Decolonizing My View of Social Work

In this post, I talk a bit about why I wanted to go into social work and where I am at in my studies. However, I also talk about how my view of social work as a profession is changed in recent months. (IMG SOURCE)

Why I Have an Interest In Social Work

I have always been interested in doing a job that helps other people. I think this was primarily influenced by witnessing the mental health, substance abuse and poverty issues of my family and families around me as a child. It probably was also inspired by my own problems with mental health as a teenager.

My interest in social work really began when I really started to dive into my Indigenous heritage and learn about the past injustices Canada has committed against Aboriginal people. It was a crazy experience that I will write about in a future post. It almost felt as if puzzle pieces were clicking together in my head and I suddenly understood why individual members of my family act they way they do or say the things they do.

As I learned about all of this, and how some past abuses have an impact on my own life I was suddenly inspired to look into social work as a profession. To me, social work and specifically child welfare social work appeared to be the most effective way to help Indigenous communities move forward from all of the terrible things they have experienced in the past.

My interest in social work was mirrored by my mother’s interest in becoming a foster parent to Indigenous children. Around the same time that I decided to go into social work, she decided to start training to become a foster parent. I think she also had an idealized view of the impact that the child welfare system can have on a child’s life. However, I know for sure that she is one of the ‘good’ foster parents who are not at all in it for the money.

When I started my education in the social work field, I had this idealized view of how I could be the one to help other Indigenous people. I could give them advice, I could save children from abuse, and I could be the middleman between them and the system that has done them so wrong in the past. However, since starting my education, I have learned some things that have made me question the social work profession, and it’s capacity to help Indigenous families.

Historical Social Work

I had always, on some level, been aware of Residential Schools and how they impacted Indigenous communities. Within my own family, my grandmother’s father went to a residential school, and something happened there that really changed him. The rest of his life was spent drinking and abusing. However, I did not really understand the role that social work had to play in this system.

When you think of a social worker, you often think of someone who is selfless, kind and has an unending drive to stop abuses. Yet somehow, despite social workers existing during the residential school era  (which only ended in 1996), the violations of Indigenous children continued.

I never really thought genuinely about this until I read Cindy Blackstock’s “The Occasional Evil of Angels.” In this article, she discusses how social workers knew about the abuses going on in residential schools, but no one did anything to stop it! She also explains how social workers themselves often were on admissions boards for these schools and would place children they had apprehended into the schools.

Also in this article, Blackstock talks about the 60s Scoop. For those of you who do not know the 60’s scoop was a movement towards assimilation. Indigenous children would be apprehended from their families, often with little reasoning behind it, and they would be placed in foster homes or adopted to non-Indigenous families. It was a widely held belief that Indigenous parents just weren’t good parents and even their extended families weren’t considered to take care of the children.

So now, when I think of a social worker I do not automatically think of someone who is moral and always fights for justice. Although there are excellent social workers out there, some of them are just regular people who follow directives before morals.

Modern Social Work

It is regrettable that contemporary social work practices still aren’t working for Indigenous families across Canada. We often talk in class about how Aboriginal people make up less than 10% of the overall Canadian population. However, more than 50% of kids in the foster care system are Aboriginal. Also, an important fact is that more Aboriginal children are in foster care today than there ever were in the residential school system. It seems crazy to me that we know how removing children from communities impacted Aboriginal people in the residential school era and beyond, and yet it is still happening through the foster care system today.

Undoubtedly, social workers only apprehend children as a last resort, And, surely, the government is motivated to reunite Indigenous children with their families… just kidding. A recent report by CBC, in which a former child protection social worker was interviewed, claims that most Aboriginal children are apprehended because of ‘neglect’ due to poverty. So this explains that Aboriginal parents aren’t more abusive or dangerous than non-Aboriginal parents, they are just more likely to be poor. Being unable to care for your child is very different than being unwilling to care for your child or abusive towards your child.

The article also outlines the biggest issue with this is the differential support offered to these families. Foster families receive funding from the ministry to care for children in care. Shouldn’t the natural families get just as much funding from the ministry if they are struggling to support their own children? Isn’t reunification the ultimate goal of child apprehension in the first place? Yet, families often do not receive the same funding when they have their children as foster families do to take care of those children. Also, as outlined in the article, when the parents need to ask for support from the ministry it is a bad mark against their character when trying to get their children back.

If reunification is better for the children and is a goal of the social workers when they take the kids into care, then why are the penalizing good parents who happen to be poor by taking their children away, and punishing them for seeking support?

My Thoughts/Conclusion

The problem that I continue to struggle with in my education towards becoming a social worker is that there will be (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) parents who abuse their kids. There will always be some kids who cannot return to their homes because of actively dangerous circumstances. However, how can I justify becoming a social worker when I know that in a lot of cases perfectly good Aboriginal parents are denied opportunity to parent because of poverty or biases on behalf of social workers?

The way I see it, I have two options to maintain my sanity if I want to become a social worker. The first is to not work directly in child protection. This seems like the more straightforward way to cope. Perhaps instead I can support Aboriginal families in other ways like I could become an Aboriginal counsellor, working a hospital or work in a youth centre. However, this almost seems like the easy way out.

My other option would be a challenge. I would have to be the social worker who works within the system to try and change the circumstances for Aboriginal families. What would be the most difficult about this is navigating mandates, and organizational policies and still making a significant difference. I think it could work, as long as I stay clear in my own purpose, over the purpose of whatever agency or organization I work for. I also think I would have to be okay with sometimes risking my job to do what is actually right.


6 thoughts on “Decolonizing My View of Social Work

  1. Hello Social Work sister!!!
    I am a clinical social worker (bachelor’s, master’s, licensed in the state of Ohio, Fl) who works to provide behavioral and therapeutic services to kids at school. I, like you, took an interest in child welfare. I loved this post, girl! I have to say, in all my years of studying and being involved in this field that the Indigenous population wasn’t brought up as much as topics of discussion or studies….and that’s sad! Your article was really eye opening (and educational for me) and I can see why you have the internal struggle concerning this matter. I think your second option (of working and remembering your passion) is the best one. You could also focus on macro social work and expand your energy to help bring about change in government and policies that directly impact Indigenous people (this approach might touch more people than just your clients). Just something to think about…


    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! You were probably too busy thinking about your goal of going to the Florida Keys that you are already talking like you are there! 🙂

      It’s intriguing to hear that you did not really talk about Indigenous peoples in your education. I am always interested in comparing the way Canada and America tackle Indigenous issues. Not that your school is representative of the whole country or anything.

      I have always thought that macro social work is where I would end up after I had ‘earned’ it by working in other areas. However, with some of the things I am learning in class, I almost feel like I need to start at the macro level in order to make the micro-level work better before I can bear it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Omgosh I’m ALWAYS thinking about Florida lol. I was born and raised there and plan to move back this year!

        Yea, I’m surprised we didn’t talk a lot about Indigenous peoples in school. A lot of the cities have parts of town that are named after tribes and we have several reservations. America has done a great injustice to the Indigenous people as well and have yet to attempt to make things right. I can def see you ending up in macro social work. You can also have a hand in macro and micro at the same time.

        Side note: I’m excited to do my DNA ancestry because I’ve been told by my mother about stories of my great grandmother and other relatives and apparently there are parts of me that are Indigenous.


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