NI’s Chief Social Worker Sean Holland warned that poverty is the “elephant in the room” of social work practice.
Speaking before the launch of the Anti-Poverty Practice Framework for Social Work in NI, held in association with East Belfast Mission at the Skainos Centre, Mr Holland said: “This practice framework seeks to bring poverty into the foreground of social work practice. It aims to help social workers recognise and respond to the impact of poverty on the people they support.”
The launch was attended by partners from a wide variety of anti-poverty organisations in NI who displayed the work they do and social work leaders, academics and front-line social workers talked about their experiences of tackling poverty.
Mr Holland said: “Poverty is a major social injustice. Social work as a profession committed to social justice must work to tackle poverty. The Framework will help social workers recognise and respond to the impact of poverty on the people they support.
“Twenty per cent of NI’s population live in poverty and it has a disproportionate impact on many of the people social workers support, whether it’s people with mental health problems, people with a disability, carers or children and families. The purpose of social work is to improve and safeguard social well-being and tackling poverty has to be central to that aim,” he said.
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 in care than children in the least deprived areas. That is one of the central findings from the Child Welfare Inequalities Project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation (2015-17) which was developed to examine inequalities in the likelihood of children experiencing child welfare interventions in the UK.
“Poverty is far–reaching in its impact. It is about material deprivation but it also can cause low self-esteem, social exclusion, poor educational opportunities, impaired brain development, poor mental health and poor physical health. Those who experience poverty report marginalisation, stigma and shame.
“One woman Georgina summed up poverty in the ATD Fourth World website www.therolesweplay.co.uk. She said: ‘Poverty, to me, means not being able to walk around with your head up high because you feel ashamed for being in poverty. People look at you as if you’re an outcast on the street’,” added Mr Holland.
Anti-Poverty Practice Framework for Social Work in NI can be downloaded from the department's website.
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