5 new year resolutions for social workers

  1. Be proud of your profession, its values and ethics. Contributing to an environment where social work values and ethics are respected (and talked about) can lead to greater work satisfaction.
  2. Develop a 12 month professional development plan (even if you have to pay yourself!). Professional development is the life-blood for all professionals – better than a face lift for reinvigorating and inspiring tired, overworked social workers.
  3. Inoculate against robotic and routine activities. Schedule in time for regular professional supervision (after hours or by telephone if need be).
  4. Connect with other social workers. Join a professional association or interest group, start one yourself or simply hang out with your peers.
  5. Establish ground rules around work/ life balance. If you find your case notes in the freezer and the steak in your desk drawer you’re in trouble!

Remember above all things, it is your clients and service users who value what you do most.



Be safe and happy over the holiday

Enjoy the break everyone. Look forward to posting more in 2014. Happy western New Year on the 1st, and Lunar New Year and Orthodox New year in January.  I think we missed Jewish New Year and Islamic New Year (so belated wishes). Same to anyone I have overlooked. Stay safe and be happy.

What are the plans for “easier and quicker” adoptions in Australia?

Way back in November 2005, the adoption lobbyists were courting celebrities. Lists of people who were “important / influential / in position of power” were circulated in chat rooms all over Australia. Adoptive parents were encouraged to make contact and convince celebs and politicians and anyone remotely famous who had any connection to adoption to take up the cause. Tony Abbott was considered a good option because it was reported that in his youth he had placed a child for adoption. A few of the names on that list were Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Nick Whitlam. Bronwyn Bishop was already a staunch supporter of lobbyists and an early ‘friend’ of Orphan Angels. Of course, adoption and permanent care is not a problem – it is how this is practised that counts.

Abbott is making his intentions very clear – easier and faster – and is capitalizing on the short cutmedia attention adoption brings. But what does this actually mean and what are their plans for adoption? It is all a bit secretive at the moment. How will it be faster and quicker? We are in a world where celebrity is the source of knowledge and the driver of social policy in this country. Generally, the impression given is that the views of lobbyists reflect a single, uncomplicated view of adoption held by all adoptive parents in Australia. This is not the case and many adoptive parents do not share the views of lobbyists but not too many are prepared to say publicly what they really think.

The adoption community in any country is not made up of only adoptive or would-be adoptive parents and we should unequivocally be hearing from everyone affected by adoption, not to mention developing practices informed by independent research. When changes are implemented, it is so important that past mistakes for which we have so recently apologized and the experience overseas of speedy adoptions in systems that are not working well are not forgotten. The plans for adoption currently need to come out from behind closed doors so rigorous, informed and transparent discussions can occur. It will be interesting to note the events at COAG  in 2014. I suspect it’s already done and dusted – probably over dinner.

My PhD research into intercountry adoption is source of information for this post.  

A social work Christmas

“Lying flat out like a lizard in the sun” usually doesn’t apply to social workers at Christmas. While the rest of the world seems to wind down, social work gets busier. When any long holiday approaches, “running around like a chook with its head cut off” is probably closer to the truth. Regardless of where social workers are, they make sure their clients have what they need over the holiday. So, this year I became curious about what’s on the internet about social work at Christmas.

There were only a few articles about social work among all the announcements about Christmas closures and opening times. xmas treeMost of them pointed out the difficult circumstances for the people social workers work with or drew attention to social conditions, disadvantage or breaches in human rights. Unfortunately, one or two portrayed social workers contriving elaborate plots to remove children at Christmas.

In 2011, a Social Care article pointed out that Christmas is not always a happy time and just how busy social workers are because of it. Families, addiction and how to survive the stress of the season was a focus for Social Work Today. Hope amid the impact of neoliberalism and a return to the Victorian era also got a mention.

The following year, the Social Work Helper reminded us about the violation of gay rights in Uganda. The Daily Mail told us who would be working Christmas Day in the UK and the British Association of Social Work reminded us about our online activities and professional boundaries – good to remember every year!.

I had to go back six years to find anything remotely light about social work at Christmas when 10 social work jokes from community care crackers  was published.

So for this year everybody, stay safe, enjoy and try a bit of self-care!

Jumping on the bandwagon will not improve Abbott’s popularity

Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister, has just announced his intention to make adoptions easier and faster under the guidance of Deborah-Lee Furness (actor Hugh Jackman’s wife for those who have not heard of her) and the personal experience of a friend. If lobbyists have their way, pretty soon we will have lobbyist-led, private agencies facilitating court-mandated, domestic adoptions and overseas adoptions in one-stop shops. Many people in the adoption community are very concerned. How this unfolds will be interesting given the struggle between two factions to lead this charge and take credit as social change agents in Australia, albeit a retrograde step.

The UK is feeling the brunt of criticism over speedy, forced adoptions. The US is still reeling from the rehoming scandals made possible in a private system and the churches bandwagonare dealing with the consequences of their involvement in past adoption practices. Court ordered, forced adoptions are happening so quickly in the UK there is no time or resources to adequately assess or resolve problems and big mistakes are being made. Do we really want more stolen generations in Australia and how can we so quickly dismiss the mistakes of the past? Do we really want to follow the practices of other countries when they are trying to correct them? Our experience will be no different if we go down this road. Perhaps we should also hear more from spokespersons about their own adoptive experiences – their role in the relinquishment of the child, whether they engaged with private or government facilitated adoptions, their opinions on open/ or semi-open adoptions and first family contact, the rights of children to information, maintaining a sense of culture, identity and post adoption support for families and adults. After all these are the issues Australian adoptive parents prepare for and deal with and their children experience.

Generally speaking, anyone serving on official committees or claiming spokesperson status for whole communities should be above criticism and declare all personal and financial interests. A capacity for ethical decision making and ethical behaviour, truthfulness, a commitment to do no harm, disclosure of conflicts of interests, transparency in financial matters, an obligation not to misuse power and influence, self-awareness of the limitations of their expertise and valuing knowledge are essential qualities. Perhaps I am expecting too much? Likewise those appointing people to committees should also be aware of their own ethical obligations regarding the character of the persons they appoint.

Tony Abbot cannot assume community support and cannot afford to dismiss the concerns of a community. It is not wise to ignore what we do actually know about ‘speedy’ and ‘easier’ adoptions. Australia has always been viewed as having a well-functioning and ethical adoption system. Parents generally understand the waiting times are mostly related to countries of origin and that countries open and close for good reasons. It will not help children, families or Australians to naively consider introducing systems known to be fraught with human rights issues and poor practices from our past and in present practice overseas. Not only will such decisions not improve popularity but it will cost governments more in the medium and long term.

Snowballing intercountry adoptees: Are you an intercountry adoptee or do you know somebody who is?

Why do I need to blog about this? Researchers, including myself, from Griffith University are trying to reach every adult adoptee that has ever been adopted into Australia to participate in the National Post Adoption Support Survey. This is not an easy snowballtask.

 What is this snowballing? A snowball technique is just like rolling a snowball down the hill. It gets bigger and bigger as it picks up more snow along the way. So if every person tells at least one other person about this research we will eventually reach all the adoptees we need to reach no matter where they live.

 What is the research about? The aim of this research is to improve support for Australian intercountry adoptees around the country. We have very little research about the post adoption support experiences of adoptees in Australia and what support they need or want, if anything at all. We would like adoptees to participate even if they have never needed post adoption support or don’t think they ever will. Their experience may help other adoptees.

 Is there any resistance? Yes. It is beyond belief but some people who are not adoptees are actively blocking the distribution of this research. The research is not political. Its objectives are quite simple – to improve access to support for adoptees around the country and is 100% confidential.

 What can I expect? It is a pretty boring on-line survey and will take up to 30 minutes to complete but there are two questions at the end where you can write as much as you like. To participate or ask questions, please email Patricia Fronek p.fronek@griffith.edu.au and you will receive a computer generated link to your anonymous survey.

 Is it worth your time? Yes – adoptees can create knowledge in this area by participating. Your voice is what this is about.


What do social workers do in hospitals?

It was a pleasure to interview Shelley Craig and Barbara Muskat about hospital social work this week. Their research is published in an article called Bouncers, Brokers, and Glue: The Self-Described Roles of Social Workers in Urban Hospitals. What they have to say hospitalwill resonate with any social worker who has ever worked in an urban hospital. The findings of their research could pretty much describe hospital social work anywhere in Canada, the US or Australia. Social workers do great work and like the rest of the health workforce are under increasing pressure. Consequently, roles are changing and the profession must get better at articulating the high level of skills possessed by social workers to do what they do on a daily basis. It is important for social workers to take charge of defining their own roles rather than letting others do it for them. In brief, social workers in this study described 7 roles they regularly performed in hospitals in addition to therapeutic work with individuals, groups and families.

1. The Bouncer – Who gets called in to see the ‘difficult’ or distressed patients or families? Enter the social worker who uses assessment, diplomacy, arbitration, mediation, skilled communication and problem solving skills to calm volatile situations.

2. The Janitor – The role taken on when noone else knows what to do with it – filling the void and cleaning up. Finding clothes for a person so they can leave the hospital, housing a pet, or sorting out the car illegally parked outside. The list is endless.

3. The Glue – Social workers hold it all together – the people in hospital, their families and other important people in their lives, the team and the common purpose. Social workers are experts at systems, making linkages and ensuring the right people talk to each other.

4. The Broker – This role involves the active negotiation of service provision and ‘durable discharges’. Durable discharges are those most likely to last.  Discharge planning is often misunderstood. It is much more than completing a few tasks or making a few phone calls.  It is actually a complex,  in-depth process that must meet the unique, individual needs and circumstances of each person leaving hospital or it probably won’t last.

5. The Firefighter – puts out those fires, those urgent and immediate problems that are sometimes created by others.

6. The Juggler – self-explanatory! Multi-tasking at multiple levels.

7. The Challenger – or the advocate. Helping people understand biomedical approaches, making sure their wishes are heard, their needs understood and what is happening to them communicated to them in what can only be described as complicated and often confusing bureaucracies.

Shelley and Barbara talk in depth about social workers in hospitals with me on Podsocs. The podcast is due for release early in 2014 and is guaranteed good listening.