Source: (2007) Master’s Thesis. School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences. University of Queensland.
On graduating as a social worker, I embarked on my career equipped with a personal practice framework based on theories which combined elements of structural, radical, pro-feminist and community development theories. My goal was to work in an empowering manner with clients to achieve structural change and social justice outcomes. When I entered the workforce, I gained first-hand experience of the reality of statutory social work practice with involuntary clients, but I was faced with the dilemma that I believe confronts many social workers, that is, how to work in an empowering manner in a statutory control role in fields such as youth justice and child protection. I found there was a gap between my framework and its underpinning theories, and the reality of using it in settings of social control. For example, theories that were useful in the context of community development, did not provide guidance on reconciling structural change and social justice agendas in statutory social work. When I worked in the youth justice field, I was fortunate to take part in the restorative justice (RJ) social movement through my work in conferencing. I noted that while social work practitioners were involved in implementing RJ techniques, these techniques were used without theoretical and practice guidance from a social work perspective. The risks of this are that the full potential of social work’s particular adaptation of restorative theory towards structural change goals will not be realized, and further that RJ techniques could be implemented without incorporating social work’s understanding of power dynamics and their potential abuse. My practice experience, combined with my social work and legal training, helped me develop the argument that RJ theory and practice have the potential to enhance empowering social work practice in statutory settings, in the same way they have benefited the criminal justice system. To achieve this potential required an integrated approach incorporating RJ theory and practice into a social work practice framework. To test this proposition I conducted an extensive review of the literature in both fields to identify the relevant RJ theory, then examined its usefulness for dealing with certain core social work issues as informed also by my practice experience. The main findings were that certain RJ theories are useful in this statutory social work context, and this thesis incorporates these findings into an integrated restorative social work practice framework. The next step would be to test the findings empirically by measuring the effectiveness of the application of this framework in practice settings. (author’s abstract)
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