Northern Ireland’s Chief Social Worker Sean Holland has called on all social workers to become poverty aware and to become anti-poverty practitioners.
Speaking on International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, at an anti-poverty practice seminar at Queens University for social work students and staff, Sean Holland emphasised that social justice is at the heart of social work.
“Human rights, dignity and equality are the core concerns and if social workers are to be serious about social justice, then they need to be serious about tackling poverty. Poverty is one of the major social injustices there is, both locally and globally,” said Mr Holland.
“Poverty is a major cause and consequence of many of the issues that social workers deal with. Poverty can create the conditions for poor mental health, poor physical health, child abuse and neglect and crime. It’s as relevant to social work in family and childcare as it is to social workers in disability, in mental health, in education and in probation.”
The Chief Social Worker called on social workers to bring poverty into the foreground of social work practice. To recognise and respond to the impact of poverty on the people they support and to understand the nature of poverty. He said: “Understanding is crucial to providing the right support. Social workers need to be good systems thinkers.”
He told the audience how some of the research evidence about poverty, inequality and social work interventions in NI and the UK from the Child Welfare Inequalities Project were funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
He said: “The research findings are stark. Children in the most deprived ten per cent of small neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland are nearly six times more likely to be on the child protection register and four times more likely to be “looked after” than children in the least deprived areas.
“Day and daily social workers see poverty. They know that many of those they support experience poverty and deprivation. And they know that poverty makes everything worse.”
Concluding Sean Holland asked social workers to learn from the recently published Department of Health, Anti-Poverty Practice Framework for Social Workers in Northern Ireland, which is designed to support social workers to become anti-poverty practitioners.