From social policy to social work: the antecedents and origins of mental health social work in Western Australia

Marcia Catherine Foley

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] This thesis offers an account of the development of social work in Mental Health Services (MHS) in Western Australia (WA). It provides an overview of developments overseas prior to the European settlements in Australia, and suggests new ways of examining issues which affected the implementation and treatment of mental illness. I argue that, although social workers were employed as early as 1959, the formalisation of mental health social work as a professional service in WA occurred around 1968 following the adoption of a policy of deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric hospitals. The thesis explores the way in which social work, which formerly had been dominated by a medical ideology, responded to the challenges provided by the new policies. In order to identify social work within the network of political and social changes I integrate significant bodies of knowledge in the fields of medicine, sociology and economics in particular the way gender and power impacted on the development of social work services in this country. The methodology is qualitative and is multimethod and multi-perspective revolving around the use of history, particularly of oral history. The research identifies three historical periods of social work development in the Mental Health Services of Western Australia, each initiated by a political decision. The first commences in 1959 when the government decided to employ a qualified social worker to assist the attendance of psychiatric patients at a day hospital, and established the secondary nature of social work's position in relation to psychiatry. The second starts in 1973 when a government policy of funding community programmes provided a 'Honeymoon period' enabling the coordination and expansion of social work activities to occur, and its recognition as an independent profession in the MHS.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010


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