career profile | social work

Rachel is an accredited social worker who has worked with children, families and individuals for over 17 years. She also has a private counselling practice, focussing on mindfulness as a means to reduce suffering and enhance wellbeing. Rachel has trained at the Centre for Mindfulness , University of Massachusetts Medical School, and is accredited to teach the Cultivating Emotional Balance (CEB) program, which was developed under the guidance of H. H. Dalai Lama to use contemplative skills, such as meditation, to increase resilience and manage emotional difficulties. Rachel is also a Gottman Couples Therapist and uses these skills in her couples counselling work. Rachel offers counselling through her private practice, either face to face in Fremantle, Western Australia, or over Skype. You can also find Rachel over at her website www.racheldavey.com.au – This career profile is one of a kind, really giving you true insight into her world and what like is like as a Social Worker.

Rachel Davey, Senior Policy Officer, Child Protection Program, Department of Human Services, Victoria

Brief description of your role:
I’m actually currently on maternity leave from my role as a Policy Officer within the Child Protection Program in Department of Human Services (DHS). I moved into policy after working as a Child Protection Social Worker mainly in Western Australia, Britain and Melbourne. I have also been involved in the training and professional development of child protection social workers. The policy work involves a lot of research and analysis and providing policy advice on a wide range of social issues relating to the welfare and protection of children, and the support of families. The role of a child protection social worker is largely working directly with families to ensure that children are safe – this involves investigating reports of abuse or neglect, and sometimes removing children from families when an assessment is made that they are unsafe to remain in the family. This is always a last resort, and if at all possible, the plan is to reunite children with families when it is safe to do so. There is a lot of work around supporting families who are struggling to ensure that the family can remain intact.

I also have a private practice providing counselling and coaching to individuals experiencing a range of issues such as depression/anxiety, relationship difficulties, work/life balance conflict, and life transition problems.

So… what do you actually do?
The role of a child protection social worker is wide and varied. In essence, we focus on preventing abuse and neglect of children and young people, or on protecting children and young people from further abuse if we’ve determined that they are at risk.

No two days are the same, and there are a number of different roles you can occupy within child protection – some people manage the initial contact from the public and other professionals, and this requires solid information gathering and risk assessment skills to determine which cases we respond to and the urgency we allocate to them. Unfortunately now, most child protection services across Australia are under significant pressure and we often only have the resources to respond to the most urgent cases. It can sometimes be difficult to determine which are the most urgent, and urgency can be determined by a number of factors, including the age of the child (generally, the younger the child, they more vulnerable they are – obviously a baby can’t run away from abuse or neglect), if a child or family has a history of abuse it’s often a sign of greater urgency, and many of the families we deal with have very complex issues – mental health issues, intergenerational trauma, homelessness, family violence and drug and alcohol use.

Other roles within child protection may include visiting families to undertake a risk assessment, once we’ve determined that the information available suggests that children may be at risk. Other workers may be responsible for managing a caseload of children who have already been removed from the home and placed in foster or other care and are under the guardianship of the state as a result. 

A typical day may look something like this:

8am – I arrive at work to check for any crises that may have occurred over night. You note that one family you’ve been working with had contact with the out of hours emergency child protection service last night, and the child was removed from the family due to significant risk. I start planning the tasks that fall out of this – find an appropriate placement (I know that none of the immediate family are able to safely care for this child – but haven’t conducted an assessment for extended family networks – this can take some time, and requires a lot of planning and information gathering). I know that you’ll need to write a court report and present that the Children’s Court to justify removal of the child from their family. I Put this on my “to do” list. 9am 10.15am I race to a team meeting to discuss case allocation, whilst scoffing down some breakfast. 10.30 – 12.30pm – myself and a colleague conduct homevisits, as we’d planned the previous day, to visit two families who have been reported to child protection. <12.30 – 1.15pm – I Start writing the assessment reports from these homevisits. I am comfortable with one of the responses from one of these families, but the second one is worrying me. This family has a history of abuse, and has just given birth to their third child. Their previous children were removed due to abuse, and have just been returned with significant supports. The parents present as very stressed, in conflict with one another, and the older children are starting to miss school. My warning bells are ringing, but I know I won’t get the chance to discuss this with my supervisor until the day after tomorrow. I make a mental note to send her an email, from home tonight if necessary, detailing my concerns. 1.30 -3.30pm – I attend a Family Case Conference – These include all relevant family members, the child (if age appropriate), other professionals such as school and educational professionals, police, drug and alcohol or other health services. These meetings aim to plan a way forward with the family, whilst including them in the discussions. The meeting goes well, and I am confident that, with time, this family can care safely for their children. 3.30 -4.30pm – I make a start on the court report that will be due within 24 hours. I plough back through the volumes of files detailing the history of this family in an effort to compile a case chronology. I note that the mother of these children was in foster care herself as a child, for many of the same issues that her children are now facing. 4.30-5.45pm – a colleague has to transport a young person with a history of violence to a new foster placement, as his previous one broke down. She begs me to come with her as she doesn’t feel safe driving this teenager alone. I have a million other things to do, but reluctantly agree because I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be needing support from her for some reason or another. 5.45pm – 6.30pm – I quickly return to the office to write an email to my supervisor regarding the homevisit I conducted today. Before I can send this, the phone rings from a young mother who isn’t coping with her two young children – she implies that she may harm them, but when I confront her about this, she denies that she would, but says she doesn’t know what else to do. I promise to visit her tomorrow, and fire off a quick email to the after hours child protection service with some history on this family in case things blow up overnight. That email to myr supervisor never gets written and i make a mental note to send something first thing tomorrow.

How did you get to your position of being a Social Worker?
To become a social worker you need to complete a four year university degree (Bachelor of Social Work). I was employed in child protection before I even graduated. Social workers have two placements as part of their study, and often that’s where students find their first jobs.

Have you always wanted to work in this industry?
I’ve always had a strong commitment to social justice, have been highly empathic, and have had a desire to help those vulnerable groups in society. If it hadn’t been social work, it would have been another similar field (probably psychology).

What do you love about your role?
Due to the stressful nature of the role, often your relationships with your colleagues are very strong and supportive, and you can manage to have fun even when working in some very trying circumstances.

In your current role, what has been your biggest achievement?
Certainly knowing a child is safe and protected, when previously they had not been is very rewarding, although it’s often tinged with some sadness that these situations exist at all.

Over your career, what has been your ‘love this’ moment?
Often it’s the small things – when you see a mother or father, with the best of intentions really struggling to parent their children, but perhaps their parenting skills are really poor because they themselves had a very difficult family life as a child. And putting in place supports and working with this family over a period of time you can see real changes for both the parents and children, and that’s very rewarding.

What would be the least favourite aspect of your role?
Certainly for child protection work, it’s very crisis driven and the important tends to get overlooked in favour of the urgent. This can often make for a very stressful work environment, but is partly the nature of the job – sometimes situations of risk to children need to be responded to urgently and everything else is dropped as a result.

And, understandably, I wasn’t particularly keen when my personal safety was threatened by clients, although now there are a range of systems in place, to try to prevent this happening.

Any advice for anyone aspiring to be a Social Worker?
Anyone going into this industry needs to have a strong desire to help others, and a commitment to social justice. The great thing about a social work qualification is that the field is so large – child protection, aged care, disability care, mental health and counselling, hospital work, working in the justice system and policy work, to name a few – that you can have a varied and interesting career just from the one university degree.

Social workers are always in demand, and the human services is a significantly growing field. I’ve never had any problems at all finding employment.

Self care is something that is really important is this field, and something that I am very passionate about. As a social worker, you see some situations which will be very sad and at times quite traumatizing. Make good supervision a priority – seek it outside of the organization if they don’t provide quality supervision, and develop a range of skills to manage stress.

Such inspiring career profile and love Rachel’s advice – remember to find out more about Rachel and her work check out her website 
Any questions for Rachel or about the industry?

Leave a Comment