Community need drives expanded social welfare degree at Coffs Harbour

Published 6 December 2018
Dr Louise Whitaker (right) with previous students Dr Louise Whitaker (right) with previous students

Coffs Harbour and surrounds will soon benefit from Southern Cross University's expanded Bachelor of Social Welfare degree.

A mental health major is a key addition to the degree that will debut at Coffs Harbour in 2019, broadening a program previously available only at the Gold Coast campus and online.

Course Coordinator Dr Louise Whitaker says community need and career opportunities in the Coffs Harbour region were behind the move.

"Support for mental health and well-being are increasingly important in today's society and that need is pronounced in a diverse and growing community like Coffs Harbour," said Dr Whitaker.

'"This is especially so in refugee settlement, Indigenous health, young people, people living with disability, unemployment, aged care and social inclusion, and is accentuated in rural and regional locations."

The expanded degree coincides with the launch of the Be You mental health initiative recently announced by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It will roll out in 2019 across 6000 Australian schools and 2000 early learning services

The Federal Government has invested $98.6 million in the program that aims to give teachers the tools to help students manage their mental health. It will be delivered by Beyond Blue in partnership with Headspace and Early Childhood Australia.

"Identifying and supporting mental health issues carries significant ramifications for health management, recovery and quality of life," said Dr Whitaker.

"The aim is to help people continue to live in, contribute to, and know that they are a valued part of their community.

"Through the Bachelor of Social Welfare degree, Southern Cross will provide students with the knowledge, skills and empathy to support that process when they move into professional practice.

Students will complete two placements during the degree, working under supervision with groups such as Anglicare, Centrelink, St Vincent de Paul and the Domestic Violence Service.

"They will be working across fields including child protection, drugs and alcohol, criminal justice, community education, housing, emergency relief, family interventions and domestic violence," said Dr Whitaker.

"They may work with the young, the old, in different multicultural settings and at individual, group or community level. I'm excited by the idea of students from various backgrounds supporting each other and working together."

Southern Cross sociology lecturer Dr Mandy Hughes said the expanded Bachelor of Social Welfare was a positive response to identified need.

"In regional areas there has long been an issue with people being unable to access the support services that are so important to their daily lives. Increasing access to local training will contribute to strengthening the local community," said Dr Hughes.

"With so many of our students representing the diversity of the Coffs Harbour community, this will create a real sense of connection and shared understanding. This can only be good for learning now, and for the contributions these students will make in the future."

Media contact: Jessica Nelson jessica.nelson@scu.edu.au or 0417288794