Celebrating World Social Work Day

Thao Hoang being presented her Premier's Excellence Award by Peter Malinauskas MP (left) and Rikki Cooke in her Treasure Boxes warehouse (right)

The theme for World Social Work Day in 2023 is Respecting Diversity Through Joint Social Action. World Social Work Day is held on the third Tuesday of March each year, this year falling on Tuesday, 21 March 2023.

It’s the day that we celebrate the work of over 4,900 Flinders Social Work alumni who have been changing lives, communities and society. Read Rikki and Thao’s stories below to discover what some of our graduates are doing to make a difference.


Rikki Cooke

Tangible support for our most vulnerable

After completing her Masters in Social Work, Rikki Cooke (BBehavSc(Psych) ’14, MSW ’17) knew she wanted to do more for at-risk children and their families, so she quit her day job and launched Treasure Boxes, which now supports over 2,500 vulnerable kids every year.

Working in partnership with over 160 NGOs and government organisations, Treasure Boxes provides essential items that are vital to ensuring that health and wellbeing needs are being met for children aged 0-17 who have been impacted by domestic violence, homelessness, or extreme poverty.

This support alleviates the financial burden on parents or carers to provide the necessities, it allows new parents to give their babies a safe and healthy start to life, and it helps to ease the trauma of displacement for children.

“While I was completing both my degrees, I worked as an emergency carer and an emergency foster carer,” says Rikki.

“Most of these kids had stories that would terrify a grown adult, and yet they had no choice but to survive and do the best they could at the time and live with the scars to remind them of their history.”

“I knew I was always going to be in a role that involved children – whether it was in childcare, being a teacher or supporting kids in a psychosocial manner.”

Rikki’s commitment and dedication to improving the lives of our most vulnerable community members has seen Treasure Boxes double in size year after year. In the 2021-22 financial year, Treasure Boxes supported 2,466 babies, kids and teens from 1,333 families – sending out over 15,000 items.

“I’ve found that most people have a kind heart and a desire to support others in the community that are somehow disadvantaged but are at a loss as to how to go about it,” says Rikki.

Rikki is still extremely active in the day-to-day operations of Treasure Boxes, ensuring that families are receiving items that they absolutely need, while case workers ensure their clients are well supported.

“Within the next few years, I’m aiming to grow Treasure Boxes to extend its reach across South Australia and into the Northern Territory to reach the most remote communities and children that are currently living in devastating circumstances.”

Rikki Cooke was awarded a 2022 Early Career Alumni Award for significant commitment and dedication to improving the lives of vulnerable South Australians by establishing Treasure Boxes, a vital, practical and life-changing organisation.


Thao Hoang won the Partnering with Carers category at the 2022 Department for Child Protection (DCP) SA Recognition Awards. From left, DCP Chief Executive Cathy Taylor, Thao Hoang and Minister for Child Protection Katrine Hildyard MP.
Thao Hoang won the Partnering with Carers category at the 2022 Department for Child Protection (DCP) SA Recognition Awards. From left, DCP Chief Executive Cathy Taylor, Thao Hoang and Minister for Child Protection Katrine Hildyard MP.

Finding and fostering social justice for all

Families from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds can experience another layer of complexity and vulnerability when engaging with our state’s child protection system. The need to support these communities and see them receive the same level of guidance as others has always been the underlying reason graduate Thao Hoang (MSW ’21) embarked on a career in social work, or better put, a fight for social justice.

Thao can still remember her first social work lecture at Flinders and instantly feeling a spark of inspiration to do good for the community, human rights, and the underlying ideology of social work practice.

“Everything just fit in so naturally, to the point that I had to ask myself why I hadn’t done it earlier,” Thao said.

“For an international student who will be studying overseas, away from family like myself, an inclusive and hospitable environment is one of the crucial factors in choosing an academic institution and Flinders had ticked that box.

“Dr Michele Jarldorn particularly left a strong impression on me, probably because of her special interest in international students and their lived experience, as well as students who are the first in their family to attend tertiary education – it all clicked with me!”

It was through Thao’s final university placement that she gained her current employment with the Department for Child Protection (DCP) SA and has been working there ever since.

As a social worker in the Multicultural Services team, Thao supports vulnerable CALD communities and families both at individual and systemic levels. Her team work closely with internal and external bodies and those involved in the care of children, in order to advocate for the additional needs of CALD children and families.

“The diversity of topics covered during my time at Flinders has actually come in very handy for my current role with DCP,” Thao said.

“Sometimes while studying, you can have a feeling of, ‘Why am I studying this?’ but it all comes together when you’re out in the professional world.”

Last month, Thao was nominated for a Premier’s Excellence Award under the Individual category of Excellence in Service Delivery. The awards themselves acknowledge South Australian public sector employees and teams who demonstrate excellence in their work. Taking out a 2022 Premier’s Excellence Award, Thao was recognised for her Social work in the Vietnamese community within the Department of Child Protection. Hear more from Thao about the Award here.

This follows on from last year being nominated and awarded at the 2022 DCP Recognition Awards, under the Partnering with Carers category due to Thao’s intensive work within the Vietnamese community in South Australia.

Thanks to her strong connections with the community and her valuable guidance, children have been able to maintain their cultural links and thrive within their local community.

Thao was also recognised for providing valuable advice to staff to help better understand the Vietnamese community, family functioning, and cultural child-rearing practices. Some of the difficulties encountered that she helps provide understanding on include language barriers, social isolation, racism and discrimination, and settlement challenges.

“I want to further strengthen and enhance my skills and knowledge in this particular field of working with CALD communities,” Thao explained.

“Then I might try my luck with a tutoring role at a university as I want to support other students, especially those from a similar background, to thrive in their chosen field.

“I still keep in touch with my classmates after graduating. We have formed a close community since university to share any employment opportunities or updates in the field.”


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