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Supporting poor families: a student’s perspective

BASW student member Eve Wilson blogs from a workshop on poverty aware practice

Social workers need to be able to meaningfully engage with and support poor families 

Children from the most deprived neighbourhoods are over ten times more likely to be looked after by the local authority than children from the most affluent, and there has been a rapid increase in ‘neglect’ referrals to local authority children’s social care since 2009.

It’s no surprise then that poverty-aware practice has taken centre stage in the social work agenda.

Now more than ever in recent history, social workers need to be able to meaningfully engage with and support poor families. 

With that in mind, BASW London and Psychologists for Social Change organised a workshop on 16th August to address inequality in child protection and other services involved in caring for children.

Dr Gupta, Professor of Social Work at Royal Holloway, who is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘Protecting Children: A Social Model’, sat on the panel along CAMHS psychologist Dr Christina Trigeorgis, social work trainee and children’s residential worker Aijannah di Nisci, and a parent active with ATD Fourth World.

Dr Gupta argued that practitioners blame parents for being unable to meet their children’s needs when they drained of time, energy and resources by poverty.

She illustrated her point with an encounter with a psychiatrist, who proposed one mother should 'take more responsibility for her teenage daughter by giving up work' oblivious to the fact she was on a low income and had no savings.

In Dr Gupta’s view, practitioners must explore the impact of poverty on each family to gauge and help parents exercise their true capabilities.

Dr Gupta’s position resonates with a CAMHS perspective offered by Dr Trigeorgis, who works with children who are in need or looked after. Dr Trigeorgis emphasised her frustration with cuts to existing and developing preventative and early help services.

For Dr Gupta and Dr Trigerorgis, poverty is not treated as the ‘core business of child protection’ or a core determiner of poor mental health - and in their opinion this must change. 

Part of advancing the anti-poverty practice agenda is changing working cultures by interrogating the context of ‘poor parenting choices’.

For instance, one social worker who attended the workshop revealed that in the last year she and her colleagues have been encouraged to question whether ‘neglect’ is really neglect - i.e. is the parent the architect of their child’s deprivation or financial circumstances their control?’

Aijannah di Nisci added that practitioners should champion solutions that help parents to access resources quickly. ‘Why’, asked di Nisci, ‘would we consider a Section 20 when we could buy a family a fridge?’

However, although individual practitioners can embed awareness of poverty in their practice, without structural changes to services solutions are limited.

As another social worker pointed out, when a practitioner is not a manager or service director it is difficult to make the case for providing relief when team practice is geared towards behaviour modification.

Meanwhile, non-stigmatising, practical and preventative services that children and families’ practitioners need to support their work are crying out for more investment.

To generate the transformation needed to address child protection and welfare inequity, we must have a strong platform for all social workers to participate in shaping policy and to collaborate with parents and children, professionals and campaigning groups, such as Psychologists for Social Change (whose in-depth blog on this workshop can be found here).

In London, where more than half of the children in some constituencies live in poverty according research published by the End Child Poverty Coalition in January, we have the opportunity to step up when the BASW London branch relaunches on the 29th September. Your first-hand experience of local families and working practices is what this branch needs to push the anti-poverty agenda forward.

Notes:

Dr Anna Gupta’s full presentation (with audio) is available here.

July saw the launch of BASW Northern Ireland’s Anti-Poverty Practice Framework, the first resource of its kind for practitioners in Northern Ireland.  BASW, meanwhile, is developing an Anti-Poverty Practice Guide for practitioners under English, Scottish and Welsh regulations.

Protecting Children: A Social Model is co-authored by Anna Gupta, Brid Featherstone, Kate Morris and Susan White, and will be published by Policy Press on 19th September 2018.