Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Science

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Professor Kathy Boxall

Second Advisor

Dr Marilyn Palmer

Field of Research Code

1607, 160506, 130305

Abstract

In many countries, social workers play a role in the education of children. In Australia, this is evident in the state of Victoria which has a long history of school social work. However, it is not the case in Western Australia where there are very few government-funded social work roles in public schools. With the barriers to education rising for increasing numbers of students, the social work profession could be one component in a multi-disciplinary whole that supports students and the broader community so that each child has the best chance of reaching their full potential.

This thesis poses the question: Is there a role for social workers in regional primary schools in the South West of Western Australia in relation to identifying and addressing external barriers to education? The term external barriers to education is used in this thesis to denote barriers which, unlike disability or illness, are external to the child. The Australian Association of Social Workers’ Practice Standards for School Social Workers provide a list of the range of issues that may impact on a student’s ability to engage with education, identifying areas where a social worker is well placed to provide support and direction. For the purpose of this study, the focus is on those matters external to the child, such as (but not limited to) family changes, drug and/or alcohol misuse within the home environment, poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, transiency or instability of housing.

To answer the research question, this study first reviews literature pertaining to education, social work and government policy and then explores the experiences of five Edith Cowan University social work students who undertook a field placement in one of three host regional government primary school in the South West of Western Australia. The study also explores the perspectives of five staff from the three host schools and the external field educator who supervised all five students. Data was collected by way of interviews and focus groups with the participants, with the data then being subject to thematic analysis.

The rich data derived from this study depicts the work undertaken by the social work students, the possibilities for the profession of social work and the implications this research may have in relation to identifying and addressing external barriers to children’s learning and education. The findings are distinct and unambiguous, identifying a major gap in the support that is offered to students and their families. This thesis suggests that the gap identified by this study may result in children having reduced possibilities to learn and, as a result, they may be denied life opportunities; a matter which it is argued could impinge upon children’s human right to education.

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