The Federation Press

Social Work with Indigenous Communities


The health and welfare of Australia’s Indigenous population is marked by recurring and seemingly intractable issues such as poor access to services, family violence, and high levels of infant mortality. More than 200 years of historical, cultural and political factors have shaped Indigenous lives - and the perceptions of social workers.

Linda Briskman, social worker, academic and author of the acclaimed book The Black Grapevine — Aboriginal Activism and the Stolen Generations, throws down the gauntlet to practitioners and students of social work, challenging them to pursue a better, more informed way of meeting the unique needs of this community.

She covers the issues that Indigenous communities face, with specific chapters devoted to the areas of children, youth, family violence, health, and criminal justice. Case studies are supported by literature and research to provide practitioners and students with a good understanding of the circumstances they will be presented with when working with Indigenous communities.

Good practice is marked by a recognition of the strengths of communities and an understanding of how to acknowledge and facilitate these. This book shows social workers how they can develop their skills in this area and excel in providing services with the best fit for Indigenous communities.


Briskman takes a bold, but important, step out onto a fine line. Briskman manages to confront social work for its role in dispossessing indigenous communities while also asserting the role social work has in joining with indigenous communities in the journey towards self-determination and wellbeing on their terms ... Anti-oppressive practice strongly underpins the message of this book. ...This book certainly contributes to a subject area that has been silenced for far too long and the limited number of books written on this subject area makes this contribution all the more significant. ... Briskman demonstrates the importance of the ovrlap between indigenous and non-indigenous scholarship and social action. - Tracie Mafile’o, Social Work Education, Vol 28:7, 2009

...I have a belief that a book is worth reading if it gives you a “wow” moment or a new perspective that you have never had. Being an Indigenous social worker and having thought about this area extensively, I was not expecting a “wow” moment and yet I had a couple. ...
I would recommend this as a text for those people wanting an introduction to the field and a structure within which to think about it. [it] gives a good span of information and Indigenous perspectives, and draws the reader back to the question of how to take the information into their own practice. I do think the book successfully names the sins of the past, but also describes the potential for success for social work practice. This book gives a very good overview of this area and is a very welcome addition to the field. - Stephanie Gilbert, The University of Newcastle, Australia Social Work, Vol 61 No 1, December 2008

This book makes a significant contribution to the current social work literature on social work with Indigenous communities. it is extremely valuable for social work practitioners, academics and students...[it] offers engagement with selective areas of interest as well as providing a text that encourages reflection on the meaning and relevance of social work practice with Indigenous people. - Forum, Number 54, June 2008 - Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights

... essential reading for all practising social workers (and social work students) who have an interest in Indigenous issues. - Family Matters (Australian Institute of Family Studies), No 77 2007

[The book’s] open, uncluttered style of presentation and organisation makes it accessible to entry-level social-work students, practitioners and academics alike. Its unflinching advocacy of critical/structural social-work ... keeps a sense of integrity with the community and structural aspects of social-work practice...
Taken as a whole, Social Work with Indigenous Communities effectively points to the profound need for more effective, more socially active work based on the tenets of social justice. As such, it is [a] valuable resource for new social-work students and practitioners alike – one which provides a glimpse into the myriad of complex issues encountered in practice with Indigenous communities. It is also a valuable resource for social-work educators, ideal for use as a conceptual centrepiece, connecting and correlating other more detailed resources. - Australian Aboriginal Studies, Vol 2, 2007

Table of Contents

Part 1 - Background and Context
Confronting complicity and moving on
Framing the social work response
Past, plight and resilience
Beyond Australia: international perspectives
Spirituality, ideology, values and ethics

Part 2 - Practising Social Work
Redeeming social work
The organisational domain
Policies and programs
Advocacy, activism and social action
Research Community development

Part 3 - Locating Social Work
Child welfare
Family violence
Criminal justice

Part 4 - Talking Points
Contested ground and debates
Unfinished social work business

Appendix: IFSW International Policy on Indigenous Peoples (IFSW 2000)

Of interest...