If you want to make a difference in your community, working as a social worker for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is very rewarding work. You aim to improve on the common issues that are faced by Australia’s Indigenous community, providing advice and guidance to appropriate services. Working in Indigenous communities can be complex, as you will need to quickly establish the different cultures and community structures, as these vary across Australia. You should consider the individual differences between the cultures, establishing an understanding on the unique history, social, health and family situations. Indigenous social workers advocate for their clients, working alongside government and non-government agencies on a range of issues from housing, early intervention programs, youth mental health, justice or aged care. There are lots of ways you can become involved in this work, from TAFE to university-level qualifications.
Social workers can work with individuals, couples, families and community groups, taking into consideration personal history as well as contemplating cultural and social contexts. Social workers collaborate with other health, medical and educational professionals to improve someone’s quality of life. They provide counselling services, community engagement programs and case work, usually for a specific Indigenous culture or area. There are also opportunities to provide advice on policy issues, advocating for the rights of sometimes disregarded communities, within the social context of the Indigenous community you represent or hold knowledge of.
Working in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community will always be different to another community, so your work should never be approached in the same way but with a deep understanding and acknowledgement of that individual community’s cultural identity. You will need to collaborate with other health and social workers and should be able to communicate to a varying audience, in often highly-emotionally charged environments. Social workers need to be well organised and provide an empathetic and listening ear, whilst approaching situations logically and pragmatically.
Usually, working as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social worker is already a specialised area of social work, meaning you will most likely need a background in social work to move into this area. However, because there are so many different issues as no Indigenous community is the same, so there are areas to grow your expertise in particular cultures in parts of Australia or working with remote or urban communities. This can be through public health programs, charity work or other Indigenous support groups.
As an addiction or mental health worker, you will often work with other medical and mental health professionals to assist clients who are facing addiction, substance abuse or a mental health disease. You will learn to recognise common behavioural traits and help your clients develop strategies to break their bad mental cycle or addiction habits so they can once again, become a functioning member of society.
Providing social work in a community is a vital part of driving Indigenous health programs. You will need to quickly learn and integrate yourself into a community, proactively taking steps to provide services or support that the community identifies as needing. To achieve this, you will usually collaborate with other support services and working with community elders and leaders.
The impacts of the white colonisation of Australia are still affecting many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as the impacts of the Stolen Generation, implementing cultural and social damage. As a social worker, you will provide support services to assist and advocate for Indigenous people and their families such as issues of isolation, distress from loss of culture, discrimination and marginalisation, addiction abuse and other behavioural issues.
Becoming a social worker is an extremely important part of improving Australia’s community as a whole. To work in the Indigenous space, you will require a bachelor or masters degree in social work and/or Indigenous studies. Many employers also require membership of the Australian Association of Social Workers.
Kick off your professional career in social work with an entry-level course.
Land your dream job by expanding your skills with a mid-level course. This will open the door for more job opportunities in the area you want to work.
Bolster your job opportunities by gaining a qualification in a specialist course, shaping your resume and yourself as an attractive candidate to potential employers.
Depending on which state or territory you take employment, working in social work will usually require you to undertake some kind of security check, such as a police, working with children or working with vulnerable people check.
Our sample resumes and cover letters will give you a good basis to start developing your own, polished product that will have you one step ahead when applying for roles.
Over the next five years, employment opportunities in Australia in the social work sector are expected to strongly increase. In terms of salary, this varies quite a bit but a median salary in Australia is approximately $55,395.