This chapter draws on our own and other authors’ research and experience to introduce you to a range of social work practice fields and some of the current debates within those fields. We have already covered several fields of practice throughout this text, such as unemployment (and masculinity issues – see the case study of Peter in Chapter 3); working across difference, and with ‘missing voices’ (Chapter 8); health (and issues associated with masculinity, ageing, grief and loss, and working with migrants – see the case study of Giuseppe in Chapter 6); and sexual assault (see the case study of Sarah in Chapter 7), and touched on other fields, such as homelessness and substance abuse (both addressed in Chapter 2). In this chapter we focus on the fields of aged care, mental health and child protection. We have deliberately chosen these fields because historically, critical practice has only been considered possible in community-based organisations with an explicit mandate for social change. It has been, and still is, assumed that critical practice in mental health, child protection and aged care settings is extremely difficult (if not impossible). This chapter discusses the relevance of critical approaches and their potential to inform social work in all fields of practice, especially those fields in which critical practice is seen to be at odds with the dominant discourses and associated institutional structures and cultures.
Before exploring our three areas of focus, it must be said that fields of practice, although spoken of as discrete areas, often intersect and overlap. For example, if we are working in a sexual assault service, our work with people may cover grief and loss, substance abuse, disability issues, health and mental health, housing and homelessness, unemployment and poverty, cross-cultural issues, and so on. This reflects the complexity of human experience as well as the ripple effect that certain experiences can potentially have on all aspects of one’s life. Another example of this crossover of issues may be seen if we take the example of working in the housing field. As you may know, homelessness occurs on a number of levels. Primary homelessness refers to people without conventional accommodation, living on the streets, under bridges, and so on. Secondary homelessness refers to people moving between various forms of temporary shelter – for example, friends, emergency accommodation and hostels.