Remote social work practice

Veritable is seeking to define the best of remote social work practice.

There are many challenging aspects to practice in remote Australia, from effective cross-cultural work, to ‘dual relationships’ (when you see your client at the local shops and your children play on the same team), to the tyranny of distance, to underfunded or non-existent services.

Cutting through all of this however is a single practice imperative:  relationality. The most effective tool for remote social work practice is placing relationships at the centre of all that we do. From building trust across cultures and languages with our client, to getting to know those around them in service to the client, to building up networks of supportive professionals with common values and beliefs.

Relationships will sustain you when the complexity of the work overwhelms you. While social work textbooks may tell you to establish professional boundaries as tools for effective practice, remote social work asks you to critically analyse those boundaries.

Are these boundaries getting in the way of building a (professional, but still authentically personal) relationship with the client? Are these boundaries artificial, when your professional and personal world are interconnected?

Western culture is fundamentally individualist and transactional. In a professional sense, this translates to your professional ‘role’ being the ticket to engagement.

In remote Australia, who you are as a person is your ticket to engagement. You are not your role. The first place to start is who and how you are with the person and the people you serve.

The work, just as in everyday life, starts at the fundamental level of relationship. It speak to a truth of society, which comes into stark relief in small communities: no person stands alone.  When you start from here, then the work can start.

 

 

Quality over growth… yet the team expands

It has been a long time between updates. A lot has happened in the past year in Veritable.

Veritable has been slowing building up its practitioner team, valuing quality services over growth. This is a very important guiding principle for us. In the end, we want to be seen as a company that promotes the best work for our clients. We have to grow in a careful and managed way to ensure we do not compromise quality services. In fact, we want to innovate and inspire as we go.

For this reason, our focus in 2021 has been on slow and managed expansion. Expansion with a strategic focus on seeking to provide the best remote behaviour support services in Australia, informed by a social work practice framework.

Fiona joined the team as a Behaviour Support Practitioner in May 2021. It is a delight to have such a skilled, competent and caring social worker with us.

Around the same time, we added Clare to the team operations, as Quality and Business Manager. Clare has helped us manage the challenges of growth (including endless rounds of service agreements) while keeping quality front and centre of what we do.

In June 2021, Chris left to pursue other opportunities. We wish him all the best on his own social work business journey, and we know his heart for great work will shine wherever he lands.

Reflecting that evidence-based behaviour support is at the core of what we do, when we learned of Joel’s skills in data analysis and reporting, we jumped at the chance to have him join our team. In August 2021, Joel joined Veritable and is also cutting a path for the provision of ‘Remote PBS’ (working even more remote from us here in Alice Springs!). When you find the right person with the right skill turns up, in remote Australia, you have to adapt to make it work.

Then, in October 2021, we were delighted to have Suzanne to join our team as a Behaviour Support Practitioner. Her passion for social justice, and her sense of humour, is unparalleled. Like our Managing Director, Suz has lived and worked in remote communities for many years and came to social work as a career and a calling later in life. In fact, Sophie and Suz first met in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands about 10 years ago.

Klara continues in the team, with her focus now shifting increasingly to the development of visual resources. We are incredibly lucky to have an ‘in house artist’ who says she has found her calling in our work. The use of visual tools across all facets of our work, and the creativity and insight Klara brings to her artworks, never ceases to amaze us.

Thank you to all who have supported us this past year, and since we established nearly 3 years ago. We are committed to bringing the best of remote behaviour support and social work to Central Australia, and defining innovate practice along the way.

Stay tuned for some photos of the team… including the many dogs of the team that each bring us joy when we down tools and go home to fill our cup.

More posts to follow… with a commitment from Sophie to update you all more often than once a year.

Quality and growth

There is a constant tension in the challenge of owning a NDIS-based business between growing (such that you can offer your services to a larger number of people) and losing touch with what you do and why.

Part of the reason we chose to establish Veritable, stepping out into the unknown, was to set the bar for quality services in Central Australia. The way in which the NDIS is designed, due in part to its deep and important commitment to choice and control, is ripe for potential exploitation of already marginalised and vulnerable populations.

In the mainstream, capitalist ‘achievement-focused’ world that many Westerners operate in, it is often assumed that we started the business in order to be in business. To create an income stream. To grow and expand. To be ‘successful’.

Our definition of successful is altogether different. Success is relationship. Trust. Connection. A genuine interest in and concern for the whole messy and wonderful lives of the people we support. Being open and attentive to what we don’t know, as much as what we might bring.

Success is also knowing that you did something useful, however small, for that person and their family. Knowing that you helped reduce the use of restrictive practice. That you listened slowly and deeply, and mapped a path together that could lead to positive change. That you saw your flaws for what they are, and took steps to improve. That you were humble enough to say you were wrong, to apologise and to commit to doing better next time.

With growth, comes the risk that these important qualities for the best work with people is lost. That the business becomes about key performance indicators, recruitment, business management, new office locations, and brand management. That the business becomes about the business itself. About sustaining itself, rather than the people within it and the people for whom it serves.

There does come a point when the next step forward into growth happens. Certainly, the NDIS is a positive game changer for Central Australia, in the support it can enable for many people. The drive to step into that space for growth (and all the risks it brings of losing touch with what we’re doing and why) is that, if done well, more people’s lives can be touched.

The challenge then is how to grow well, so that this genuine connectedness to the purpose of the work infuses all of the business. To grow in a values-driven way, so that all the people in the business understand what they are creating together. With people, and for people.

Getting started

The most difficult step to take is always the first. Establishing a new business might be relatively straightforward to some. But striking out on your own is inherently a daunting prospect. It requires role models. Encouragement. Or at the very least, a leap of faith. In the case of Veritable, a constellation of different factors came into play.

One was the realisation that the landscape of disability services was fundamentally changing. Having worked in government for most of my career, including in policy settings in Canberra and remote Central Australian Aboriginal communities, I found myself standing at the crossroads.

I could see that there were incredible opportunities for services to become more person-centred; the power of the participant, or their representative, becoming the decision-maker. What I could see more clearly, however, were the challenges of making this model work in remote Australia.

There was the clear risk (already evident in other sectors) that the market would be serviced by ‘fly in, fly out’ providers. Providers who may have their motivation based more in the NDIS Remote Price Guide than in the quality of the services delivered.

Or providers who, for all their good will, simply did not have the ‘eyes’ for remote Australia. How business here means re-evaluating entirely how work is done. Where the very act of coming in and asking questions might already have got you onto the wrong foot from the very beginning.

I was also acutely aware that the notion of ‘choice’ is just that – a notion – if there were few providers willing to step up to the challenge. The opportunity to be in there from the beginning was tempting. The only way to really see how the system works, and to shape it for the better, is to understand it from the inside.

So combined with a few fortuitous conversations, some words of encouragement, a desire to change gears in my career and learn something new, the leap of faith was taken. Veritable was created. The business plan was written. The accreditation process commenced.