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04 October 2017

Northern Ireland’s chief social worker Seán Holland has said that he wants to build more cultural competence among social work professionals.

Speaking at a workshop ‘Cultural Competence in Child Care Social Work in Northern Ireland’ (on Tuesday October 3) Mr Holland said the workshop would address cultural competence and some of the challenges presented to social workers by an increasingly diverse population.

Over 80 delegates from the social work field, health trusts and voluntary and statutory sectors attended the workshop.

Mr Holland said: “A culturally competent social work service should achieve a balance that respects cultures, equality and diversity but also confidently challenges harmful cultural practices and abuse perpetrated by people from different cultures.

“The changing demography of Northern Ireland, the ‘invisibility’ of the needs of those from ethnic minorities and social workers’ concerns of being perceived as “racist” in their interventions with ethnic minorities may impact on social work practice or result in social workers failing to intervene when they should or intervening authoritatively when they should not.

“Misinterpretation of cultural practices or traditions or intolerance of difference are some of the issues which can lead to overrepresentation of certain minorities within social services.

“Northern Ireland has been at the forefront of many developments designed to support social workers in the workplace. Today we will learn more from the emerging experiences of practitioners and recognise the challenges presented to social workers as our society becomes more diverse.

“The DNA of social work is underpinned by core values that bind social workers together with the people and communities they serve - respect for individuals and their capacity to change, human rights, social justice and equality. These core values should guide social workers in all that they do.

“I trust today will provide not only insight into some of the key issues emerging but will also provide stimulus for wider discussion and debate when you are asked to consider how we, collectively, will continue to develop and promote social work practice that reflects those values I referred to earlier and ensures increasing cultural competence in our engagement with an increasingly diverse society,” added Mr Holland.

The workshop is funded by the Department of Health’s Social Work Strategy which aims to pave the way for improvements in social work by placing a shared vision and person-centred services at its heart; this includes a more culturally competent social services system.

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