SWU at events during World Social Work Month 2024

BUEN VIVIR: shared future for transformative change | World Social Work Day, 19th March 2024, #WSWD2024 | IFSW, Social Workers Union (SWU)

The weeks surrounding World Social Work Day (WSWD) on March 19th were busy this year and SWU participated in several outstanding events.

SWU spoke at the BASW Student Conference, Compass Birmingham Jobs Fair, and SASW WSWD webinar. SWU also sponsored and attended the inaugural Diaspora Dialogues: Celebrating Social Workers on the Move conference which SWU Assistant General Secretary Calum Gallacher reports on in his upcoming article.

BASW UK Student Conference 2024

An online meeting screenshot of SWU Executive Committee Members Rebecca Austin and Anna Collins speaking with BASW student member Omar Mohamed at the BASW UK Student Conference 2024.

On March 16th at the BASW UK Student Conference, SWU Executive Members Anna Collins and Rebecca Austin shared learning from the Social Workers Union and Thunderbird Partnership Foundation international knowledge exchange trip to Canada. This cultural knowledge exchange trip was a unique opportunity for UK social workers to learn about the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation’s strength based, holistic, trauma informed approach to social work practices that values culture, respect, community, and compassion.

Thunderbird’s “two-eyed seeing” approach of combining Indigenous knowledge and western knowledge – as equal partners in the co-production process – has produced a wealth of frameworks, tools, and programmes.

These have informed social work policy and treatment programmes in Canda as well as influenced government policy and legislation. The golden thread of Hope, Belonging, Meaning, and Purpose was embedded in each organization we visited and this transformed how we saw this as a “framework” to a “way of being with others”.

Thunderbird demonstrated many of their frameworks through the use of a circle. The circle was described as the most expressive of their Indigenous view of the world and a way to envision the interconnectedness and the interdependence within life. For example, the circle of the Indigenous Wellness Framework considers that wellness comes from a balance of four kinds of wellness: spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. Another example is the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework which is a complex multi-layered model rooted in culture that aims to support all individuals across the lifespan including those with multiple and complex needs. It also includes elements that support the health system such as governance, research, workforce development, change and risk management, self determination, and performance measurement.

During the visit we were particularly struck by the themes around language, strengths-based practice, and the efforts to understand communities as we saw services breaking down barriers so that people could access culturally safe spaces.

In doing so, they moved beyond helping people cope with their current position to raising the question of what makes a whole and happy person, what gives a person’s life purpose. Such themes will likely resonate with social workers entering the profession when thinking about anti-discriminatory practice, emancipatory approaches, and social justice in terms of the structures in society that embed discrimination in everyday life and how we as social workers can support in opening doors, accessing resources, and honouring strengths.

What is fresh in our thoughts is the misrepresentation of people and communities and the need to create safety and understanding in our interactions, considering intergenerational trauma as well as how past experiences with services might create mistrust and fear. We saw how honouring the strengths of First Nations communities was at the forefront of Thunderbird’s work and this prompted questions around how we as social workers strive to understand the misrepresentation of excluded groups. The trip offered a helpful reminder and re-refocus to thinking about barriers to people accessing services and the stigma associated with this – how might our young people and families experience and navigate the interactions and the spaces that social workers operate, based on their own experiences?

Our learning also included a surprising connection to Abraham Maslow, one of the pioneers of humanistic psychology who developed ground-breaking humanistic theories that have been recognized and praised in European and Western educational resources. What is not well known about his theories is that, throughout Maslow’s time in developing cultural research in 1938, he ventured to the Northern Blackfoot Confederacy where he visited the Siksika Nation. During his time there he was inspired by the Siksika people’s way of life, eventually basing important humanistic theories off of their knowledge and ways of being. Because of this, the Blackfoot Confederacy had an enormous contribution to the history of humanistic psychology that has not yet been recognized and acknowledged.

Thunderbird Partnership Foundation CEO Dr Carol Hopkins highlighted during SWU’s visit that the work is ongoing and there remains much to do to achieve parity and equal opportunities for Indigenous people in Canada.

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis continue to experience ongoing issues which are a direct result of settler colonialism. This includes the effects of cultural genocide, intergenerational trauma, systemic racism, mass incarceration, lack of clean drinking water and a housing crisis on reserves, and missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and men (MMIWGM).  We invite our social work community to learn more about the history of colonisation in Canada and how to build your cultural awareness: https://atlohsa.com/ndtr-education

Thank you to our generous hosts at the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and the Lenape (Delaware), Anishinabe, and Haudenosaunee Nations and the Southern First Nations Secretariat. Thank you to the Nimkee NupiGawagan Healing Centre, Native Horizons Treatment Centre, and Atlohsa Family Healing Services for hosting our site visits and sharing so much with us.  And finally, thank you to the BASW International Development Fund for funding this knowledge exchange trip.

Compass Birmingham Jobs Fair and Shared Futures in Social Work Conference

Standing in front of a presentation screen titled "Social work and the media" at the 2024 Compass event in Birmingham are: BASW Senior Press & Communications Officer Anthony Dhadwal, PSW Magazine Editor Shahid Naqvi, Campaign Collective Director Simon Francis, and SWU General Secretary John McGowan

Our Administration Manager Joanne Marciano represented SWU at our joint stall with BASW England during a very busy Compass Birmingham Jobs Fair on March 18th. It was great to catch up with members and speak with so many social workers about the benefits of membership with their professional association and specialist trade union.

SWU General Secretary John McGowan and Campaign Collective Director Simon Francis presented the seminar “Media Coverage of Social Work – how do we improve this?” at the Shared Futures in social Work Conference. Their presentation covered what the press regulators are doing and how existing rules can help protect social workers from inaccurate media coverage.

The session explored the work of the SWU media protocol that was developed in collaboration with the SWU Campaign Fund, BASW, and independent regulator IMPRESS. This guidance outlines important best practice for journalists on how to responsibly report stories concerning social workers and cases involving vulnerable individuals. Also discussed were the areas which are currently not regulated and what needs to change.

The session was followed by a Question & Answer session with special guests BASW Senior Press & Communications Officer Anthony Dhadwal and PSW Magazine Editor Shahid Naqvi.

The SWU Campaign Fund can help social workers speak out and has supported campaigning on issues such as fair media reporting on social work, student bursaries, creating neuro-inclusive workplaces, and celebrating diaspora social workers. It is open to all SWU members to apply for support for their campaigns (or ideas for campaigns).

Media training is also available through the fund and you can email campaigns@swu-union.org.uk if you’d like to take part.

Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) World Social Work Day 2024 webinar “Still We Rise”

A screenshot of the SASW WSWD 2024 "Still We Rise" webinar panelists Caroline McDonald, Ronnie Matthew Harris, Jill Keegan, and John McGowan and the discussion facilitators SASW Professional Officer Susan Dobson and SASW Independent Advisor Frank Reilly.

On March 20th SWU General Secretary John McGowan was pleased to join the SASW WSWD 2024 “Still We Rise” webinar to discuss the importance of activism and the different avenues open to social workers. The panel of local and national change makers also included Partnerships Manager for the Scottish Community Alliance Jill Keegan, Community Organiser/President of Sacred Roots Ronnie Harris, and SASW Committee Vice Chair Caroline MacDonald.

The panel reflected on their motivations to engage in activism and what inspires them to keep going. Many powerful, personal accounts were shared along with a deep desire to drive positive change in people’s lives, promote social justice, and make a meaningful difference. The panel reflected that in order to be empowered as agents of change our workforce needs more resources, investment, better working conditions, and autonomy/time to build relationships in their communities.

The panellists gave advice for social workers who want to become involved in activism:

  • Practice self-care
  • Put yourself forward to get involved
  • Join a union
  • Stay hopeful!
  • Be proud of your achievements and be brave!

SWU members with campaign ideas were encouraged to apply to the SWU Campaign Fund for support.

Thank you to SASW Professional Officer Susan Dobson and SASW Independent Advisor Frank Reilly for facilitating this discussion! The conversation was so refreshing and an empowering reminder of how we can enable collective wellbeing in our daily work.