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TitleThe lived experience of direct social work practice with people of refugee background.
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A relational encounter: the lived experience of

direct social work practice with people of refugee


Ann Joselynn Baltra-Ulloa, BA (Hons) BSW (Hons)

A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for

the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Social Work)

University of Tasmania

September, 2014

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Declaration of Originality

This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for a degree or diploma

by the University or any other institution, except by way of background

information and duly acknowledged in the thesis, and to the best of my knowledge

and belief no material previously published or written by another person except

where due acknowledgement is made in the text of the thesis, nor does the thesis

contain any material that infringes copyright.



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them because it‟d been taught through the course that that wasn‟t

appropriate. But then the longer I was out, praxis kind of informed
me differently that it was ok so long as you check it out…So long as

you don‟t feel or get these gut feelings of “yeah I‟m right” you don‟t

use it that way but you use it in a very fluid kind of a way and you‟re

OK with not getting it right, then it is really useful (Participant 6).

The whole concept around service to humanity…understanding is

really important I think and if you don‟t take the time to really do
that then you lose people‟s stories and I think that was the most

important thing that I could have done [in working with people of
refugee background]…I was offering something that was useful…she

helped me with that so it was a partnership between the two of us…I

had questions about her culture and her background and how they
managed that and what was important and trying to connect to what
was important to her from where she had come from [and she had
questions for me] (Participant 9).

The being and doing with clients was said to promote a personal

relationship with the client of refugee background. In these relationships, every

participant except Participant 3 and 12 described how the social worker ensured

clients brought to the encounter; sought to connect with the client with respect,

honesty and curiosity; sought to clarify the social work role, its limits and

possibilities; and, was not afraid to challenge notions of professionalism in social

work that discouraged such friendships with clients.

I think being able to become a friend because in that there is trust,
truth…Reliable contact with her wasn‟t just about “how much

money have you got, are you going to school, have you done this…”

It was also about “what are you doing this evening?…and other

social workers would frown on having this kind of contact…[but] for

me that [kind of reliable contact] was great…But I also felt that it
conveyed to her that I have a sense of understanding how you
construct relationships from her frame of reference (Participant 10).

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We had this organic non-structured conversation every time she
came in and one day she began to talk about what she said she‟d
come in for and then again she went back to her history…she‟d

never talked about her history because she didn‟t think it was

relevant it was only through a process of what she called friendship
building and what my colleagues would freak out if they heard, that
she was able to connect those dots herself and I never connected
those dots for her…[in working with people of refugee background]

You‟ve got to be genuinely interested and I can‟t tell you how many

times she said: “no, no, no, that‟s not right…” as I tried to

paraphrase and try to summarise…occasionally, must admit at the

time, I went: “Oh, Oh” inside but that was more about the

knowledge of what my colleagues would‟ve said… (Participant 6).

A2a. A Relationship Built on Dialogue

All Group B participants (except Participants 3 and 12) indicated that

dialogue existed in both the intent to create a being and doing with posture to

practice and in the manner in which relationships were said to exist with the

client in these enc

enabled him to dismantle any form of prescribed

worker expertise and helped him to encourage and maintain a human connection

and a partnership with the client:

I think if you‟re creating a space around safety and make time for
people, they‟ll know that you‟re not telling them “how it is”…it‟s

actually creating that dialogical relationship. Having a conversation
mutually beneficial. Doesn‟t happen all the time, when people first
come in now I ensure it does. So, it‟s creating the building block for

trust and dialogue. Many, many times on the fourth, sixth, tenth
meeting all this stuff they want to know just comes out, it‟s really

cool. And then I‟m the one that‟s sitting there wide eyed...
(Participant 4).

Participant 11 referred to dialogue as a cyclical reflective process initiated by

self-examination aimed at learning who the self is and how it influences

practice, followed by a sharing of these personal and practice based insights

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Declaration by researcher confirming oral consent was obtained from

research participant.

I, Joselynn Sweeney Ph.D. candidate in the school of Sociology and Social

Work at the University of Tasmania (C/- Locked Bag 1340 Launceston Tas.

7250), hereby declare that (Name of Participant), participant in my Ph.D.

research project titled “How can social workers work more effectively with people

of refugee background” has orally consented to participate in the research and be

interviewed after being provided with and considering the following information:

“Information Sheet” for this study.

The nature and possible effects of the study.

The methods employed; one initial interview that will last no more
than two hours where the focus will be in asking (Name of

Participant) of his/her experience in interacting with social


It was explained to (Name of Participant) that feelings of sadness
might be experienced during the interview. (Name of Participant)

does not have to share anything that makes him/her feel


It was explained to (Name of Participant) that, if feelings of
sadness are experienced, Joselynn can make a referral to a

counsellor of (Name of Participant) choice.

All questions that (Name of Participant) had have been answered.

It was explained that research data gathered for the study may be
published provided that (Name of Participant) cannot be

identified as a participant.

It was explained that (Name of Participant)‟s identity will be kept
confidential and that any information supplied to the researcher

will be used only for the purpose of the research.

(Name of Participant) has agreed to participate in this
investigation and has understood that he/she may withdraw at any

time, up until the 1
December 2009, without any effect and if so

wish, may request that any data supplied to date be withdrawn

from the research.

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I have explained this project and the implications of participation in it to

this volunteer and I believe that the consent is informed and that he/she

understands the implications of participation.

(Name of Participant) has orally consented to his/her interview tape
being professionally transcribed.

(Name of Participant) has orally declined consent to his/her interview
tape being professionally transcribed

I have explained to the participant the process and consequences involved in using

a professional transcriber.

Name of Investigator:

Signature of Investigator: Date:

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