The human services: Practitioners’ experiences of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s & 1990s

Monica Short, Bruce Valentine, Maxwell Morrissey, Kerry Morrissey, Ella Dixon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article draws on four social work practitioners’ and a sociologist’s reflections on the political environments that influenced Australian social work and the human services from the 1960s–1990s. Utilising collective and mixed autobiographical-ethnography with a purposive sample, we examined the social forces and politico-economic contexts that have shaped social work practice. We focused on the impact of feminism, First Nations activism, and the rise of neoliberalism on policy, legislation and professionalism. The article also traced the evolution of service provision in Australia through key moments in the professional experiences of four of the authors who practiced during these respective periods. It offers unique reflections on the political and human histories that have shaped this sector. The recollection of the racist and sexist attitudes that at times predominated and the associated progressive struggles illustrated the interplay between dominant ideologies and the human services. These reflections highlighted the messiness and dynamism of social work practice within the services and its embeddedness in the social constructs of the time. They remind colleagues of the political nature of their work and the need to embed practice wisdom in the literary record for the benefit of the profession and future workers.

Change and advocacy for social justice from the 1960s onwards have moulded, shaped and transformed the nature of social work practice.
Recalling the history of social work and the lived experiences of practitioners enriches our understanding of practice during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and can add to the historical record.
It is relevant for all social workers to reflect on how contemporary social work practice has evolved alongside broader social and politico-economic trends.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Social Work
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Feb 2024


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