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Posts from the ‘Student Posts’ Category

Where Is Superwoman?

Media is perhaps the most pervasive force shaping our cultural norms and our self-concept. The collective message delivered by media about the value and power of girls, young women and women undeniably shapes and molds us all in varying degrees. But nothing is quite so obtrusive today as the media’s obsession with, and let’s face it, blatant attack on women and girls. In the media, women are objectified, “things” to be used to make sales and “things” to be sold to.

The discourse the media has with women and girls is detrimental, and it starts early. Consider this short video where little girl consumer, Riley shares her frustration about being sold princesses and pink stuff. Media effects how we are viewed as girls and women and how boys and men then go on to see and treat us. This cycle is only further entrenched in our culture, when we play into these negative, untrue caricatures we see of women. Consider for instance that despite the fact women have advanced leaps and bounds since the time of the repressed and depressed 1950’s housewife archetype, the media still advocates and preserves this out dated and very limited representation of womanhood. You’d think people would choose not to buy into these time bound myths, but we only have to look to the proliferation of blogs and websites, advocating the return of the 60’s housewife, to see that many of us do indeed, buy in, hook line and sinker.

The media doesn’t just dictate what we watch; its destructive force has been engrained into our collective psyches making it near impossible to view women as anything but less than men and often less than human. It is worth mentioning females in particular in relation to the media because men and boys are just not attacked or marginalized in the same way and this is why the media has the ability to wreck such havoc at the heart of the gender divide. Consider watching Misrepresentation, a recent documentary which makes a compelling case for how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in influential positions and challenges the media’s limiting and often disparaging portrayals of women.

The majority of mainstream news coverage employs men as their expert witnesses: in business, politics and economics. Women are most likely to cover weather, family/children topics, lifestyle and fashion and if they are lucky, stories featuring domestic violence, natural disasters and accidents.  Female presence in film and television is even scarcer. Consider some of the statistics available through the Gina Davis Institute.  On average for every one female on the big screen there are at least four males. We see men in leading roles, as endearing heroes and compelling villains, kings and saints, who have the ability to captivate audiences and enthral millions worldwide. The reality for women is very different; overwhelmingly we are cast as “supporting” leads, as struggling wives and mothers, whores and waitress-wannabe-actresses all of whom share the common character arch of wanting and/or needing the love, attention and protection of a man. Men have beaten out women for Academy Awards by a landslide and we don’t have to ponder too hard to realize this is due to the poor representation and shameless misrepresentation of women in the media.

It’s our job to critically analyse what the media is feeding us. We need to debunk these myths of beauty, womanhood and femininity not only for ourselves but for the young girls and boys we work with every day. We need to support and encourage girls and boys to think for themselves, to unpack these complex and loaded issues, to be socially and politically aware so they are then able to go out into the world as equals and be willing and prepared to advocate for equity. When we support gender equality, and encourage others to as well, we will see the gender divide bridged and detrimental gender stereotypes diminish. When girls are given an equal playing field there won’t be grounds for men to maintain a derogatory view, or for boys to learn it. It is impossible to stress just how damaging the media’s misrepresentation of women is to developing children and young people. The media we are exposed to as children is one of the first ways we learn to relate to the world. The implications of girls and boys not having the ability to evaluate what is being sold to them is we risk them accepting these false and highly unrealistic portrayals of women and further extending our inequality.

Ceilidh Craig – Student


Baby Babes

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says: “It’s a girl.”
— Shirley Chisholm

Earlier this week,  PeakCare staff were critically de-constructing a piece of current news. The article in question was from the Sydney Morning Herald, Tending to Children With the Bodies of Women. It definitely got me thinking. On average girls these days are menstruating earlier than in the past. During the 1900’s girls usually reached menarche (onset of periods) at around 14 or 15 years of age. Now the average onset is 12 years and seven months. While this represents a seemingly significant age difference I question if this reduction in age is surprising or even concerning. What concerns me is how some are responding to the changes, with such suggestions surfacing that parents should demonstrate more control over their daughters’ activity and weight levels and that a consequence of early menstruation is that girls will become sexualised earlier.

With the advent of the socially defined time of life marketed as ‘adolescence’ came consumerism. Childhood and adolescence became marketable and certain groups became extremely wealthy selling their messages of what it means to be young i.e. what you should eat, wear, listen to and read to fit in, in what was widely being recognised as a distinct youth culture. In order to sell their products to children, these businesses jumped on the band wagon of ‘sex sells’ and their target groups have been getting younger and younger.

I found out what a blow job was in grade six from a glossy magazine marketed to children ages 11 and up, children who I truly believe could have spent the next couple of years oblivious to such knowledge and perhaps been better for it. I mean does an 11 year old really need to know what a blow job is? What does such knowledge add to their life?

Is it surprising that both boys and girls are becoming sexualised earlier than ever before? I don’t think so, given what influences children these days are exposed to. Sexualised images are everywhere and despite a parent’s best attempt to restrict their children’s exposure, such messages are so persuasive that limiting exposure is near impossible short of ensuring your children walk through life under a sound proof potato sack.

It must be confusing for children to see sexualised messages everywhere, and sadly a lot are directed at them, and then to hear the other side of the debate with parents desperately trying to teach their children that it is ok to be young and that it is not uncool to engage in age appropriate behaviour.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the average age of a child’s first drink these days is around 14 compared with 17 and a half back in the seventies. I wonder if these changes represent the incessant push portrayed in the media and brands of what it means to be young and cool.

I think that as a society we need to question what all of this says about our society. I vouch that most parents would agree that this type of consumerism has gone too far. And really sadly, such marketing starts when children are still in nappies.

I once visited a shop, which will remain nameless, to buy my toddler girl a bathing suit. I was appalled by the selection! They were not bathing suits for young girls but for miniature adults. One particular number was a black bikini with racy hot pink and silver swirls. I found the experience quite scary and needless to say left empty handed. This form of sexualisation of young girls is everywhere while it seems little boys are left to be little boys for a little longer.

…..back to the original debate. There are many reasons why girls could be menstruating earlier than ever before (and I have not even mentioned the growth hormones and other chemicals now present in modern day food!!!) and responding by trying to delay this natural biological progression through encouraging parents to monitor children’s activity and weight levels is, I think, damaging and unnecessary. I am not suggesting that parents shouldn’t be aware of their children’s health, of course they should, but actively trying to delay puberty sets puberty up as something undesirable, something to be ashamed of and something that is not good. Instead of worrying that early onset puberty will produce a bunch of sexualised girls who are perhaps easy prey, I think we need to question society itself and why it seems to be okay for powerful media and brand interests to market sex to our children. Why are we sexualizing children? Who benefits?

As a mother of a young girl, I am concerned about these things. It seems to have gotten worse since I was young and I worry about how far it still might go. As a society we have a responsibility to protect our young and ensure they are well equipped to survive in an increasingly complex world.  It is concerning because children are receiving messages about the world, how it works and how to fit in from businesses that have a vested interest in making money for themselves even if it is at the cost of others.

Currently, a particularly relevant issue in the spot light is whether child beauty pageants should be held in Australia, with the US group Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant announcing their plans to hold its first Australian competition in Melbourne. Ever since then there has been protests from parent groups, psychologists and children’s rights organisations with the Pull the Pin rallies receiving huge support from the community.

Lauren Thompson – MSW student on placement with PeakCare

Dancing With Myself

“No comment” is a comment.” 
— George Carlin

I have been dancing ballet for a year and a half. I love it. When I want to practice at home I usually do so in front of glass sliding doors that lead onto the balcony of the apartment that I live in. I do this because I can see my reflection and the sliding doors become like a mirror. The problem is that I need to practice without curtains so I can see my reflection. This means that everyone in the apartment block opposite mine can see me performing very, very poor attempts at pirouettes. I must say it is fairly funny and has become a laugh with friends in the apartments. This may seem unrelated but the topic of today’s blog is voyeurism.

The definition of voyeurism is changing. No longer is perving on someone dancing ballet in their apartment the definition of voyeurism. Voyeurism is now seen as observing the world online. Social Media has changed the way people observe and interact with each other.  I can go online and be voyeuristic. I can observe different blogs, websites, facebook pages, twitter account ect. No one needs to know my name; no one needs to know I am even doing it.

I feel the issue that online voyeurism relates to engagement. Let’s continue with the ballet analogy for a little while. Imagine if there were other people in the apartments that danced ballet in front of their sliding doors but never told anyone. Then imagine if I saw someone else dancing ballet in front of their sliding doors but I never said anything to them about how I do the same thing. We could continue to dance ballet in front of sliding doors without communicating with one another about our experience.

If I talk to the person who I have seen dancing like I do, then I change the dynamic. I am no longer being voyeuristic. I am interacting and engaging. Imagine what would happen if I spoke to the person dancing ballet in front of the sliding doors and told them I do the same thing. What would that mean for this person? What would it mean for me?

I think this would be a very powerful experience for both of us. I think that this is a key point about voyeurism. To me I feel really good when I connect with another person. I can’t connect if I am just observing. I think I need to engage to feel true connection.

Social media has made it easier than ever to connect with people. The simplest form of engaging with online content is to click ‘like’. You can also comment on a person’s status and blog. You can share something online and direct other people to what you have seen. Check out this Mashable  article on creative ways you can engage with twitter beyond just following someone.

I want to talk about moving beyond voyeurism to engagement because I think the human services sector can really benefit from the interaction of workers online. Lots of people in our sector use social media in their personal lives and may follow blogs such as this one. Through engaging in social media we can move from voyeurism to action, and that action can be around social issues.

Imagine if I spoke to the person dancing ballet in front of their sliding doors about how I do it too. Then imagine if then we found more people who dance ballet in front of their sliding doors. Eventually we could gather a group together to buy proper mirrors instead of sliding doors. How good would that feel?

Imagine if we did that in the human services sector. If enough people interact with one another online and say the same thing this creates solidarity. How nice is it to know you are not the only one feeling like you are struggling to balance a case load? How good does it feel to connect with someone in the sector at trainings and seminars? Creating community and solidarity online can also lead to action about issues.

Commenting on a blog or facebook can be a scary way of interacting. It does involve some risk. Our sector often deals with sensitive issues which need to be talked about in inclusive, supportive ways. Another risk that may prevent people from interacting is saying something that may be different to their organisations stance on an issue. There are scary things that prevent people from interacting. Yet without interacting about the issues it only perpetuates the situation.

What I am proposing for this blog is to have a go at commenting on it. I will reply to as many comments as I can. If you feel uneasy about commenting perhaps you can comment by creating an alias. I am really keen to hear from you. I don’t want to be the only one dancing ballet in front of sliding glass doors !

Matthew Ross – Social Work Practicum Student on Placement with PeakCare

Sold! Now What?

I don’t want to write anymore about why we need to embrace social media. Boring… That’s old news.


What I am interested in is the next step. How are we going to use social media to help marginalised people? In Peak Care’s context how are we going to help people to support children and families to prevent child abuse and neglect? How can human services take ownership of social media for good?

Social media is being used by business, by activists, media outlets and human service organisations. The challenge for our sector is how to use social media differently to promote positive change. I have been interviewing people over the phone in the sector over the last couple of weeks. I have found that there are a lot of people talking about social media and a lot of people using social media in our sector. Out of the people I have interviewed most people were very excited about social media. They were excited about its prospects. They found it had been useful to organise events and to share information. This is all great feedback.

What I found though, was that a lot of people were excited but they were also looking outside to try and work within. I think we are inspired as a sector by what we are seeing in advertising and media and trying to do similar things with social media. The impact this is having on our sector is that it limits our use of social media to either sharing information, organising events, building community and raising social issues. This is brilliant engagement but can we go further?

I think we can look deeper. I think we can develop processes of using social media that are unique to our sector. To me, if we look at the purpose of our sector we can find answers to how we can develop social media use unique to human services. Social media has so many different uses and there are so many forms of social media that exist beyond the topical ones such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.

How can social media be used to support people who are marginalised? To me that is the biggest question and it relates directly to our purpose as human service organisations. Social media needs purpose. For Peak Care the purpose of engaging with social media is to build community within the sector and to communicate with organisations providing services to support child protection. For a human services organisation that provides direct face to face work with clients, the purpose for engaging social media will be different. The purpose for using social media is different again for organisations such as Get Up and Amnesty International.

To create an example to explore what I am trying to say, consider what it means to “LIKE” a page. Clicking “LIKE”on an organisations facebook page can be a powerful way of advocating and raising awareness about issues. When you click “LIKE”on an organisations page you receive updates from the organisation about what they are doing. This can help to raise awareness about events, issues and campaigns. However clicking “LIKE” on an organisations facebook page can be a meaningless activity if people do not engage in the content.

For clicking “LIKE” to truly work it is dependent on the context. A campaign about a social issue with 200 000 ‘”LIKEs” could be extremely successful in sharing information about the issue and in creating a movement. A community organisation that works as a drop in centre could also have 200 000 “LIKEs” on their facebook page which could create a substantial interest. It can be contested as to which would have more influence. I see the community organisation that has 200 000 “LIKEs” as less influential because the purpose of the organisation is to deliver services to people in the local community, not to create a movement.

The contexts differ for the two organisations and therefore the purpose underlying engaging with social media changes. The meaning attached to clicking like changes depending on the purpose of the organisation using social media. The purpose of social media is different for different organisations and people. I think this is where it becomes important to ask ourselves why we are engaging with social media. Are we trying to create awareness about social issues? Are we trying to find easier ways to organise events and keep stakeholders updated? Is it because our client’s are using it? Are we geographically isolated?

Our sector is about supporting people on the margins. Having 200 000 “LIKEs” may be awesome but does it help your organisation to fulfil its purpose? Social media is hip and happening and I think we can fall into the trap of trying to follow uses of social media that do not relate to human services. We are a unique sector. I am keen, as a part of the sector, to use social media in our own unique way to help people on the margins. I feel that openly reflecting on the purpose of our organisations can help to discern how we can creatively and uniquely use social media to help marginalised people.

Matthew Ross – Social Work Practicum Student on placement with PeakCare

The paradox of Social Media

Yesterday I sat down to write a blog post about the challenges of social media at 10:30 in the morning. By 4:30 I had written over 1000 words and I was no closer to finishing the post than when I started. Every challenge of social media I attempted to extrapolate had an equal positive spin. The more I wrote the more confused I became. The challenges of social media did not sit with me. Trying to identify the challenges of social media is a paradox. It is like trying to identify whether we ourselves are innately good or bad. It’s an age old question, good versus evil, and not only is it not an easy question, its also intensely subjective.

Presently, there is a lot of discourse in traditional media about the negative attributes of social media. Almost daily there are reports about how people are misusing social media for absolutely horrible purposes. I wanted to write a blog that acknowledges the anxiety that exists in the community about social media. To me it is important to discuss the potential issues and challenges of using social media before we begin to use it. I feel that ethically we have a responsibility to explore the potential harm that can be created through using social media. So I wrote about challenges of online safety, access, social media literacy, workload and privacy. Each one became a huge deconstruction. The conclusion I formed was that social media is not to blame for how it is used. Social media is the tool. It’s how people use social media that is the concern.

Discourse blaming social media for society’s ills is inaccurate.  The focus on social media being bad misses the mark about the issues it is being blamed for. Issues of identity theft, child pornography, bullying and pro-ana websites are very concerning issues that need to be addressed.  However these are not new issues nor are they the fault of social media. These are issues about how people use social media.

Social media is not bad anymore than a rock on the ground is bad. If the rock is picked up and thrown at someone does that mean the rock becomes bad? My opinion is that the rock is not bad even if it hits a person in the head. To me the action of the person throwing the rock is the harmful issue. The focus should not be on how bad social media is. The focus should be on the actions of people using social media.

The paradox of social media is part of a much greater paradox – the paradox that exists when human beings create technology. The video above discusses how we have created technologies throughout time without the true concept of their impact  .Throughout history human beings have been creating technology to make life easier. We created knives to hunt, printing presses for information, the car to cover great distances quickly and mobile phones to communicate on the run. Our list of technologies is endless.

Every concern I wrote about yesterday had an equally positive attribute. An example of this is online identity theft. A lot of people are concerned about giving credit card details out online because those details may get stolen. This is a concern. At the same time though, I and many others, have been using credit cards online for years without an issue. Does that mean that my positive experience of using my credit card over the internet is more legitimate than a person’s experience of having their details stolen over the internet? And therein lays the paradox.

The only potential concerns I managed to extrapolate from my writing yesterday were two questions:

Is social media making issues such as child abuse, mental health, homelessness, poverty, bullying ect more prevalent?

Does more harm exist if an issue occurs through social media than in another setting?

I don’t have answers to those questions.

I think we need to sit with the uncertainty. I feel that blaming social media for issues that exist in society is missing the point. I think that rather than trying to fight social media we need to begin to model how to correctly use social media for good. A lot of people are doing amazing things with social media and we can too. We need to address the issues that appear in social media just like we would address an issue if it were to occur in another setting. Blaming the tool for issues we are all responsible for? Isn’t that allowing for those issues to perpetuate?

Matthew Ross – Social Work Student, on placement with PeakCare

Are We De-professionalizing Child Protection?

A week or so ago I wrote a blog post that discussed some of my concerns about the implementation of the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. This week I want to share some of my critical reflection that has arisen as a result of the practicum project I have been working on. Lynn Barratt and I have been looking at recruitment and retention issues for the child and family welfare sector and I am finding some of the issues hit close to home!

Increasingly in working on the project I have been exposed to the trend of de-professionalization of the social service industry. Not only does this have obvious implications on my own employment prospects in the sector, it also raises a range of important questions around the impact of our work with vulnerable children and families. My research and training whilst at PeakCare, and arguably throughout my MSW degree, has highlighted for me the complexity of issues social workers engage within their practice. I do not mention this complexity lightly. I am the first to admit that life is complex. There are so many competing priorities, obligations and needs that it is easy to be overwhelmed.

The families I have come in to contact with under statutory child protection services are generally families with multiple needs and complex problems that go far beyond the run of the mill problems experienced by most of us. I am talking about issues of poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, chronic unemployment, dis-empowerment, mental health, homelessness, unsafe and under resourced neighbourhoods, isolation, discrimination and racism. It’s hard to imagine raising a child in an environment where there are serious and complex problems that prevent ‘good enough’ parenting from taking place, no matter how well intentioned and committed a parent may be. It might be easy to judge these parents, from the place of our own privilege and comfortable arrangements but what right do we have? We who have perhaps not experienced any of the things I have mentioned or who perhaps have been better placed to respond effectively to hardship.

I truly believe that families are the experts in their own lives and that if anyone is to undertake work with these vulnerable families they are going to need to be well qualified, critically reflective and respectful. It just makes good sense that we’d want the best qualified and trained practitioners to do the most complex and intense or work … right? So what’s up with the Department of Child Safety ” Review of the Qualifications and Training Pathways, Department of Child Safety QLD” , 2007 Consultation Paper, wherein it was declared that previously the work of child safety officers had required the possession of skills around family and child issues but that this had now changed. I wonder at this shift and how any work with vulnerable children and families could be undertaken with anything other than education and knowledge that is central to child and family issues? When did child protection stop being about children and families?

In this report, The Department of Child Safety states that ‘the multiple needs of children and young people in the statutory system requires a diversely skilled and qualified workforce which has the ability to respond from a multi disciplinary perspective and offer particularly vulnerable children and young people the best possible outcomes’. Concernedly the department has opened its doors to workers with a plethora of qualifications including law and criminology. I wonder what frameworks those with law and criminology qualifications bring to their work with some of societies most vulnerable? And I wonder at how workers come across to families when their training has been focused on legal structures and crime? How are such workers meant to take a humane, ethical and holistic approach to families? Will their frameworks ensure social justice, critical reflection and anti oppressive practice? I am not convinced.

Certainly a multidisciplinary approach is essential to good practice and I have no doubt our service delivery benefits by multi disciplinary teams and collaborative working. However, I question broadening the qualifications for lead role and case management tasks, which seem central to the provision of best practice in child protection work. What motivated the Department of Child Safety to move down this de-professionalization path? It may have been recruitment and retention issues, but was it the provision of quality supports and services for vulnerable children and their families? I’ll leave that for you to ponder. I know I am!

Lauren Thompson – MSW student on placement with PeakCare

The Good News About Social Media

A fortnight ago – Wow! Has it been that long already? – I wrote a blog post about whether or not the Human Services Sector is resistant to innovation. This week I am going to try and sell social media. Ready for my spiel?

Ten Ways Social media could help the Human Services Sector to improve how we do our work

# 1 – Advocacy: Social media has recently been used in Egypt and Northern Africa to create movements. It is a great way of sharing information with a range of people about social issues. Social media is not confined to the same limitations as traditional media. Anyone can create information and anyone can comment on that information. The sharing of information can present issues of importance to a vast population of people. This can create discourse about an issue and help social change.  Check out the possibilities here.

#2 – Professional Development: Professional Development can now occur online. There are some tremendous organisations using social media in a really innovative way to support the Human Services Sector in Scotland and the UK. Check out the online library these guys at IRISS came up with. Resources can be posted online. Resources can be a variety of media such as videos, podcasts, powerpoint presentations, blog posts, links to websites and journal articles. Another great function of social media is it allows people to share ideas across various areas of human services. This can help delivery better services for clients.

#3 – Community Building: Online communities are being built using social media. Twitter, blogs and social networking allow people to build and maintain relationships with other people around interests they share in common.

# 4 – Connection: Connection sounds like a simple motivating factor to be engaged in social media but perhaps it is one of the most important? When I feel connected with another person I feel energised. Can you think about a time when you have met someone and felt a connection? I’d imagine it felt really good. Social media can allow us to connect with other people who share similar thoughts, values and beliefs. In our work we can feel isolated. At times we can feel like we are the only person who is doing anything to support marginalised people. Social media can help us to feel connected to the community. That is a powerful feeling. Check out some cool articles examples here and here.

#5 – Instant: Social media is instant. You don’t have to wait. Momentum can be built quickly and instantly. You don’t have to wait until the next meeting to talk about an issue again; rather, you can jump online and chat about it later that night or throughout the week. This instant ability can create momentum.

#6 – Transparent: If an organisation is using social media well, social media will make the organisation look good. An organisation may keep their facebook page, a blog and a twitter account well updated with relevant information that is helpful for their clients or other organisations. This will look good from the outside looking in.

#7 – Accountability: Another spin off from transparency is accountability. Social media shows people what we are doing. If we react to a situation without thinking it through this will show. To maintain reputation, organisations need to respond demonstrating best practice. The benefit here is for our clients and the sector. We all like to say we use best practice in many ways however there are times when we may not practice in the best way. If this happens through social media someone else will see and it won’t look good. Social media encourages people to use best practice.

#8 – Keeping up with the Joneses: It is important to keep up to remain relevant within the industry and to our clients. A lot of people use social media in some form or another. Using social media will allow organisations to stay cutting edge for funding and to engagement with our clients.

#9 – Free: Got the internet? You’ve got social media. Some social media sites will ask you to subscribe. That’s about it though. No fees.

# 10 – Accessible: At times we may have to attend meetings interstate or overseas. These meetings can be exciting and energising and they can also be tiring and busy. Social media allows for people to connect over large distances.

And a bonus thought!

# 11 – Timely: This is a bit different to being instant. Timely means that you can use social media at your own pace in an environment you are comfortable with. Want to talk to colleagues whilst in your pyjamas at home? If you’re me, probably not  J, but you can do this if you like. The beauty of social media is that it allows you to converse in an environment and at a time you feel comfortable.

Have I missed anything? Let me know!

I am currently working on some resources to help people understand and use social media. If there is anything you would like to know about social media leave a comment about it and I will try to include it in the resources.

Coming soon… the challenges of   social media.

Matthew Ross – Social Work Student, on placement with PeakCare

After We Leave

Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation

Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead makes an interesting point. The struggles of modern, Western families are further intensified by the lack of broader support structures and community in their lives. This also raises some interesting questions to reflect upon in the human services sector. Is it possible that we contribute to this social isolation by providing services and resources that once would have been provided within community support networks? Does this service provision undermine the sustainability of the work that we do? Are there other ways of supporting people that can challenge social isolation, by creating more sustainable support structures in the community?

Community development provides a way of thinking about some of these questions. It is an area that I first developed an interest in whilst working in the youth sector several years ago, and I have continued this learning during my current social work university studies. Some of the key features of community development include: working ‘with’ the community and being driven by the community, which contrasts with service-driven work, where community needs and programs are often defined by workers and funding body requirements. Community development is about creating space for the needs, issues, and responses to community problems to be determined by the community. The community development approach recognises that the struggles experienced by an individual, are often experienced by many others and that by building connections with each other, sharing experiences and skills, and supporting each other, people can make powerful changes in their lives. Perhaps most importantly, community development focuses on developing supportive structures within the community, which enables the impact of the work to be sustained, after the worker is gone.

A practical application of community development work can be illustrated by a local story from a South-east Queensland neighbourhood centre (Lathouras, 2010). This centre worked with a number of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families who had expressed feelings of isolation. Several of these families decided that they would like to form a group that would meet regularly to build connections with each other, reduce the sense of social isolation, and share experiences of migration and living in a new country. Through sharing their experiences, the group’s members realised that many of them wanted to build skills to earn an income. With the support of a worker from the neighbourhood centre, the group developed a community education program, where members of the community with small business skills provided mentorship, and a registered training organisation assisted with training. Once the training had finished, and group members had commenced employment and started developing small businesses, the groups continued to meet to provide peer-support and mentoring to each other. This group continued to build skills and a support network outside of the neighbourhood centre.

The focus on community development in this post is not to negate the very valuable and essential contribution of service-driven work, nor is it to position community development as a replacement for service-driven work and programs. Instead, it aims to highlight another way of working that can complement service-driven work, and create stronger and more holistic support structures for the people we work with. Hopefully it also provides a chance for you to reflect further on opportunities for human service work to challenge social isolation in modern, Western society, and in doing so, create support structures that can be sustained long after our work with people is finished.

To learn more about community development:

I’d love to hear about your experiences with community development so please do share!

Kate Hannan – Masters of Social Work student, on placement at PeakCare

Innovation Resistance

Social Media, it turns out, isn’t about aggregating audiences so you can yell at them about the junk you want to sell.

Social Media, in fact, is a basic human need, revealed digitally online.

We want to be connected, to make a difference, to matter, to be missed. We want to belong, and yes, we want to be led.

~  Seth Godin

Social media is being keenly discussed by all at the moment. Blogs (like this one), Facebook, twitter, linkedIn, Flickr, Ning, Myspace, Bebo…  Social media is changing the way we manage disasters, the way we share and receive information and the way we socialize. People are divided about it. For every story on the remarkable use of social media, another story exists to negate the positives.

I am a current social work student completing my placement with Peak Care. My project for placement is to uncover what social media is all about, and whether it can be used by human service organisations to build community and support children and families. I hope to write a weekly post about social media. I am interested in canvassing people’s thoughts and feelings about social media. This week I thought I would begin by asking, “Is the human service sector resistant to innovation?”

Facebook lists over 500 million users. The company says that each user averages 130 friends and, on average, is linked into 80 community pages, groups and/ or events . That’s one hell of a network. World leaders such as Barak Obama and the Dalia Lama and organisations such as the United Nations have twitter accounts.

Recently we have seen how social media can be used to support people who are impacted by natural disasters. In Brisbane during the recent flooding the Qld Police Service provided up to date information using Facebook and twitter. This information could be accessed online much quicker than through print, television or radio. Another benefit was that people could quickly access information that was relevant to them rather than waiting for the information to be shown, talked or written about using traditional media. The system was not without its flaws. Criticism of using social media during the recent flooding was that some of the information circulating was not accurate or was out of date. However this criticism was isolated and the general feeling seemed to be that social media worked well.

Advertising has been trying to tap into social media for some time. Brands like Coca Cola and Red Bull and companies such as McDonalds all use innovative media such as Facebook to sell products.

What about the human service sector? More and more Facebook pages are being established by human service organisations. Yet it seems like the sector is a little behind. There are a lot of factors that could influence this. Coca Cola, Red Bull and McDonald’s are big companies that rely on selling products to survive. Coca Cola and Red Bull are pitched towards younger people who use social media more often. And the companies may have more money to invest in social media.

One argument that the human service sector is taking to the technology slower than other sectors is because of the possible harm of using social media and working with clients. There are concerns about privacy and confidentiality. There are ethical dilemmas and there is the possibility of someone posts something negative about a service. These are all issues that need to be addressed before an organisation looks to employ social media as a form of communication.

Yet there are so many exciting possibilities! Locally organisations are already sending e-newsletters about what they are doing.  Facebook and Twitter can be used as ways to value add to this process. Community can be built locally, regionally and internationally using social media. Sharing of ideas is not limited to a small group of organisations. I can go online and quickly see what organisations in Canada, the UK or India are doing to support marginalised individuals and communities. No longer are ideas and information controlled by a powerful few. How often do you leave a training session or seminar enthused but find that there is no one to share the enthusiasm with? Social media can help to maintain that enthusiasm and engagement. 500 million users is a huge network of people.

Social media seems to fit well with some of the values that underpin human service organisations. Values such as everyone has worth, everyone is capable of free thought and everyone has something to contribute form foundations from which we work. Social media provides a platform, unlike any other, for people to contribute both formally and informally, to services that directly affect them. Self advocacy and social movements can occur more freely by starting blogs or Facebook pages.

There are a lot of benefits to using social media. It is an exciting medium that can be used alongside other more traditional forms of communication to build relationships and communicate information quickly and easily. There are things that need to be discussed before embarking on the journey of social media. It seems like it is worth the risk though. At least it is worth discussing. I would love to hear from you about your thoughts.

PS/ Did you know that PeakCare has it’s very own Facebook page? Click the link and pop over, check it out, and show us some “LIKE”!

Matt Ross – Social Work Student, PeakCare