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BASW England Social Work in Disasters review

Survivors and people with lived experience, including Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, shared their views

BASW England hosted the Social Work in Disasters Conference 2019 this month, which saw people with experience of tragic events such as the Grenfell fire, Hillsborough and Manchester Arena bombing discuss and debate the role of social work.

BASW England national director, Maris Stratulis oversaw the event and stated "social workers need to be part of a cohesive disaster response", and that the role of social workers "has to be built into emergency planning".

The event included keynote speakers Margaret Aspinall, Chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, and Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. 

A video of the event is available to view here

Margaret shared her experiences of social work support following the death of her 18-year-old son, James at Hillsborough. In her powerful account she stated her social worker at the time “probably saved my life” as well as helping the family to connect and communicate.

Andy Burnham recounted how only a week after being elected Mayor of Greater Manchester in May 2017, a terrorist attack took place at the Manchester Arena. Showing strong leadership, Andy spoke of how the city of Manchester pulled together following the aftermath of this tragic event.

He also called for the 'Hillsborough Law', a comprehensive overhaul of current law so that survivors of disasters are given legal and judicial funding and support, as they are often left to fend for themselves in seeking justice against large organisations and public bodies. 

The role of social workers was examined by Cath Hill, a social worker and member of the Manchester Survivors Choir, and how the group – now 80 strong – have helped families affected by the Manchester bombing come together, sing and heal.

There were plenty of workshops too to help social workers learn and develop their skills in doing social work during a disaster, and the immediate and long-term aftermath.

Mags Doherty and Elizabeth Stevens from Manchester City Council gave a detailed account of how they provided help and support for families affected by the Manchester Arena terrorist attack.

Janet Foulds from Derby City Council is a social worker who was involved in supporting those affected by the Kegworth plane crash and the Hillsborough tragedy, and led the workshop Learning from Experience.

Joe Hanley from Brunel University London led a round table group, and has been instrumental in developing the CPD guidance for social work roles undertaken during disasters. 

Joe is a member of BASW England Social Work in Disasters steering group and will be looking to develop a pilot scheme with local authorities.  

There were further workshops from Emma Scarth and Jess Hill from Lincolnshire County Council, as well as Mariam Raja, who gave an insightful talk about self-care, following her experience as a social worker supporting families affected by the Grenfell tower fire.

"In terms of next steps, we want to be working with directors of local authorities and social services to influence training and development of social workers," said Maris Stratulis. “We want to influence national reform and policy and support the development of Hillsborough Law.”

Further information