“You had the power all along my dear.”
Glinda the Good – The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

“You had the power all along my dear.”
              Glinda the Good – The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

You are already an incredible social worker. Don’t ever doubt that. While we all know that feeling of complete and utter exhaustion and burnout that being a social worker can bring, there are things you can do to support and advocate for yourself to move from a feeling of helplessness to one of hope and empowerment. Being part of the ESW community will help you to live your best work life, create sustainable boundaries and balance your professional role with self-care. And I am here to guide, support and empower you on that journey

Let me introduce myself. I’m Karen Barrett, and since I was young, I’ve been ‘good at people’. While others excelled at sport or maths, my high school principal’s reference called out my ‘good sense of humour’ and the fact that I ‘like helping people’. Seems my path was set early on! I’ve always felt at home listening to people – and I’ve turned this trait into my life’s work. For over two decades now, I’ve passionately supported and advocated for people of all ages, ethnicities, genders and beliefs as a clinical social worker – and I continue to do so today as a clinician, leader, advocate, educator and learner.

The Clinician

Working in areas of trauma, grief and loss, family violence, mental health and parenting support across my career means I’ve seen almost everything – and it’s made me the clinician I am today. I’ve provided front line acute care social work in NSW Health paediatric surgical wards, intensive care units and emergency departments; delivered acute, supportive and therapeutic trauma support for the Newcastle Department of Forensic Medicine, Office of Director of Public Prosecutions and an Acute Mental Health Team; and undertaken private consultancy for Hunter Institute of Mental Health (EveryMind) and NSW Severe Burn Injury Service. Every work experience has contributed to building my resilience and capabilities, which allowed me to build my private practice where I currently support clients as an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker and Victims Services Counsellor..

The Leader

All my life I have been compelled to guide and support people and advocate for those who need help – you could say leadership and having a strong voice is in my DNA. Right from the beginning of my career, I was drawn to leading from the front line and making things happen. As a relatively new social worker, I led an after-hours hospital social work crisis team with training, resources, support and de-briefing; while today, I continue to drive professional and client advocacy, deliver education and training, and provide mentorship and clinical supervision across trauma, child protection, mental health, child and family work, sexual assault, domestic and family violence, criminal justice and private practice.

The Advocate

I am passionate about what I do and making a difference. Advocacy is at the heart of social work and I have long had a calling to support and assist people to navigate bureaucratic systems that impinge on their lives and health status – and now have made it my vocation to do the same for everyone within our profession. The ESW is one of my key advocacy tools – it is an open, honest, genuine space where I can share my observations and reflections about being a social worker, that can hopefully help others advocate for themselves as people and as professionals.

The Educator

I love to learn and share my knowledge and experience with others. I have been an educator in this profession for over 15 years, both lecturing at university and TAFE in social work and community services; and acting as an external clinical supervisor and field education liaison officer for student placements to support and teach developing social workers. I have also voiced my experience and insights at Australian and international conferences presenting in the areas of parental grief, trauma impacts and in clinical supervision best practice.

The Learner

I am a lifelong learner and devourer of books and literature – for work and for pleasure. Since graduating with my Bachelor of Social Work in 1998, continual learning has been a key personal and professional value – I believe we are always learning and there is never a specific end point to be reached. For me, it’s about investing in therapeutic and theoretical professional development, especially in CBT, DBT, ACT, PTSD treatment, critical and reflective practice, mental health and grief and loss. My postgraduate studies in Professional Practice Supervision included qualitative research into the differences between line management and clinical supervision, which sparked my passion to call on all organisations to offer ‘true’ clinical supervision for social workers separate to managerial processes.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that the inner strength and resilience of people is mindboggling; but what continues to overwhelm me is how many industries and sectors that employ social workers are not equipped or available to support our needs. And that needs to change. This is why I created the ESW as a community to:

  • spark open conversations about the systems, structures and policies that impact on our clients, our work and us
  • provide actionable insights to help you navigate complex workplace systems
  • reduce isolation by connecting us with our peers to share experiences in a safe and personal forum
  • facilitate inclusivity, support, encouragement, inspiration and growth
  • reveal strategies, practices and ideas that support our careers in challenging environments.

It is my mission to support social workers create thriving, sustainable and joyful careers. I hope you’ll join us.

Karen Barrett - The Empowered Social Worker

I live, learn and work on the Traditional Land of the Awabakal people. I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land. I pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging. Sovereignty has never been ceded. It always was and always will be Aboriginal Land