Aspiration to Change in Social Work14/12/2022 -
By Toyin Adenugba-Okpaje, a frontline social worker, Ph.D. candidate, social work tutor, SASW vice-chair, and Co-Convener of ME Social Workers in Scotland.
Social work practice is hard and requires a high level of resilience – that statement is a basic fact. Social work practice as a Minority Ethnic Person (MEP) is even harder, however, that is not so much a known fact. As a social scientist, I know and understand that my statements should be backed with data or references, but not in this particular instance. The lived experience and conversations with other Minority Ethnic Persons, especially those in training, are very good and reliable reference points. Moreover, during my years of training, I quickly learnt the skill of putting my head down, getting the work done, and praying hard to avoid some of the known perpetrators of oppression. I remember advising some of my fellow students during placement to just try and ignore some of these covert and oppressive behaviours so they can successfully get through the placement. This should not be the case, especially for a profession that is built on values and ethics which condemn any form of oppressive or discriminatory practice. To be fair, it is not just the Minority Ethnic Person social work students who experience these disgusting behaviours, although it is more prevalent among the Minority Ethnic Person community.
I have had several conversations with Minority Ethnic Person social work practitioners and students about life as a social worker or social work student, and some of the experiences that have been shared are quite disturbing. I am not going to disclose some of the gory details but I want to express some of my rambling thoughts about what leaders in social work can do to achieve change.
So, how can leaders promote anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practices? What can be done to make practice as an Minority Ethnic Person social worker more inclusive? What can be done to stagnate the continuous drain of Minority Ethnic Person social workers (and I must say at a huge cost to the person and society) from the profession? What can be done to create change?
Firstly, the responsibility for change is for everyone and not just the leaders. Whatever you and I can do in our own sphere of influence goes a long way to combat racist and discriminatory practices. The work must start with everyone working in social work and social care. I can inspire and encourage others by being a good person who brings out the best in others.
Secondly, I suggest that those that have been in the profession for many years, irrespective of colour or race, need to make themselves available to take newer practitioners by the hand and lead them through rocky and unsafe paths. Safe platforms need to be created where meaningful conversations can be had. These platforms should however not become moaning sessions but should be opportunities for building practitioners up. I think opportunities to collaborate and banter ideas and difficulties with each other would be helpful to the profession. I have personally found these opportunities helpful.
Thirdly, I suggest that Minority Ethnic Person practitioners need to develop intellectually and academically. It is not enough to just get the qualifications to practice, we have to become notable commentators about practice and everything to do with social work. It is not enough to be receivers of knowledge, we also have to put ourselves in situations where we can influence knowledge creation. When we contribute to the shaping of knowledge, then we can consequently influence the knowledge that defines practice.
Most importantly, managers and leaders in the profession need to recognise and accept that there is a problem. They need to work hard at calling out racist and discriminatory practice whenever it occurs. It is not good enough when racism and discrimination are swept under the carpet or labelled with another name on the off chance that the offence caused will disappear. It has never worked and I do not think it will ever work, rather it just reinforces racist and discriminatory practices.
In conclusion, to achieve change in social work and social care, the leaders of the profession have to be culturally aware of the limitations that are inherent in the make-up of those from minority ethnic communities and they must put in place measures that can level the playing field.
Reflective Challenge: What can I do in my own sphere of influence to combat racist and discriminatory practices?
We’d like to thank Toyin for writing this guest blog which is part of the Leading to Change Diversity Blog Series. We want to highlight and promote the voices and experiences of diverse leaders at all levels including those working at frontline / grassroots levels. We aim to celebrate diverse leaders who can act as role models for other aspiring, diverse leaders.
All information regarding our contributors was correct at the time of publishing.
What is this for?
Click this button to record your learning in the Leading to Change app. If you have a profile in the Leading to Change app you now have the ability to record any learning showing this button. If you do not have a profile you can register with a TURAS account or create one for free.
5 minutes and 00 seconds till you can record this learning activity
We have estimated that this resource will take 5 minutes to complete. Once the timer below is complete you will be able to select ‘Record your learning’.