‘Taking the time to build relationships’ with Louise O’Connor

There’s something about the blue sky, the sparse landscape and the weaving of cultural stories that drew Louise O’Connor to Australia’s red centre.  Far from her homeland of Ireland and not satisfied with the big city lights of Melbourne, Louise O’Connor packed up her meagre belongings and head to Alice Springs.  She found herself working with the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council as a Domestic and Family Violence Case Worker and hasn’t looked back.  Since arriving, Louise has been drawn to narrative therapy as an approach for working respectfully with Aboriginal women.  She now supports a team of case workers implementing the Council’s new domestic and family violence prevention framework developed in consultation with the Australian Childhood Foundation and the large group of women they support in the NPY lands.  Louise brought with her a long history of case work with refugees and asylum seekers, youth and people at risk of homelessness or in crisis, both in Australia and Ireland.  Louise’s passion for sharing stories and helping others tell theirs shines through in my conversation this week on ‘Talk the Walk’.

In episode 18, we explore:

  • Why Louise uplifted her life in Melbourne to venture into Central Australia and how she got started in community work
  • A brief history of the NPY Women’s Council and its work
  • A typical day in the life of a domestic and family violence caseworker in the NPY lands
  • How the Women’s Council moved away from a justice focus to a violence prevention framework using a trauma-informed, community development, narrative therapeutic approach to practice
  • What Louise loves about her job and her journey into narrative therapy
  • How Aboriginal women are developing their own tools of narrative practice for use in their community
  • The everyday challenges of remote work and what Louise does to look after herself
  • The ‘strong stories board’ project – one of Louise’ sparkling moments
  • Louises biggest learnings and awesome words of advice for community development and social workers thinking of working with remote Aboriginal communities

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

The NPY Women’s Council domestic and family violence service

Download the Family violence Prevention Framework

Episode 15 – ‘Telling the Stories of Our Lives’ with Sudha Coutinho

Contact Louise on  lou_oconnor33(at)hotmail(dot)com

“Every Child is Worth It” with Doug Dunlop

Today’s conversation on ‘Talk The Walk’ has many gems, but particularly for counsellors and social workers interested in developing an evidence based program that is also culturally safe.  Doug Dunlop is a senior counsellor with the ‘Holding Children Together’ program based in Alice Springs and working with surrounding town camps.  Doug is part of the team leading a rigorous evaluation process, developed and mentored by the Australian Childhood Foundation and a Cultural Advisory Group.  In episode 17 of Talk the Walk, we also get a glimpse into the man behind the work; his historical roots, his life experience, the values and principles he brings to his trauma-informed, culturally-safe practice framework.
There is nothing quite like ‘Holding Children Together’ elsewhere in Australia and other organisations are starting to take notice of the Care Team model adopted by this child and family counselling service.  The road to evidence-based practice is long, requires collective good-will and a large investment, but like Doug says “every child is worth it”.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Considerations for Doug arriving from New Zealand to work in Australia’s Central Desert communities
  • the stark differences working with Maori and Aboriginal children beginning with engagement in therapy
  • understanding trauma informed practice with Aboriginal children and their families
  • the Care Team model integral to ‘Holding Children Together’ (HCT)
  • a typical day in the life of a counsellor
  • how HCT is upholding cultural safety and working towards evidence based status
  • a sparking story that makes the work all the more worthwhile and why great outcomes cannot be tied down to one intervention
  • the challenges of working within a Care Team model
  • insights into the complexities of reunification with family when a lot of intervention has focused on establishing relationships with carers
  • what makes Doug so passionate about his work and the values he holds most precious
  • important considerations of cultural world views in cases of Aboriginal children in foster care which has implications for reunification
  • awareness of white privilege and seeing the world through the eyes of others
  • Moments from Doug’s early life that have influenced the values underpinning his practice
  • How Holding Children Together manage the exposure to trauma in counsellors
  • Hopes for the future of evidence-based counselling services and why it’s a good process to undertake

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after this episode

Contact Doug Dunlop at doug(at)ra-nt.org.au

Holding Children Together web page

Burnout and Vicarous Trauma:  An employee defect or a yearning for collective action for social justice?

If you work in the area of trauma counselling, chances are you have an organisation or colleagues keeping a watchful eye out for the first signs and symptoms of burnout or vicarious trauma.

In my workplace we have to complete two tests every year – the Compassion Fatigue Self Test for Practioners and the Trauma and Attachment Beliefs Scale.  We also have regular training so that employees can identify the symptoms in each other.

While it might be considered admirable for our organisations to have a Vicarious Trauma Policy and working proactively to promote the health and wellbeing of its employees, what is it that is really happening here?  And what effect is this having?

If someone returns high results to vicarious trauma testing, the onus is on the individual to address it.  They are encouraged to revisit their self care plan or self refer to the Employee Assistance Program.  This kind of response pathologises the problem and locates it within the individual, that the counsellor is somehow defective or not strong enough.   It follows then that the client is to blame for somehow causing an injury by sharing their story with us.   Vikki Reynolds says using self care as an antidote for burnout “does nothing about the social determinants of health for people….  The problem is not in our heads or our hearts, but in the social world where clients and workers struggle with structures of injustice.”  Vikki argues that assuming a position where clients are seen to be hurting us is not an act of accountability at all.

In Darwin where I practice, we are surrounded by some of the worst cases of injustice in Australia such as the mistreatment of youth in detention, the highest rates of removal of Aboriginal children from their families and concerning numbers of child abuse within the foster care system.  Not far from us, refugees on Manus Island continue to suffer.

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to hear the sad and heartbreaking stories of abuse and violence and the impact this has had on our clients.  And yes, I see and hear the impacts of intergenerational trauma outside my house; it’s difficult to escape it sometimes.  However, I return a normal vicarious trauma result.  I also hear inspiring stories of skills, knowledge and strengths of survival; stories of people speaking out to the Royal Commission so that the same thing doesn’t happen to other people; stories of people taking action to reduce the isolation caused by their poverty and homelessness.  I admire the steps of resistance my clients make against systems of injustice.  Indeed, clients do not hurt us, but instead inspire us, teach us and critique us says Reynolds.

The biggest critique our clients could legitimately make is why we, as workers, are not ‘fostering collective sustainability’*, coming together in solidarity to challenge the institutions and systems which marginalise and victimise our clients.

Indeed the collective silence of social workers in Australia is more likely to lead to my potential burnout, due to my frustration with the profession.  Why are social workers not out on the streets marching together to get Manus Island refugees to Australia?  Why are we silent in our support of our Indigenous comrades in the fight for Recognition?  Why are we standing back and allowing removal of Aboriginal children from families to go up and up?  Isn’t that why we entered this profession in the first place, to make a real difference to the social structures of injustice?  I was once accused of getting too close to a community because I cared too much, and was threatened to be removed by my employer.  However I was proud of my role as an advocate for social justice for the community and its people.

Social justice activism is a protective factor against vicarious trauma.  It’s not our clients that are hurting us.  It is our silence and inaction.

Perhaps the care we can show our colleagues is not to watch out for signs or symptoms of vicarious trauma in the workplace, but to gather in solidarity around shared ethics of social justice and collective accountability.  Let’s get out on the streets and do what we signed up for.

*‘Fostering collective sustainability’ is one of the guiding intentions advocated by Vikki Reynold in Justice Doing in Community Work and Therapy.

‘The confronting world of working with Aboriginal Youth in Detention’ with Daniel Hastwell

Photos courtesy of ABC

I still can’t get this image out of my head.  A youth detained at the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre is forcibly restrained and hooded.   As Australians watched on in disbelief at the shocking Four Corners footage in July 2016, our Prime Minister quickly responded, setting up a Royal Commission to investigate practices inside the Northern Territory’s juvenile detention facilities and child protection system.

As part of a suite of supports put in place for young people and families making submissions to the Royal Commission, Relationships Australia was funded to provide counselling services.   One of those to join the team, moving from Adelaide to Darwin was Daniel Hastwell.
In Epsiode 13 of ‘Talk the Walk’, you’ll get an inside look at what it’s really like to work alongside a Royal Commission using a trauma informed approach to counselling.
With over 90% of youth in detention being Aboriginal, this has got to be one of the toughest and most important jobs in the country at the moment.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Daniel’s reaction to the Four Corners report which sparked the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
  • Daniel Hastwell – Counsellor, Royal Commission Support Service

    Daniel’s previous experience working alongside Aboriginal consultants with Aboriginal families in child protection and hospital social work

  • What sparked Daniel to up and leave Adelaide for the Northern Territory
  • Daniel’s interest in culture and it’s connection to personal values of respect for the land
  • A day in the life of a Royal Commission Support Service counsellor
  • What it’s like to work with traumatised young Aboriginal men and youth
  • Using personal disclosure to build a relationship of trust and the challenges of engagement
  • celebrating the small moments and stories of success
  • outcomes for people who have shared their story with the Royal Commission
  • the hopes that clients have expressed for change within the system and Daniel’s hopes for the Recommendations due in November
  • The need for early intervention and prevention support services for young people

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

Contact Daniel Hastwell via daniel(at)ra-nt.org.au

‘Magic Wand Dreaming’ with Emily Hapea

What’s it like to walk in two worlds, as a non-Indigenous social worker in a remote Aboriginal community, fresh out of university?

While that might seem daunting, Emily Hapea saw the opportunity for growth, developing authentic relationships and honouring the truth of First Nations Australians.

Emily lives and works in Cairns in northern Queensland.   In this episode of ‘Talk the Walk’, Emily shares the journey that has shaped her understanding of trauma-informed practice influenced by experiences of institutional racism and a denial of Australia’s black history.

Like many social workers who are expected to wave a magic wand, Emily prefers to draw on deeply engrained values of equality, compassion for others and a sense of justice, to create a way of working that sustains her.

In this refreshing conversation, we explore:

    • The beginnings of Emily’s social justice journey from childhood; the influences and myths that have shaped her ethics and values in life and work
    • Why Emily believes that it is impossible to be born in Australia and avoid being racist
    • Seeing intergenerational trauma as a truth, not a theory
    • Emily’s framework for social work practice
    • Beginnings and sparkling moments from working with vulnerable Aboriginal women seeking to get Child Protection out of their life, working within Noel Pearson’s Welfare Reform agenda for Cape York, and an innovative accommodation and early intervention support service for new mums
    • The biggest learnings of being thrown in the deep end, fresh out of university into Cape York communities
    • What can help when starting work in a new cultural context and the importance of developing relationships with cultural mentors
    • Differences between social work in Indigenous and mainstream contexts
    • The knowledge and skills Emily developed that she wouldn’t have, if she hadn’t worked with Indigenous communities
    • Advice for social workers new to the field
    • The sickness of denial about Australia’s true history and owning our racism, contrasted with Aboriginal people’s resilence and passion
    • What Emily would do if she had a magic wand

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

Trauma Trails’ by Professor Judy Atkinson

Why weren’t we told’ by Henry Reynolds

Jackie Huggins

‘Allowing Voices to be Heard’ with Toni Woods

An advocate for ‘two way’ relationships and “not being a seagull” – Toni Woods

Do you know what it’s like to meet up with an old friend you haven’t seen for years and feel like you picked up exactly where you left off?   That’s what my conversation felt like this week on Episode 9 of ‘Talk the Walk’.  Nine years after crossing paths on our respective journeys, I reconnected with an old friend and colleague, Toni Woods.

Toni now lives in Canberra and works as an Implementation Specialist with the Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) which sees her travelling back to the Northern Territory to provide practice coaching with her team.  Prior to that Toni worked in remote Aboriginal communities supporting women and children living with domestic and family violence, project co-ordination of child-friendly safe houses and community development with urban Aboriginal school communities around Darwin.  Toni has worked alongside Aboriginal people in supervision and management, developing creative-culturally safe educational resources, training and mentoring, project management, counselling and family support.   She is gearing up to head off to the SNAICC Conference in Canberra next week, to support her colleague Faye Parriman in presenting her amazing resource and share their current work with the IFSS project.   Be sure to say hello, if you happen to be there!

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Toni as we look back on almost a decade of her incredible development work.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Toni’s yearning to respond to social injustices and human rights violations she observed after arriving in Darwin and the NT Emergency Intervention was introduced
  • What Midnight oil, nursing strikes and Jon Lennon has to do with Toni’s commitment to these ethics and values
  • How challenging moments are actually opportunities for good work to happen (especially when you have the courage to talk to the Federal Opposition Leader!)
  • Hearing stories from people, ownership of story and the dilemmas around sharing story when there are issues of collective injustice
  • The joy of work that advocates for and engages local community members in making decisions about their own families and communities
  • The skills and knowledge needed to co-ordinate an urban Aboriginal community project to improve school attendance; and the learnings and outcomes achieved
  • Lessons learnt about the importance of the implementation phase in running a successful project
  • The role of the Parenting Research Centre and the development of culturally safe resources available through the Raising Children network
  • Toni’s long established collaborative relationship with Senior Aboriginal woman Faye Parriman and the cross-cultural work they have achieved together
  • How the Yarning Mat tool came about through Faye’s visionary dream, a tool to engage Aboriginal parents in the Intensive Family Support Service; an introduction to the elements and how it is used from engagement and assessment to review and closure.
  • Reflections on Toni’s ‘two-way working’ relationship with Faye and the elements that built respect and trust

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

The Parenting Research Centre

The Raising Children Network

Faye Parriman on the history of the Yarning Mat

National Implementation Research Network

The 2017 SNAICC Conference

Contact Toni Woods on LinkedIn or via email at twoods(at)parentingrc.org.au