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NIASW starts World Social Work Day celebrations early

Practitioners from across the public and voluntary sector gathered in the Long Gallery of Parliament Buildings, Stormont – home of the Northern Ireland Assembly – to celebrate World Social Work Day on 12 March.

The day saw Ciaran Traynor pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as learning and development programme manager at Extern, a charitable organisation that works directly with children, adults and communities affected by social exclusion throughout Ireland.

Below is a summary of the rest of a busy morning, which kicked off BASW’s UK-wide series of celebrations of World Social Work Day 2012.


BASW’s Bridget Robb introduced the morning’s theme of ‘Social Work research in Northern Ireland – enhancing quality outcomes through evidence based practice’.

Ms Robb reminded the audience of the importance of World Social Work Day in broadening the often narrow UK-based focus to show us the bigger picture of global social work. She told the assembled audience that China is currently training five million more social workers, an illustration of the value that the country was placing on social work, unlike current thinking in the UK.

Dr John Pinkerton, Professor in Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, began his presentation on social work research in Northern Ireland by pledging his support for the global agenda for social work.

Dr Pinkerton outlined the landscape he faced when he began his career in the 1970s, when he was lucky to find the odd paragraph in journals about social work research.

He contrasted that with today, when he is inundated with literature coming out of Northern Ireland, including e-bulletins and print materials, as well as relationships between researchers and practitioners being boosted by social media such as Skype. He suggested that research and information has become part of “all our agendas”, and was “part and parcel of everyday life now”.

Dr Pinkerton questioned whether social workers were currently in the era of evidence-based practice, suggesting the answer is “not yet”. He said the evidence implies that based practice needs an educated, well trained workforce supported to make decisions.

Evidence based practice is not without its critics, he acknowledged, with some claiming the concept panders to a neo-liberal agenda. There is also a need, said Dr Pinkerton, to acknowledge barriers to practitioners accessing and using research, like being too busy with their workload.

Dr Pinkerton thought that social workers might sometimes find that “research complicates things, when all I want to know is what to do next”.

He concluded that while social work has an oral tradition, practitioners need to get on board with new technology and share information with one another.

Extracts from Dr Pinkerton’s presentation were posted on Twitter, prompting one follower to respond: “I think constant change of processes adds to strain. If you aren’t an activist learner and like time to reflect, this can be hard.”

Paula McFadden, PHD student at the University of Ulster, followed with her research findings on ‘burnout’ amongst social workers in Northern Ireland and building resilience in the workplace.

The final speaker of the morning was Kwabene Frimpong Manso, a PHD student from Queen’s University Belfast, who discussed the social support networks of care leavers in Ghana.

Contrasting Ghanaian practice with the UK, he revealed that children in care in Ghana suffer from a form of reverse stigma about being in care. Because a lot of the church groups who look after such children are often funded from outside Ghana and have more money than the average person, the children in care are perceived as having an economic advantage over their peers.

Unlike the UK, contact with birth families is not kept up when the child is in care, so when the young person leaves care and wants to re-establish contact, they are often rejected. Birth families often seem to be resistant to being contacted, taking an attitude of “you left, why are you coming back now”, which can make care leavers feel extremely isolated.

Mr Frimpong Manso explained how social media is being used to address such issues of social isolation, for example, by using Facebook to connect care leavers with one another, so that they can share their experiences.

Pictures to follow …