IAHA Member Philipa Whyte on 2023 World Social Work Day – Respecting diversity through joint social action.

My name is Philipa and I am a Murawari woman from north-west NSW. I was not fortunate enough to grow up on Country but visit frequently. My family were dispersed, affected by government policies of the time. I feel a strong connection to the Darling and Barwon rivers and the sight of red dirt that makes me feel like I’m at home. I was born, raised, live and work on Darkinjung Country. 


What does social work mean to you?  

For me social work means supporting the cultural, emotional, and physical well-being of all people. It involves working collaboratively with individuals, families, and communities to build capacity, empower people, and promote social justice. It also involves the recognition and preservation of First Nations culture and knowledge in the delivery of services. As an Aboriginal woman, social work means being a role model and advocate for my community, preserving and passing down traditional knowledge, and promoting the healing and growth of my people. 


Why is social work an important allied health profession for mob? 

Social work plays an important role in addressing the social, economic, and health issues faced by First Nations people.  

First Nations people have experienced historical trauma due to colonisation and forced assimilation policies. Social workers can help address the resulting intergenerational trauma and its impact on mental health, substance abuse, and family dynamics. 

Social workers who are culturally competent can provide culturally appropriate services and interventions that consider First Nations ways of knowing, healing, and community values. 

Social workers can advocate for First Nations people’s access to healthcare, education, and social services in the face of systemic barriers and discrimination. 

I believe social work is an important allied health profession that can help address the unique needs of First Nations people and promote wellness, healing, and empowerment in their communities. 


How do you interpret the theme and what does that look like for you? 

The theme, ‘Respecting Diversity through Joint Social Action’ is a call to action, which seeks to encourage social workers and society as a whole on the need to observe and celebrate diversity. This theme aims to acknowledge differences among individuals, including race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, among others. It signifies that social workers, in partnership with their clients, communities, and other professionals, can take collective action to address issues that challenge the dignity and wellbeing of people who are disadvantaged or marginalised. 

The theme underlines the importance of recognising and respecting the cultural, social, and economic differences that exist in our society. It also recognises the value and benefits that diversity brings to individuals and societies as a whole. By working together, social workers can promote inclusivity and equality, eliminate discrimination and stigma, and build a more just and equitable society. What the theme means to me is that it highlights the need to embrace diversity as an essential component of the human experience and to promote social justice through collective action. 


Any advice for social workers or people wanting to go in to social work?  

My advice for social workers is to develop strong communication skills: Communication is an essential component of social work because it is the primary tool that you use to convey information, support, and guidance to your clients. Therefore, you must be able to communicate effectively and clearly, listen actively, and be empathetic towards your clients. 

Build a strong network: Networking with other social workers, agencies, and organisations can be an excellent resource for you to learn about job opportunities, career development, and new ideas or perspectives. It can also help you find support and encouragement during challenging times. 

Maintain a healthy work-life balance: Social work can be emotionally and mentally demanding, so it is important to take care of yourself. Engage in activities that you enjoy outside of work and consider self-care practices such as mindfulness or meditation. 

For anyone considering or wanting to get in to social work is to do it. It is a career that will leave you feeling somewhat challenged at times, yet be rewarding and fulfilling as well. 


Any resources that you may want to share? 

I personally recommend dreamysleep.com.au to assist with falling asleep.  

iBobbly is a social and emotional wellbeing self-help app for First Nations people.  

Finally, for some professional development I recommend completing the free Aboriginal Narrative Practice Course through The Dulwich Centre (dulwichcentre.com.au). 


How social work has influenced you?  

Social work has influenced me to do better and be a better person. It has challenged my values and ethics to shape me to the woman I am today. While studying my undergraduate I had an interest in the increasing rates of suicide for First Nations people. I have spent the last three and a half years of my career working in mental health. I am passionate about advocating for cultural appropriateness of mental health support for my community. 

March 21, 2023


Posted by: Renae Kilmister