Public not fooled by media view of social work, MLA says

Public opinion is often more sympathetic to the challenges facing social workers than the media negativity suggests, the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) World Social Work Day conference in Belfast heard.

Speaking at the event on 14 March, Jonathan Bell, a former social worker and now member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the “the public are way ahead of the media” and often recognise how social workers are “unfairly and unjustly criticised”. Mr Bell recalled the “tireless dedication” and hard work of his colleagues during his time as a social worker.

The WSWD event, held at the Stormont parliament building on the edge of Belfast, included a speech from BASW/CoSW chief executive Hilton Dawson in which he pointed to Japan to offer a reminder of the global nature of the social work profession.

“Today, as the implications of the earthquake and tsunami are becoming clearer, we are thinking of our colleagues in the Japanese Social Work Association, offering a tragic example of why we are advocating, with governments and international bodies such as the United Nations, for the important role of social workers in disaster relief, as well as in many other areas, through the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development which is being consulted on ahead of the its completion in 2012.”

The celebration of social work around the world also featured an international speaker, Dr Jan Ligon of Georgia State University who outlined his experience of working in the substance abuse field, which affects two thirds of all child social work and neglect cases in Georgia. Dr Ligon stressed the importance of identifying the wider ramifications of substance abuse, especially the impact on the friends and family of the user. Dr Ligon insisted that involving this ‘ silent majority’ was often a key factor in successful treatment.

The Associate Professor of the University’s School of Social Work set out a number of practical tools for supporting substance abusers through recovery. Among his tips, he suggested designing a safety plan with a user’s family which sets out the appropriate steps to take in case of relapse and helps avoids an inappropriate, knee-jerk reaction.

Separately, the Stormont gathering paid tribute to the career of Mary O’Boyle, a social worker since the 1960s and a BASW member since the 1980s, who received a lifetime achievement award for her varied contributions to mental health practice, including her role on the Bamford review.