“Where has my radicalism gone?”

Image from http://www.reimaginingsocialwork.nz, unattributed

We thought our readers may be interested in this piece by a newly qualified social worker in New Zealand, Lauren Bartley; the resonances with youth and community work in England are clear.

I entered the profession as a fairly naïve and idealistic young social worker determined to change the world! I quickly learnt that putting critical and radical social work into practice is bloody hard work. I learnt what it means to be constrained in my practice by caseload demands, to have no contractual obligations – and therefore no organisational support – for a more structural approach, and that putting out fires takes priority over addressing the systemic cause of the fire. I found it hard to seek opportunities for macro-practice when my social work colleagues seemed reluctant (or uninterested) to do the same. I learnt first-hand how flawed the NGO funding system is, and how the government is able to control and silence community services through strict funding criteria, results based accountability, and competitive contracts.

The blog goes on to consider further barriers as well as what this social worker has learned – through political practice-based and personal experiences – about intersectional oppression, particularly as it affects women.

As social workers, as women, we need to be better than this. We are supposed to be the ones who understand and challenge the mechanisms of oppression and discrimination, and fight the structures and systems that uphold these. However, more and more, I fear that we aren’t attempting to understand or change the reality of intersectional oppression, and are simply adjusting people to their experience of disadvantage. We need to stand in solidarity with our sisters, and instead of blaming them for circumstances, we need to seek to understand not only the experience of marginalisation, but also the spaces between each component of marginalisation.

That’s all very well and good in theory, but putting these ideas into practice is a different story, one that I am very much still trying to figure out. In fact, this is something I really struggle with – I can go on and on about what’s wrong with contemporary social work practice/society, but coming up with realistic, practical alternatives, I come up blank. The issues seem so big and scary, and there are no easy answers. So I’m starting small with just a few goals for my second year in practice. Of course, these are not going to start the revolution, but my hope is that by taking small but significant steps, I will become a better, more confident, more radical social worker. That’s the dream!

The full blog is well worth a read. Let us know what you think. Do any of these issues resonate with you? If you got involved in youth and community work for idealistic reasons, hoping to address structural inequalities, how have you found this in practice? If you have any reflections to share – however short or long, and wherever you are in the world – we are very happy to publish them here.

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