, at the heart of our social work profession we care about helping those less fortunate than ourselves, about social justice, equality and advocacy.
From Bowlby to Maslow and everything in between, we agree about more than we disagree about.
Your words so resonate, I thank you for your story.
Mine is not pretty, abuse & FV until I graduated as a SW. The freedom of thought & my feminist beliefs & MH treatment ideologies mattered. Therapy first. Bullying & stigmatisation followed. I am fortunate, I became a private practitioner as a result. I remain proud of my achievement.
Thank you Di O’Brien
Aha now I know why I bonded myself to you all those years ago. Thank you. My story is from an Aboriginal mission to a dirt floor tin shed to getting through high school just by turning up regardless of the lack of uniform and books. The name calling was the norm and I blocked it out. I was after the knowledge. I had Aboriginal knowledge, but I needed the non-Aboriginal knowledge. I have had an interesting life and know that I have helped in some areas. Now I am retired much too early I think, but medical advice says its time. I am still in contact with people and now walk/sit in the parks, chat and give information to homeless people or to anyone. Stay well Vittorio. Glenice
So good to hear from you Glenice! Would love to chat when I am next out your way.