Working for the welfare: exploring the experiences of Indigenous child protection workers

Oates, Fiona Gail (2018) Working for the welfare: exploring the experiences of Indigenous child protection workers. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately represented in the statutory child protection system in Queensland and across Australia. A strategy gaining traction to address this disproportionate representation is to recruit more Indigenous practitioners into child protection work. However, the experiences of Indigenous people who undertake child protection work have not been explored thoroughly, particularly in an Australian research context. There is a dearth of enquiry considering Indigenous child protection workers' potential experiences of trauma, given past policies of forced child removal in Australia. There has also been a lack of consideration of Indigenous practitioners' professional and wellbeing support needs in the workplace. Additionally, there is a dearth of research examining the link between the additional recruitment of Indigenous practitioners and a decrease in the rate of Indigenous children requiring the services of statutory child protection authorities. Given the unique position of Indigenous people working in child protection and the plans to recruit more Indigenous practitioners into the system, an understanding of their experiences and support needs is imperative.

This study relies on the stories of the participants to answer the primary research question: what are the experiences of Indigenous child protection workers? The research design was underpinned by critical theory and decolonisation frameworks. The decolonising theoretical underpinning of the study viewed the participants as the experts in their own experience, which provided a framework for the co-creation of knowledge. Through in-depth semi-structured interviews, the participants and researcher, in collaboration, explored the overall research question guided by three main aims. These aims were to explore the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who work in the child protection field, to explore the effects of historical trauma experienced by Indigenous Australians and its symptomology within a child protection workplace, and to explore participant views of culturally responsive models of support for Indigenous workers within the child protection system. The purposive sample of participants consisted of 13 people who self-identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and had worked with families in which child protection concerns were present. Interviews were transcribed and a thematic analysis was undertaken to identify emerging themes.

The experiences of the research participants tell the story of a deficiency within the child protection system—particularly in a statutory context—to meet the wellbeing needs of Indigenous workers and provide a workplace environment that is culturally safe. Also described were recurrent experiences of racism, a lack of culturally appropriate statutory child protection practice, a culture of bullying and a lack of support that acknowledges the distinctive experience of Indigenous people who undertake child protection work. Strong themes of marginalisation, isolation and oppression emerged consistently from the narratives of participants.

The outcome of this study generates a body of knowledge outlining how the primary and intergenerational trauma histories of Indigenous child protection workers may affect their wellbeing at work and continued ability to maintain their presence in the child protection field. The stories of these participants have created context and clarity for non-Indigenous supervisors regarding why the support and supervision needs of Indigenous child protection workers are different to those of non-Indigenous workers, as well as providing information to inform staff support policies and procedures. This study has produced a beginning evidence base for further research in this area.

Item ID: 56112
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: child protection, child welfare, Aboriginal children, Torres Strait Islander children, Indigenous children, Indigenous child protection workers, Indigenous practitioners, trauma
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2018 Fiona Gail Oates
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2018 23:16
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169902 Studies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Society @ 50%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1607 Social Work > 160702 Counselling, Welfare and Community Services @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 100%
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