Social Work in Australia – How Transnational is the Profession?


Are you a qualified social worker eligible for AASW membership who has supervised or managed a social work team and who has worked closely for at least 3 months with an overseas-qualified social worker within Australia?

If so, Dr. Allen Bartley of the UniversityBartley1-150x150 (1) of Auckland would like to hear from you. Dr. Bartley, who during August is being hosted by the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders University, is conducting a new study, Crossing Borders: Social work employers’ and managers’ perspectives of migrant social workers. In this call for participants he explains the rationale for the study and how you may be able to help. Interviews are to be conducted in August.

Background to the study

Social work is a global profession practiced in over 140 countries. Its spread and development have been accompanied by a drive to attain professional status and a coherent international identity through the work of a number of international organisations concerned with social work practice and education, as well as initiatives across a number of European jurisdictions to move towards a closer alignment of practice standards to a European norm (Walsh, Wilson & O’Connor, 2009).

As a result, social workers in many countries may feel that they belong to a transnational profession. This perception is reinforced by both government immigration policies and by the global recruitment activities of social work employers. For example, social work agencies have been actively recruiting and marketing to migrants the benefits of living and practicing in the UK, in an effort to fill gaps in its social care system (Hussein, 2014; Christie & Campbell, 2009; Simpson, 2009;). In the UK, between 2003 and 2004 there was an 82 percent increase in the number of overseas qualified social workers entering the country, with the greatest numbers coming from Australia, South Africa and the U.S. (Welbourne et al., 2007), though changes to UK immigration policies more recently have seen a shift towards recruitment from across the European Economic Area (Hussein, 2014). This internationalization of practice has led us to conceptualize social work as inhabiting a transnational professional space (Bartley et al., 2012).

That transnational professional space is not without its challenges. However universal they may be, social work values and ethical codes are always interpreted through the lens of national or regionally-specific historical, social, political and cultural norms (Welbourne et al., 2007; Simpson, 2009). These norms are manifest in a range of challenges that confront transnational social workers: in employment practices and workplace cultures; in negotiating new sets of legislative imperatives and political tensions; and in gaining recognition and acceptance of the validity and transportability of their educational qualifications, skills and practice expertise gained overseas; and in navigating the particular forms of ethnic and cultural diversity and the attendant politics that manifest in local sites and impact on social work practice.

Taking part in the study

As part of the Research On Workforce Mobility network (ROWM) at King’s College London, researchers from the University of Auckland are conducting an international comparative study of transnational social work, focusing on Auckland, London and Adelaide. We would like to interview social work employers and managers in Adelaide about their experiences of supervising overseas-qualified social workers practicing in the local context. We will conduct the interviews in Adelaide throughout August 2014, or if you are not in Adelaide during this time we can arrange for a video or telephone interview.

We would like to hear from you if you are:

  • a qualified social worker eligible for AASW membership who has supervised or managed a social work team; and
  • have worked closely for at least 3 months with an overseas-qualified social worker; and
  • willing to talk about your experiences and reflections.

Please contact:  Dr. Allen Bartley, School of Counselling, Human Services & Social Work, University of Auckland, New Zealand

We invite participation from professionals in both statutory, for-profit and voluntary (not for profit) organisations of varying sizes (from very small to very large), and across a range of fields of practice. This study is part of a larger comparative study involving professionals in New Zealand and the UK.

More information: on the Crossing Borders project web page and in the Information Sheet for Study Participants (pdf, 2pp).

Dr. Allen Bartley is a New Zealand-trained sociologist who migrated to New Zealand from the United States in 1992. Based in the social work programme in the School of Counselling, Human Services & Social Work at the University of Auckland, he is part of a research team investigating the transnational dynamics of the social work workforce in New Zealand. Additionally, Allen is involved in a project exploring the use of social media by migrants in Auckland, and its impact on their sense of identity and belonging. He is visiting the School of Social and Policy Studies at Flinders from 4-22 August 2014.

Listen to Allen talking about this project on Podsocs

Written By Patricia Fronek

Social work in Australia – how transnational is the profession? was originally published @ Social Work, Social Work and has been syndicated with permission.


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