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A Brief History of Social Work at Monash University

Social Work was introduced to Monash University in the 1970s as part of the Commonwealth Government’s policy of expanding the numbers of professional Social Workers. Originally the course was sponsored by the Medical and Arts faculties and subsequently placed within the Department of Sociology in the Faculty of Arts under the leadership of Professor Peter Boss, a prominent Social Work academic recruited from the United Kingdom (UK). In 1974 a small cohort of some 20–25 students entered the new generalist (or generic) BSW Honours degree.

Over the next 12 years under Professor Boss, Social Work formed its own Department within the Faculty of Arts, redeveloped its BSW Honours degree to a BSW pass and honours structure and, following its 1983 re-accreditation, included additional policy and research teaching emphasising the Australian context. The MSW (research) and PhD degrees were begun, and the postgraduate coursework MSW degree, although there were few students enrolled in these higher degrees initially. At that time the staff research focus was largely on child and family welfare.

At the conclusion of 1986, Professor Boss retired and Professor Thea Brown gained the Chair after serving 18 months in an acting capacity as Head of Department. During the next seven years, the Department restructured the MSW Coursework, introduced the first Distance Education BSW in Australia, and developed a Distance Education MSW Coursework. At the same time, a research strategy was developed and shaped around the demographic nature of the course’s catchment region. Building on the Department’s previous focus on child and family welfare, a new focus on child abuse emerged. In 1993, Professor Brown stood down as the Head of Department.

During this period, the university undertook a number of amalgamations with other tertiary institutions, firstly with the former Chisholm Institute that was located on the Caulfield and Peninsula campuses and then with the Gippsland College of Advanced Education located at Churchill in Gippsland. These amalgamations were to lead to a period of instability for the Department. Eventually the Department was included in the newly created Faculty of Professional Studies and then moved back to the Faculty of Arts when Professional Studies was disestablished. Even then, the Department struggled with its location, culminating in efforts of the Faculty to close it. Strong advocacy under the leadership of Dr Max Liddell, who had become Head of Department in 1996, averted the closure and demonstrated the Department’s viability.

In 2001, with Professor Chris Goddard as Head, the Department elected to join the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, which had become a multi-disciplinary faculty. In 2002, the Department joined the School of Primary and Allied Health Care.

In July 2008 Professor Margaret Alston was recruited from Charles Sturt University and was appointed to lead the Social Work Department. She brought significant experience in Distance Education and Social Work education and a strong research focus on gender. Under her leadership the department grew substantially, welcoming a wide range of international students, and has gradually become one of the largest Master’s of Social Work programs in Australia.

Professor Alston stepped down as Head of Department in mid-2017 and Associate Professor Philip Mendes became acting Head of Department, guiding the department until November 2018 when Professor Aron Shlonsky was appointed as ongoing Head of Department. Professor Shlonsky was recruited from the University of Melbourne where he was Professor of evidence-informed practice and Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Effective Services.