As a Social Work student and Anthropology graduate, I am acutely aware of the role that politicians, social work and welfare professionals have played in implementing policies that led to the Stolen Generations. Their activities are directly responsible for catastrophic disruption to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) communities, which continue to impact current generations. Against this background, I am committed to ensuring the cultural, social and economic rights of ATSI people are affirmed through my professional practice, a sentiment that is echoed by today’s social work community. It was in this spirit that I applied for an internship with the Aurora Internship Progam, led by a strong desire to learn more about ATSI communities and how social workers might genuinely support them.
As an Aurora intern, I was lucky enough to secure a four-week placement with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALS) in Broome. This organisation provides legal representation and support services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been charged with criminal offences. The Broome branch doesn’t currently employ a social worker, however through my conversations with staff and observations of client engagement, I came to recognise how social work might be incorporated into ALS operations. For example, many clients would benefit from counselling and referrals to programs/services that address the underlying cause(s) of their offending, e.g. drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, limited engagement with education/employment, etc. Although the lawyers and court officers all perform some level of client assessment and service referral, they don't have sufficient time/resources to provide rehabilitative case management to clients.
In addition to observation, I undertook several projects that were designed to enhance welfare services currently provided by ALS staff. In the first instance, I developed an assessment questionnaire to support staff in gleaning the personal and social context of clients’ offending, which was informed by relevant social work theories and models for offender rehabilitation. The assessment tool was further improved through consultation with the Managing Lawyer and Aboriginal Court Officers who reviewed the questionnaire for cultural appropriateness. I later had the opportunity to test this tool with a suitable client, using the questionnaire to guide our conversation around his offending and life circumstances more broadly. It was a huge boon to find this questionnaire yielded information regarding the client’s offending, his support networks and coping strategies for life stressors. Yet I also spent a significant amount of time visiting various health and community agencies in Broome, learning more about their programs/offerings and contributing this information to the directory of services maintained by ALS court officers. Most notably, I established a relationship with a disability advocate who may soon be engaged to connect ALS clients with disability funding and support services.
My placement with the ALS allowed me to draw upon my social work studies and recent experience as Youth Justice case manager, which has in turn solidified my desire to work in the justice system. I became aware of the true value that social workers can bring to ATSI clients who are overrepresented in Australia's courts and prisons, and I hope that I'll be able to continue this work in future roles.