Social workers have a duty to represent and support NI’s marginalised in society

Date published: 21 June 2019


NI Chief Social Worker Sean Holland urged social workers to ensure the rights of the vulnerable are understood, respected and upheld, at a conference being held in Belfast for the first time.

Sean Holland

The British Association of Social Workers’ (BASW) annual conference in the Titanic Centre (Friday 21 June 2019),  focussed on how social workers use their skills to work effectively across boundaries and borders that can divide people.

The Chief Social Worker said: "For many years, social workers in Northern Ireland have been working in the most challenging environments to promote integrated societies, throughout the Troubles to the present day.  Now there are more and new challenges for social workers, particularly as migration levels increase and displaced people from across the globe make their homes in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Holland acknowledged that whilst Northern Ireland’s society continues to strive to promote inclusion, social justice and greater sense of belonging for those marginalised in our society, some families, children and young people who have come here have been isolated, ostracised and demonised and, in the worst cases, some have experienced hate crimes. 

The Chief Social Worker described how the Department of Health had worked hard with other government Departments in our response to the integration of Syrian refugees into our wider community and acknowledged that it is only due to the commitment and dedication of those at the front line practice that this has been successfully achieved.

"We are all living at a time of political uncertainty, austerity, and unknown implications of Brexit but whatever the eventual outcome, social work must continue its struggle to promote cohesive and integrated societies," said Mr Holland.

"Social workers strive to ensure the rights of all individuals in society are represented and upheld. They challenge society and hold it to account when rights are not upheld or – worse – where there are breaches of Human Rights.  We have legal, professional and moral duties to ensure the protection and safeguarding of our most vulnerable.”

Mr Holland said vulnerable children and young people coming to live in Northern Ireland are protected by improved domestic legislation and by the development of extra support and guidance for social workers setting out how to meet the needs of these vulnerable children and young people. 

He outlined how the commissioning of a Regional Reception and Assessment Facility, the continued investment in other care solutions and the establishment by HSCB of a Regional Practice Network have also helped children and young people when they first arrive into Northern Ireland and he commended guidance developed to help social workers to support unaccompanied and separated children and child and adult victims and potential victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Mr Holland said: "We want to continuously improve our services to those that need our help. Colleagues in the Office of Social Services are working to develop a framework to specifically look at how to improve social work practice and working relationships with people from different cultures who receive social care services. I look forward to the publication of the Framework later this year.

“We already have developed an Anti-Poverty Practice Framework for Social Workers in NI to assist social workers to recognise and respond to the corrosive impact of poverty on the people they support.

"I am proud that our Social Work Strategy in Northern Ireland has as its focus Improving and Safeguarding Social – keeping people safe and helping them sort out their problems.”

Mr Holland said he was looking forward to listening to and learning from the experiences and knowledge of others at the conference. 

Notes to editors: 

For media enquiries please contact Emma Flynn Davies at the DoH Press Office on 028 9052 0575 or by email to For out-of-hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.  

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