Developing Social Work Practice Through Poverty Awareness

On Monday 12th April, we ran an online workshop for second year Social Work students at Trinity College Dublin. It was facilitated by ATD members Andrew, Ciara and Dann, and Professors Erna O’Connor, Sinead Whiting and Robert Gilligan from Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy.

ATD community activist Andrew speaking to the students over Zoom

The workshop began with a discussion about what poverty meant to the students. We then showed our ‘What Does Poverty Mean?’ film, made for 2020’s 17th October World Poverty Day, which was followed by a discussion on how the film relates to Social Work. You can watch the film here : The facilitators highlighted positive practice by social workers, as we did not want to exclude the many positive experiences that people have with social workers. 

The second half of the workshop focused on statements from ATD community activists with direct experience of social work, including Gavin and Lorraine. They also read poetry they had written on the subject. Socio economic discrimination was discussed as an issue many faced when dealing with social workers. The unequal power dynamic between parents and social workers was highlighted, as well as the fear that many people feel towards social workers.

ATD community activist Gavin recording his section of the workshop

It was highlighted that negative experiences that people have with social workers are a result of systemic discrimination in Ireland. We linked this to our campaign for socio-economic discrimination to be acknowledged legally and that systemic discrimination is something that all of society must continue to challenge. Positive social work practice was presented as a way of tackling systemic discrimination. The students were encouraged to take all these factors into account in their careers and to build relationships based on dignity and respect. 

This section was led by community activist Andrew, who spoke to the students about his own life and experiences, as well as taking questions.  Andrew gave his thoughts about the workshop afterwards:

“Presenting today was really important. I spoke out and I feel like it touched the students’ heart strings. I feel it really did and it will have a wider impact.”

The workshop led to a fruitful discussion amongst the students and facilitators. We hope to hold a follow up workshop in the autumn. Many thanks to Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy for hosting us. Some comments by the students and professors about the workshop are below.

“When you’re reading about the theory, and getting lost in frameworks and perspectives. It can be easy to be distanced from the people you may be working with. The talk with ATD Ireland was an experience I won’t be forgetting any time soon, it was a perfect example of how a person’s lived experience makes them the expert in their own lives, and has made me evaluate what kind of social worker I want to be.”

“Listening to the individual stories from the ATD group was extremely impactful and powerful.  Their stories really made me realise the importance of how social workers use language and how kindness, compassion and respect should always be at the forefront of how we interact with each individual we come in contact with. I was honoured that ATD group took so much and time and care to share their experiences with us.”

“To the ATD crew,Thanks so much for taking the time out to share your stories. Your messages and poetry were truly inspirational. Having guest speakers such as yourselves keeps us social workers grounded, yet motivated, to work hard and strive for positive change and social justice.You guys were very brave to come online with us and be so open and honest, it was wonderful. Personally, public speaking, presentations, or recordings wouldn’t be my strong point, so hats off to all of you guys, I think you smashed it! Also, I believe your stories resonated with a lot of us, while also raising some very profound questions we as social workers will need to evaluate as we move forward. I  would love to maybe work with you guys one day as I think you are doing fantastic work. Until then, thanks again guys, it was a pleasure.”

“My feedback is that Andrew was very brave coming on to talk to us. It is something that we as future social workers will hold on to. So we make a better future for the next generation…..”

“The workshop from ATD was a valuable session for our BSS (Social Work Students). It was an opportunity for the students to hear directly from people who have experience of living in poverty, and from people who have had contact with social work services. The ideas discussed today and the personal stories that were shared by ATD members will definitely help  inform our students as they go out to their social work placements. It will l help them to be more aware of the complexity of the issues that are faced by people who are living in poverty and incorporate this knowledge in their individual social work practices”.

  • Professor Sinead Whiting

“The ATD Workshop with our BSS SF students on April 12th was a great start to what we hope will be an ongoing partnership between ATD and the School of Social Work & Social Policy, Trinity College in providing pre placement Poverty Awareness education for our students. A really good discussion took place between ATD members and the student group in an atmosphere conducive to exchanging experiences and learning together. Thanks to everyone at ATD for sharing your experiences and expertise with us.” 

  • Professor Erna O’Connor