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BASW blog: Social work with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

As part of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month, Lien Watts (Head of A&R) shares her experiences

In June every year we celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Month and I was recently thinking about my second-year placement during my social work training where I was placed with the Educational Social Worker for the many different ethnic groups of Travellers in Oxfordshire County Council.

I was given this placement because there was a shortage of statutory placements for social work students in Children and Families Services, which was the area I was most interested in.

It was the most amazing experience and stood me in great stead for my social work career.

The first thing I noted was how the commonly-held negative stereotyping of these groups of people was so wrong. I found them to be, for the most part, warm, friendly and welcoming. I repeatedly used the words ‘much-maligned’ in many of my essays and case studies that I had to write as part of my course and felt it very strongly.

For example: there had been a perception that people from these groups did not wish to engage in education beyond primary education, especially for girls. However, the people I met were very positive about maintaining all their children’s education even though they wanted to stay true to their travelling life-style, as they had done for generations.

I was also struck by the importance of family and community that was still prevalent in all the families that I worked with; these were absolutely the most important things in life to most of them and something we could all learn and benefit from.

Of course, they didn’t all travel; we worked with a number of families who had given up their travelling way of life and were now settled in permanent housing, but like any of us, wanted to continue to uphold and celebrate their Gypsy, Roma and Traveller cultures as much as they could.

Like so many minority ethnic groups, they suffer unfounded prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives – and for what reason? Because they are true to their heritage? I never understood this.

It is impossible to do justice to just how much I learned from my experience in such a short piece, but I needed to say how privileged I feel to have had that opportunity and would urge everyone to find out more about these peoples, their cultural heritage and the rich tapestry of their history.

 

Lien Watts

Head of Advice & Representation Service