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"My calling": Priscilla became a social worker against the odds

This article appears in: Alumni stories, Balance work, life and study, Community Services and Social Work, Pathways to Uni
Social work graduate Priscilla on Casuarina campus

Social work graduate Priscilla did not take the traditional path to university. Instead, she had to overcome tragedy and her own self-doubts to don the graduation cap and gown. 

After the deaths of her mother and father, Priscilla had to find a job to pay the rent.

“Due to having no other adult care for me, I had to work and care for myself and my younger sister at the age of 16,” she says. “Attending high school was not an option for me.”

Many years later, when her oldest son was struggling in his first year of primary school, the dedication of his teacher inspired her to pursue a career working with Aboriginal children. 

After contemplating a career in education, Priscilla settled on the Bachelor of Social Work at Charles Darwin University.

“I could feel in my spirit that social work was my calling."

“Being an Aboriginal woman, I am always thinking about structural injustice that my people are faced with in Australia with the hope to one day make a change,” she says.

Jumping in with both feet 

As she hadn’t finished high school, Priscilla took advantage of CDU’s Tertiary Enabling Program to get into the swing of tertiary study. 

“In the beginning of the academic journey I was a mother of two boys under the age of six. When I enrolled in the TEP program I found that I was pregnant with my third and then had my fourth two years later,” she says.

“I continued to study throughout both pregnancies, to the point that I asked for an extension for some of my units in the maternity ward three hours after the birth of my child.”

“It was incredibly hard to juggle full-time motherhood and full-time study,” Priscilla adds.

CDU's flexible, online learning took the edge off. 

Priscilla watched her class recordings online so she could study in her own time, though it was by no means an easy feat. 

“I put a lot of my personal life on hold and only focused on my children and studies.”

The power of placements

Social worker Priscilla on campus

Studying might have been a constant juggle with four kids, but Priscilla had found her passion.

“I really enjoyed the units as this helps to put into perspective the different factors that can impact one’s life and society as a whole.”

As part of the Bachelor of Social Work, students gain practical, real-world skills through intensives and placements. 

“Placement is an amazing opportunity to understand the demands and expectations of a social worker,” Priscilla says. “The placement opportunities in child protection and Palmerston Hospital have given me the foundational skills and knowledge to begin my social work career.”

“I was very fortunate to gain the Territory Families Work Integrated Learning Scholarship that has provided me with the opportunity to continue my employment after graduation,” she adds.

“It was a great experience to transition from student to case support worker and now Child Protection Practitioner.”

Despite the struggles of completing the required placement hours as a full-time mum, Priscilla is grateful for the knowledge she developed and the networking relationships she formed. 

“I have also learned that I am capable of meeting the academic expectations and anything is possible with hard work and commitment. I feel empowered as I am the only one in my family to pursue a degree and successfully complete all the required units.”

The future

Priscilla receiving First Nations social work award

Riddled with self-doubt through the degree, seeing herself graduate and quickly start making an impact in the lives of Territory children is all the sweeter. 

“I doubted myself a lot and told myself that I was not going to make it, but to my surprise I did.”

In fact, Priscilla was awarded the First Nations Student Social Work Award by the Australian Association of Social Workers on World Social Work Day 2024 at a special ceremony at NT Parliament House. 

She has plans to specialise further with a graduate certificate down the track, but for now, she is focusing on her family and her important role as a Child Protection Practitioner. 

“The opportunity to work alongside some of the most vulnerable people in society, support and advocate for people that are unable to advocate for themselves, and be part of real change is such rewarding work, no matter how big or small that change is.”

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