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Relationship building

Social work field practica focused on Indigenous child welfare in Labrador

special feature: Indigenization

Part of a special feature chronicling the transformation of the academy through the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials at Memorial.

By Rebecca Webb and Laura Woodford

Two bachelor of social work (BSW) students are completing their field practica in Hopedale, Labrador, this winter.

The School of Social Work has partnered with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development to support Lindsay Wilson and Megan Spurrell in completing field practica focused on Indigenous child welfare, in rural and remote communities in Labrador.

Partnership between communities

In previous years, the school has struggled to place students in Labrador due to a lack of housing and high costs.

This new initiative aims to help overcome these issues, initially by securing two placements per semester in either Hopedale, Nain, Natuashish or Sheshatshiu.

From left, Megan Spurrell and Lindsay Wilson in Hopedale.
Photo: Submitted

A small step toward Indigenizing the academy and the profession of social work, the partnership provides an opportunity for both students and field education co-ordinators to build relationships with and learn more from Innu and Inuit peoples and communities in Labrador.

Community consultations

Two of the school’s field education co-ordinators, Dr. Sheri McConnell and Cheryl Mallard, travelled to Labrador in November to become familiar with the Inuit communities on the North Coast and consult with Elders, community members and leaders, social workers and other human service professionals.

During the visit, they learned about the culture and history of Indigenous and settler peoples in Labrador and the experience students will have while completing their practica in rural and remote communities.

Dr. McConnell and Ms. Mallard say their stay helped them get a feel for the lifestyle in Nain and Hopedale, as they toured the Nunatsiavut Assembly Building, visited the Moravian Museum and travelled as the residents of the communities do in the winter: by Ski-Doo and kamutik (sled).

Social workers Holly Richardson and Grant Gear
From left are Holly Richardson and Grant Gear, Hopedale-based social workers who the students will work with on placements.
Photo: Submitted

The team also trained local field instructors on the knowledge and understanding required by students to complete practica in their communities.

One thing that stood out for Dr. McConnell is how much the weather impacts people’s lives in the Big Land.

“There’s so much out of your control, especially the weather. It instills a sense of gratitude and really changes the relationship between people,” she said.

“It’s a very different lifestyle and pace than on the island.”

One of the biggest challenges in hiring social workers in remote Indigenous communities is finding those who will be a good fit.

If the students enjoy their experience this winter, there’s great potential for future employment in the area, the co-ordinators say. Dr. McConnell says she expects Ms. Wilson and Ms. Spurrell will have a “fabulous adventure.”

Share the experience

As a way of broadening the exposure, students taking part in the initiative will present their experiences to other students, staff, and faculty near the end of their practicum.

Cheryl Mallard takes a ride on a Ski-Doo.
Photo: Submitted

Each pair of students will also create an orientation manual, specific to the four communities involved, for future students who complete their field practica in Labrador.

Ms. Mallard says it was “truly an honour” to travel to the Labrador’s North Coast.

“I am grateful to all the people we met on the journey, especially those for whom Nain and Hopedale is home, who shared their insights regarding their communities, its people and their land,” she said.

“I am humbled to be part of the process of building culturally safe, respectful and relevant practicum experiences for social work students in Labrador.”

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