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Among her many talents, Glenda Kickett is drawing on her sports experience to boost school attendance rates for indigenous girls.
The list of organisations with which Glenda Kickett has worked in a storied career as social worker, administrator and educator is extensive. The list of children and young people whose lives she has greatly improved along the way is likely incalculable.
Ms Kickett, a Whadjuk and Ballardong Noongar woman, serves as manager for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement at the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF), chair of NAIDOC Perth, and chair of netball-focused Aboriginal youth development initiative Glass Jar Australia.
Despite establishing the social work background that underpins her many professional achievements through a somewhat unplanned series of events, Ms Kickett is eager to see many more young Aboriginal people follow in her footsteps.
“There’s been a big drive [for Aboriginal people to undertake studies] in law and medicine and that’s fine, but social workers do so much in the community and they can change people’s lives,” Ms Kickett told Business
A primary target of her current work – and that of recent indigenous-focused social work in general – has been responding to issues of childhood and intergenerational trauma arising from forced removals and other disruption of communities and families.
“It has taken us a long time to start talking about it,” Ms Kickett said.
“I’ve been with the [Australian Childhood] Foundation for almost four years and we’re only now starting to hit some of the things that we want to.”
Among these steps forward are significant progress by the ACF on developing networks and relationships with the Aboriginal organisations, and establishing policy footprints in government departments that can begin to address the problem.
Ms Kickett is also actively involved in efforts to build the confidence and capabilities of young indigenous people, with particular attention to girls and young women.
This includes her founding of the Miss NAIDOC Empowerment and Leadership Program.
It also includes working with Glass Jar’s Shooting Stars program, which urges participation in netball as a means of increasing attendance in remote and regional Western Australian schools.
Ms Kickett said these initiatives addressed a gap in meeting the needs of girls and young women compared with programs catering to Aboriginal boys and young men. A prominent example of the latter is the Clontarf Foundation’s football-related school retention and personal development
Ms Kickett’s passion for working with the next generation is also informed by a desire to extend coping mechanisms she personally acquired during her own childhood challenges.
“I was a child in care, I spent nine years in care in a non-Aboriginal foster home, so I lost a lot of my language and my cultural connections, family connections,” she said.
“But one of the things that kept me going was I was good at netball and I was accepted because I was a good at netball by the other kids at school.”
This love of helping to reverse past societal mistakes was similarly found in the 13 years Ms Kickett spent managing the Djooraminda Out of Home Care program, where she oversaw a staff of predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers who possessed greater knowledge and understanding of the children they were
It extends to the PhD she is close to completing through the University of Western Australia. This will likely make her the first Aboriginal woman to receive a doctorate from UWA’s School of Social Sciences, where she has long been either a student or teacher.
Ms Kickett’s doctoral thesis uses her own personal journey to tell a wider story of bridging the divides between indigenous traditions and the orthodoxies of the social work discipline.
“It’s based around storytelling and what our culture tells us, what our language tells us, and they all have lessons for living and learning and relationships and respect – all those things that make us what we are,”