Open Arms staff member named Australian Social Worker of the Year

Karen Green has been supporting veterans and veteran families since she began working as a social worker in the 1990s. More than 25 years since she started her career, the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) has recognised Karen’s dedication to her profession by naming her 2023 Australian Social Worker of the Year.

Karen was drawn to social work due to her interest in complex social issues and social justice, and her desire to help individuals improve their quality of life.

As the daughter of a National Serviceman and partner of a veteran, Karen’s career has included being a counsellor for the Vietnam Veteran’s Counselling Service (now Open Arms), a Defence social worker and an area manager with the Defence Community Organisation. She is now is the Regional Director for Open Arms in North Queensland.

Karen has been the recipient of three prestigious international scholarships,* a founding member of the International Military Social Work Consortium, and co-editor of the 2022-published international textbook Military Social Work Around the Globe.

Karen’s lived experience as a military family member has no doubt inspired her commitment to improving the lives of veterans and veteran families, and she has some advice for families that might struggle being apart.

‘I feel genuinely privileged to have had many opportunities to work with veterans and families who have faced significant challenges, and to have held positions that have enabled me to provide support to people to enhance their quality of life,’ she says.

‘I am very proud to work for an organisation that is committed to providing the highest quality mental health service and support to the military and veteran community.

‘My husband had a long military career and had deployments to Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a lot of personal experience independently managing the challenges of service separations while raising children.

‘I recall being a DCO Defence social worker in Darwin in 1999 when the humanitarian and security crisis in East Timor began. That crisis resulted in a large-scale deployment of Australian military personnel, and this left many families struggling and very concerned about the safety of their deployed loved one. There were serious risks to military personnel, and the need for support at home became much more urgent.

‘Internet and mobile access at that time was patchy at best and partners were struggling to not be able to communicate with their loved one on deployment, so we [DCO Social Workers] developed what I believe to be the first family support psychoeducation program for partners in Australia, which was titled “Surviving Service Separations”.

‘There has been a lot more research and work done in program development since then, and these days, there are more ways to stay in touch, and that’s something people should try and take advantage of. These include setting up regular calls or video chats, and keeping in touch via text message and social media. There is also something wonderful about receiving an old school handwritten letter or card in the mail. All of these things, as well as social connectedness and taking good care of your own health through self-care strategies, can all help if you’re feeling the strain of separation.

‘But the main thing is to use the supports that are available to military and veteran families. There’s a legacy, and that has resulted in support options – like Open Arms – that cater specifically to the veteran community.’

Open Arms is proud to have committed people like Karen in our service. No matter where you are, you can be assured that when you reach out for support from us, dedicated people like Karen will be available to help.

If you want to know how Open Arms can offer you mental health support, contact us any time on 1800 011 046.

*2014 Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine (NY) Enhancement of International Social Work Leadership in Health Care Scholarship; the 2016 Australian Commonwealth Endeavour Executive Fellowship (sponsored by Fordham University, NY); and the 2020 Laurie Cowled Women in Leadership Scholarship (QUT Business School) from Yale University.