Sophie Staughton’s path to, what most people would consider, the middle of nowhere began with a longing for honesty and adventure. It led through to a Masters in Social Work studied remotely through Griffith University while living out bush.
Recently Ms Staughton was recognised as Western Australia’s rural and remote social worker of the year for 2012 for her work in child protection in remote Aboriginal communities.
Ms Staughton lives in Blackstone near the border of WA, SA and the NT. It forms part of a larger area called the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in the central desert of Australia, covering a geographic distance approximately the size of Victoria.
Social work in remote communities
Despite the pressures of isolation and more elastic attitudes to privacy in remote communities, Ms Staughton relishes the opportunities for personal and professional growth.
“Rural and remote social work does require practitioners to be flexible, resilient and prepared to share more of themselves. In the end, we are all in this together and have to find a way through that is honest, ethical and practical,” she said.
“Lots of business happens in the day to day life of the community, not in the office or meeting rooms at work. That is how the best work is done, outside, with community members, as part of their life.”
Ms Staughton began her career as a social planner for the Ngaanyatjarra Council and soon realised she needed a stronger theoretical and practical foundation for her work. After much research it was clear to her Griffith was the best place to get this foundation and started studying at the same time as she moved into her current role as a community child protection worker.
“The course has an excellent balance of practical skills and theoretical knowledge, and particularly challenges students to develop their social work practice framework and identity as a social worker, Ms Staughton said.
“But it was the process of learning and the depth of thought and concern that the lecturers and course convener put into the program that stands out the most.”
Despite the award the day to day challenges of remote professional life remain as unique as ever and the only way to be effective is to embrace them.
“I may need to travel over 200k return to see a client (the nearest community is 100k away).
“We have to be patient if we don’t get the information we need on the first visit. Returning again and again demonstrates my interest and concern for their family, and my willingness to set aside the Western ‘need for speed’ in talking and reflecting and choosing the best way forward.”