Culturally relevant social work in Oceania: Reflections and perceptions


  • Malakai Waqa University of South Pacific Suva
  • Litea Meo-Sewabu Western Sydney University, Australia
  • Mei Nein Graduates University of South Pacific, Fiji



Culturally relevant practice, talanoa, Pacific social work education


INTRODUCTION: This article presents reflections of junior staff and final year students at a regional academic institution based in Oceania. Reflections are based on the theme, “What culturally relevant social work in the Oceania context encompasses.”

METHOD: The reflections were gathered as part of a talanoa (discussion) and evaluation focused on the same theme at an international symposium, where students were participants. Even though the talanoa also included social service stakeholders, this article primarily focuses on reflections from students and junior staff at the university.

FINDINGS: Reflections add to recommendations for social work education at a regional university. Culturally relevant social work for respondents meant that the curriculum needed to be inclusive of alternative forms of assessments; encouraging the use of Pacific language; advocating for more Pacific scholars in social work education; promoting collaborations with other international organisations and institutions; and, most importantly, making the institution a regional hub for Pacific social work education that is research informed.

IMPLICATIONS: These reflections are outlined and explored further in this article and recommendations are offered for the continual development and sustainability of social work education in Oceania.


Autagavaia, M. (2001). Social work with Pacific Island communities. In M. Connolly (Ed.), New Zealand social work: Contexts and practice (pp. 82–84). Oxford University Press.

Bryant-Tokalau, J. (2018). Indigenous Pacific approaches to climate change: Pacific Island countries (1st ed.). Palgrave.

Crawford, H. S. (2016). A Pākehā journey towards bicultural practice through guilt, shame, identity and hope. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 28(4), 80–88.

Crichton-Hill, Y. (2018). Pasifika social work. In M. Connolly & L. Harms (Eds.), Social work: Contexts and practice (4th ed., pp. 109–119). Oxford University Press.

Dominelli, L. (1996). Deprofessionalizing social work: Anti-oppressive practice, competencies and postmodernism. British Journal of Social Work, 26(2), 153–175.

Dominelli, L. (2004). Culturally competent social work: A way toward international anti-racist social work? In

L. Gutierrez, M. Zuniga & D. Lum (Eds.), Education for multicultural social work practice: Critical viewpoints and future directions (pp. 281–294). Council on Social Work Education.

Dominelli, L. (2008). Anti-racist social work (3rd ed.). Palgrave MacMillan.

Dominelli, L. (2010). Globalization, contemporary challenges and social work practice. International Social Work, 53, 599–612.

Durie, M. (2005). Race and ethnicity in public policy: Does it work? Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 24, 1–11.

Durie, M. (2011). Ngā tini whetu: Navigating Māori futures. Huia Publishers.

Gray, C., & Crichton-Hill, Y. (2019). “You look a little bit dark for my liking”: Māori and Pasifika women’s experiences of welfare receipt in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(1), 5–16. https:// doi/10.3316/informit.385465981234970

Helu-Thaman, K. (2003). Decolonizing Pacific studies: Indigenous perspectives, knowledge, and wisdom in higher education. The Contemporary Pacific, 15(1), 1–17.

Mafileo, T., & Vakalahi, H. (2016). Indigenous social work across borders: Expanding social work in the South Pacific. International Social Work, 61(4), 537–552.

Mafile’o, T. (2008). Tongan social work practice. In M. Gray, J. Coates, & M. Yellow Bird (Eds.), Indigenous social work around the world: Towards culturally relevant education and practice (pp. 117–127). Ashgate.

Mafile'o, T. (2009). Pasifika social work. In M. Conolly & L. Harms (Eds.), Social work: Context and practice (2nd ed., pp. 121–134). Oxford University Press.

Matsuoka, J. K., Morelli, P. T. A. T., & McCubbin, H. (2013). Indigenizing research for culturally relevant social work practice. In M. Gray, J. Coates, M. Yellow Bird, & T. Hetherington (Eds.), Decolonizing social work Ashgate.

Meo-Sewabu, L. (2014). Research ethics: An indigenous Fijian perspective. In C. Cocker & T. Hafford-Letchfield (Eds.), Rethinking anti-discriminatory practice (pp. 108–122). Palgrave Macmillan.

Meo-Sewabu, L., & Walsh-Tapiata, W. (2012). Global declarations and village discourses: Social policy and indigenous wellbeing. Alter Native Journal: Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, 8(3), 305–317.

Meo-Sewabu, L., Walsh-Tapiata W., Mafile’o, T., Havea S., & Tuiletoa, R. (2008). Developing a Pacific strategy for social work at Massey University, New Zealand. Fiji Social Workers’ Journal, 3,13–29.

Mila-Schaff, K. (2006). Vā-centred social work: Possibilities for a Pacific approach to social work practice. Tu Mau: Social Work Review 18(1), 8–13.

Nabobo-Baba, U. (2006). Knowing and learning: An indigenous Fijian approach. IPS Publications, The University of the South Pacific.

Ramacake, S. (2010). Fijian social work practice. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 22(4), 38–43. https://doi. org/10.3316/informit.992486195216382

Ravulo, J. (2016). Pacific epistemologies in professional social work practice, policy and research. Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development, 26:4, 191-202, https://doi/ 10.1080/02185385.2016.1234970

Ravulo, J. (2017). Social work as a recognised profession in the Pacific. International Social Work, 62(2), 1–14.

Ravulo, J., Mafile’o, T., & Yeates, B. D. (2019). Pacific social work: Navigating practice, policy and research. Routledge.

Saxton, K. A. (2019). The white is right?: The challenge with defining social work in Fiji [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Western Sydney University. https:// uws:57032/datastream/PDF/view

Social Workers Registration Board. (2017). Social work education providers: Annual report 2017.

Walsh-Tapiata, W., Simmons, H., Meo-Sewabu, L., Umugwaneza, A. (2018). Pōwhiri: A safe space of cultural encounter to assist transnational social workers in the profession in Aotearoa New Zealand. In A. Bartley & L. Beddoe (Eds.), Transnational social work: Opportunities and challenges of a global profession. Policy Press. policypress/9781447333364.003.0010




How to Cite

Waqa, M., Meo-Sewabu, L., & Nein, M. (2023). Culturally relevant social work in Oceania: Reflections and perceptions. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 35(2), 34–40.



Original Articles