Social work and racism : a case study in ACT Health

  • Christine M. A Larkin

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    A Feminist Action Research methodology was used as a collaborative process with five ACT Health social workers based at the Community Health Centres and four at the Woden Valley Hospital. The primary purpose of the study was to investigate, both through critical reflection and action in their work setting, the participants' relevance or otherwise to Aboriginal people in the ACT and region. Behind this is the question of how encapsulated social work is by racism. The impetus for the study arose from my unresolved concerns regarding these issues, having been a social worker in ACT Health for 6 years, to 1990. Decisions on how to proceed involved a process of ongoing consultation between the participant social workers and myself. Exploratory meetings were held in March and April, with an ongoing program being held 2-3 weekly from June to September, followed by a review in December. Most gatherings were specific to the Woden Valley Hospital or Community Health settings. However two half-day workshops were held for all the participants. All the sessions from June were taped. Aboriginal leaders were consulted, as were several managers in ACT Health. The phenomena of institutional, cultural and personal racism were addressed by the social workers through discussion, exercises, and anti-racist initiatives in their work setting. They found that significant time restraints presented an example of institutional racism working against their good intentions. Another dimension arose from implicitly racist education in social work courses when most of the participants undertook their undergraduate courses in the 1960s and 1970s. Aspects related to professionalism such as its language and separation of a personal and professional self were indicative of cultural racism. Stories of personal racism were shared, in the context of raised awareness leading to changing those attitudes and behaviours. The fact that the study took place in 1993 - a watershed year for Aboriginal/white relations in Australia - seemed to lead to greater momentum for the project. The social workers found that participation in this study increased their knowledge of, and their confidence - both actual and potential - in interaction with Aboriginal people. However, they also understood these to be just small steps towards greater justice for the indigenous people. An outcome of the project has been involving some colleagues in similar anti-racist actions to those the social workers participated in during the time of the study. The action research project has continued on in different ways beyond 1993,despite my withdrawal as 'the researcher' who took the initiative.
    Date of Award1994
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPenny Crofts (Supervisor)

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