A SW’er might consult the DSM-5 before using EBP to work with someone with MH concerns, while at the same time offer assistance with their DV situation.
Did you catch that?
Yeah we didn’t either.
Likewise, a NPO might want to make registered charity status by complying with ACNC’s regulations (having charitable purposes and no disqualifying purposes) before securing support from CVP’s and benefactors.
Sector lingo is taught at university, and for good reason. It says ‘we all work in this realm’, ‘we’re in it together’, forming a bond between colleagues and organisations. It’s an insider’s code that allows workers to communicate quickly and accurately with each other. Where accountability and welfare are concerned, it’s crucial to have a set of standard terms that professionals across the board understand and adhere to.
This language is also important when writing funding submissions, reports for superiors and policies for governing bodies. It meets necessary criteria and demonstrates knowledge and professional integrity. In these instances, it’s appropriate to refer to ‘a person-centred approach’, ‘capacity-building’, ‘strengths-based interventions’ and ‘self-determination’.
But what about when you chat to clients?
In a sector focused on promoting and advocating for human rights, improving society, and providing assistance to people in need, using academic terms ostracises the very people the sector aims to reach. It creates a barrier between the worker and the everyday person they are working with, often leaving the person feeling confused or stupid.
Take the word ‘intervention’ for example. Sounds pretty dramatic, right? Perhaps it even has a negative connotation, as if you’re going to intervene in someone’s life? What a foolproof way to invoke fear and resistance in a client! Even the word ‘client’ is a bit off-putting.
A better approach is to use simple, everyday language that puts people (clients) on an equal footing, without the power-play of academic terms and abbreviations. There’s a big difference between the language used between third sector professionals, and the language that benefits the community members you’ll work with.
We’re not saying not to learn your sector jargon. We repeat: it has its purpose. You don’t want to leave yourself open to misconduct if you’re misinterpreting terms you should be familiar with. And besides, getting on top of buzzwords and abbreviations will save you from becoming red-faced in meetings! But when it comes to working alongside everyday people (clients), it’s time to get real.
So here’s a few alternatives to some common terms and phrases. Which would you prefer?
What other lingo can you reconsider?
The way language is used changes with time, and preferences also change between subgroups and organisations, so don’t be afraid to ask people what terms they’d prefer you to use.
Most importantly, never underestimate the power of your language. People unconsciously internalise words, and then form belief systems based on these. This is one of the reasons why bullying can have such a devastating effect. It’s your duty as a social worker or charity worker to use language in a way that empowers the people you work with, and to set an example for how the rest of society should speak to fellow community members.
There are a few golden rules to remember when you’re working in this field, so take note of the following:
As a graduate, you probably don’t have your head around all of the professional jargon just yet. When you do secure work, this puts you in the perfect position to provide constructive feedback to your organisation about the way in which they use language with clients. If you don’t know what something means, it’s likely the client won’t either! Find an appropriate time to have a conversation about this with superiors.
Lastly, the not-for-profit and social work sectors are notorious for using abbreviations! To get you on your way, here’s a short glossary of abbreviations and industry terms that you might come across in your work.
ACNC: Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission
ATSI: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
Benefit event: A special fundraising event for charitable purposes where all proceeds above expenses are given to a charity/organisation.
Capacity-building: Recognising what hinders people/organisations from reaching their goals, and working with them to upskill and overcome these obstacles to reach sustainable success.
Charitable foundations/trusts: Not-for-profits that have been set up to provide grants, donations or support to other organisations or people, or that fund their own work.
CP: Child Protection. This refers to the relevant bodies in each state that work to protect children from harm, abuse and neglect.
DSM: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is a book used by certain practitioners and provides a common classification of mental disorders.
DV: Domestic violence. This is when someone uses violence, abuse or intimidation to control or dominate another person who they have been, or are currently in, an intimate relationship with.
EBP: Evidence-based practice. Practice that combines well researched interventions (best practice evidence) with practitioner expertise.
ESV: Employer supported volunteering. Where companies provide external volunteering opportunities for employees. Also called CVP - corporate volunteering program.
Legacy: A gift, property or money given in a will.
LGBTQI: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex.
NDIS: National Disability Insurance Scheme. An Insurance scheme that provides disability services and support to Australian citizens/permanent residents with a permanent or lifelong disability, and their families and carers. Eligibility criteria applies.
NFP: Not-for-profit. An organisation where all profit made is reinvested into the organisation to continue carrying out its mission. A more detailed article about NFPs, NGOs & charities can be found here.
NGO: Non-government organisation. Not-for-profit organisations that are set up and run independently of government, that typically focus on widespread welfare or environmental issues, and/or international development.
Philanthropist: Generally used as a term to describe a wealthy person who makes substantial contributions to charitable causes, although by definition it refers to someone who has a love of humankind. Corporate philanthropy is when businesses offer gifts, support or other assistance to charitable organisations.
Stakeholder: Parties involved in a project/business/issue.
Statutory funding: Funding from a government source.
SW: Social Work. Social Workers can be referred to as SWers.
Trustee (in charity sector): A person or board of people who make decisions and take responsibility as the governing body of the charity.
TSO: Third sector organisation. The third sector is another term for the voluntary sector. The first sector is the private sector, and the second is the public sector.
VCS: Voluntary and community sector. An alternate name for the third sector. A number of names are used for this sector including voluntary sector, community sector, social care sector and not-for-profit sector.
For more info about the social work sector, head here.