Jessica Davisdon

Jessica Davidson graduated from the Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) at the University of Sydney. Growing up in South Africa, Jessica saw firsthand just how unfair poverty and racial discrimination really is and it inspired her to pursue her passion for social justice. Jessica is currently working as a Project Officer at Family & Community Services (FACS), where she supports frontline child protection staff and responds to ministerial requests and contentious issues relating to child protection operations across NSW.

1. Please may you tell us about yourself, your background, how you ultimately became a social worker?

Jessica Davidson: I grew up in South Africa where the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ was very apparent to me on an everyday basis. As a child, I remember feeling sad, overwhelmed and frustrated by how unfair poverty and racial discrimination was. I was lucky to have wonderful, thoughtful parents who had a strong sense of social justice. They taught me to not take my privilege for granted and encouraged me to use my education for the benefit of others. This initially led me to want to study law. I had grand ideas of giving moving speeches in court rooms in the name of human rights and social justice. But I later realised that law is often more about the law than about social justice - surprise! That threw a spanner in the works. Suddenly I had no idea what I wanted to do. I remember flicking through hundreds of course outlines, bugging my parents’ friends with questions about how they chose their careers and I even went to see a careers guidance counsellor. One day it just clicked. Anything and everything to do with social work was screaming out at me. In fact, when I first read the description of Sydney University’s Bachelor of Social Work, I felt like I was reading a description of me, my worldview and my goals all rolled into one. That was it for me. I didn’t know this at the time but my grandmother was actually a social worker once upon a time. When I found that out, I felt this wonderful sense of ‘carrying on the baton’.

2. What degree/s did you complete and was there something in particular that attracted you to these courses of study?

Jessica Davidson: I completed a Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) at Sydney University. I was drawn to the strong social justice framework of the course, its balance between policy, research and practice and the opportunity to do a hands-on degree that I believed would lead to meaningful work. I also liked the feel of the Education and Social Work Faculty. It felt familiar, warm and inviting. I remember looking forward to being a part of a diverse but relatively small cohort. I didn’t want to be ‘just another number’ at university. I wanted to know and be known by other students and teaching staff, to have an opportunity to build relationships and be a part of a community.

3. How has your degree supported you in your professional life?

Jessica Davidson: Child protection casework is a tough gig. As inspiring and rewarding as it is, it can also be daunting, draining and confronting. The practical skills that I learnt at uni helped me to engage my clients and physically do the work. But what helped me to cope with it – mentally – was the research, the theory and the big-picture thinking that was embedded in the subjects that I studied at uni. Having an understanding of larger systems at play and coming back to that social justice framework that sat at the centre of my degree allowed me to make sense of my clients’ stories and find a way forward when things got tough.

4. What’s your current role?

Jessica Davidson: I am currently a Project Officer at FACS. I work in a team that supports frontline child protection staff and that responds to ministerial requests and contentious issues relating to child protection operations across NSW. Prior to this, I worked as a Child Protection Caseworker for FACS in Blacktown.

5. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?

Jessica Davidson: Thursdays! In my last year of uni I would have my Professional Practice class in the morning which was really hands-on and dynamic. Think role-plays and simulations of meetings and case conferences. I loved it. Afterwards, I would head over to Manning Bar with a few friends, have lunch and watch theatre sports. This involved a serious amount of laughter and way too much food. Later that afternoon I would go to my Honours class where I embraced my inner nerd, complex social work concepts and the competitive spirit that is bound to arise in a class filled with Honours students! An ideal day.

6. Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?

Jessica Davidson: This is a tough one. I’d have to say a combination of Sue Goodwin, who was my Honours Supervisor (she is wonderfully intelligent, calming and warm) and Gillian Blackburn who gave me the most brutally honest feedback on an essay and who took the time to truly teach me how to write. Both had a wealth of practical experience to draw from and explained things in ways that were clear and relatable. They each had a wicked sense of humour too – much needed in Social Work!

7. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Jessica Davidson: Not so much a mantra but a book called ‘Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed’ by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton. I revisit it all the time. It’s about harnessing the forces around you to make change, rather than single-handedly trying to create change (which is daunting and often impossible). It offered great comfort when I realised that I couldn’t change the world as drastically or as quickly as I thought I could when I was younger and has continued to inspire me as I navigate the world of child protection. It has helped to remind me that a small act can still be a heroic act and that occasionally, if the timing is right, small acts can lead to big impacts.

8. What are your plans for the future?

Jessica Davidson: I don’t have a specific plan in mind. Right now I’m excited by and passionate about child protection and can see a million-and-one ways in which I would like to contribute to and influence the child protection ‘sector’. It might seem like a specific field from the outside but from the inside it is so diverse, made up of layers-upon-layers of key social work issues like domestic violence, mental health issues, addiction, love, relationships and family. An important question for me right now is ‘how do we learn from the negative impacts of our practice?’ Often we are too scared to ask this question but I believe that it’s an important one to ask. I would love to do some research that ties in to it someday. That might involve further study or a change in roles at some point. I’ll keep you posted!

9. What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?

Jessica Davidson: To be courageous in pursuing something that moves and inspires you. Don’t hold back. Get your hands dirty and explore every part of it. Find the thing that makes time stop for you. It will keep you hopeful, alive and energetic in your work, which is bound to lead you to contribute something unique and magnificent to the world.

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