Professor Donna Baines on Social Work and Social Policy

21 September 2015

Professor Donna Baines
Professor Donna Baines

Professor Donna Baines, newly appointed Professor in Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Sydney, describes herself as a 'Social-workcologist'.

"A Social-workcologist is someone who studies the work of social workers and the way they do work," explains Professor Baines.

Professor Baines is already familiar to the university, having joined us during her research leave in 2013 and comes from McMaster University in Toronto, Canada, where she worked across two departments including Labor Studies and Social Work.

"The McMaster model is an interdisciplinary model where the thinking is you get almost always richer because you pull two disciplines together to think through problems," explains Professor Baines describing the advantage of working across departments.

"I already work with various people at University of Sydney who do industrial relations, labour studies, work organisations, and hope to do more inter disciplinary work."

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Angela Davis and Nancy Fraser and being involved in social movements has inspired Professor Baines on her journey to complete a pathway through a Bachelor of Social Work, Masters of Social Work and her PhD in Social Work.

"When I was doing my undergrad, I was really involved in the peace movement and the anti-nuclear movement in Canada. There were two social work professors who lectured on the impending disaster if we didn't stand up for themselves, and I thought social work was a great discipline to be so involved in social issues," said Professor Baines.

Professor Baines in currently involved in three-research projects, leading one on comparing the shifting lines of paid and unpaid care work in social services in four countries - Australia, Canada, South Africa and UK. Another second international project in which she is a co-investigator is a comparative project of 26 researchers looking at long term care for the elderly in Canada, US, UK, Germany, Sweden, Norway. Baines is also completing a further project in Canada looking at growth of precarious work (part-time, casual and contract jobs) and poverty in Southern Ontario.

Initial outcomes from the project in Canada addresses the growing reliance on unpaid work and very low pay in the area of care work. Professor Baines hopes her research can play a part in getting the arguments out to policy makers who can make change and ensure respect and a fair deal for all professional care givers, including social workers, and high quality care for those in need.

"A lot of volunteers are nurses and social workers who come in and volunteer because they feel the role needs to be filled. They work at their paid job all day and then they volunteer after hours." said Professor Baines. "This level of unpaid overtime is unsustainable and needs intervention at the policy level to ensure fairness and equity in care and work".

A keen advocate for collaboration and learning opportunities for her students, Professor Baines gets her students involved in these projects and supports them in developing higher level research and writing skills.

"When I bring students with me on research trips, they participate in all aspects of the research project, including interviewing frontline workers and doing participant observations with me. This helps them to learn how to actually do real research," said Professor Baines.

"Some people discover they have quite the talent for research and quite the passion for it. I also try to fold in students and junior colleagues into jointly writing many of my articles, so I often have a string of names on my written work. This makes sure that people get credit for the hard work they do on research projects."

Professor Baines is looking forward to her new role at the University of Sydney and although only a few weeks into the role, hopes to develop a lively social justice research project across disciplines, communities and countries.

"I've been having conversations with everyone in Social Work and Social Policy about where they want to go with their research. We have a great team here and I would be very proud if I could support people in what doing the research they want to do."