A voice for children

Sue Foley has spent 43 years protecting children in her role as a social worker. In recognition of a lifetime commitment and outstanding contribution to advancing social justice, Sue was announced the winner of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) NSW Social Justice Award, on World Social Work Day, 20 March 2018.

Sue currently serves as the Director of the NSW Children’s Court Clinic, within the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. She is the first social worker to hold this position. Sue is a member of the Australian College of Social Work, and was recently re-elected to the board of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect for a second six-year term.

“Social justice is a personal, professional and spiritual value for me,” says Sue. “It is a value connected to my own experiences as a disadvantaged child and young person who was also advantaged by access to education, respect and empowerment from others and by personal strengths and opportunities.”

“I tell social work students that social justice is the filter through which we determine if what we are doing is right and appropriate and valuable. It’s the core value of social work practice,” she says.

Sue played a significant role in establishing the Shaken Baby Prevention Project, a large scale advocacy initiative started in western Sydney in 2003, that continues to educate and empower parents and carers of small children in 25 countries.

“The child protection and child abuse field is fraught with challenges for social workers. It is a contested area where social structures, socio-economic disadvantage, gender inequity, oppressive practice, lack of respect, failure to recognise people’s capacity for change  and the ongoing impact of overall disadvantage prevails alongside the essential safety assurance that all members of the community and system seek for babies and their families.”

The Shaken Baby Prevention Project was developed as a capacity-building project, seeking social justice through recognising that babies can be injured when the context in which they live is problematic. The dangers of shaking a baby, and support and solutions to manage crying, are communicated through printed materials and a short film.

The project soon brought positive change. “We realised that the film could change negative attributions towards a crying baby. It could and did promote respect,” says Sue.

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