Nunatsiavut taking social work into their own hands

Jenny McCarthy
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It is something unprecedented both for Labrador and for Nunatsiavut-19 beneficiaries have begun a program that will see them complete a four-year degree from MUN without ever having to leave Labrador. The degree program is Social Work and the students began studying this month.The program coordinator with Nunatsiavut, Sandy Kershaw, said this program is a completely new way of doing things.

"We are breaking ground for this."

Ms. Kershaw said the 19 students, seven of which are from the Nunatsiavut coastal region and 12 of which are from Upper Lake Melville, will not have any special treatment. Their courses are the same required from social work students at MUN and the criteria to enter the program was just as stringent-the applicants were required to complete pre-requisite courses, complete tests and do interviews. There were 20 places available and in the end, 19 students were accepted into the program.

The participants will have culturally relevant material added to their course load. For this part, Gwen Watts, a local social worker master degree holder and former Director of Health and Social Development with Nunatsiavut will work with the professors to weave aboriginal content into the program. For the practical side of the courses Inuit elders will be invited into the program to share their experiences and insight.

One social work professor has temporarily relocated to Labrador to teach courses this year and two other professors will continue to teach at MUN and fly in once a month to hold classes with the students.

The College of the North Atlantic and the Labrador Institute are helping out by providing a location for the classes.

The program is funded entirely by Nunatsiavut and offered only to Nunatsiavut beneficiaries. The idea surfaced after the Nunatsiavut department of Health and Social Development carried out a survey three years ago. They found 30 social work position unfilled in Labrador.

Ms. Kershaw said they decided a major issue was retention of social workers and the decisions was then made to train social workers from the region to keep social workers in the region.

The 19 individuals currently being trained all have return to services agreements with the Nunatsiavut government that ties the workers to Labrador. For any of the workers who are not hired by the Nunatsiavut government within six months of completing their degree, they are free to look for work elsewhere.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Labrador Institute, Nunatsiavut department

Geographic location: Upper Lake Melville, Labrador, Labrador.Ms

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