Social Work Students Learn from ATD Community Activists
Image above: ATD community activist Andrew speaking to students over Zoom.
“I want to show people that because something bad happened to you it can effect your life for either good or bad. I’m standing up because I want to give a voice to the voiceless. I don’t have much of a voice myself. But I will stand for what I believe in: that everyone should be equal whether it’s to do with foster care, homelessness, or addiction.”
Andrew, ATD community activist, speaking at Trinity College Dublin
Last spring, ATD Fourth World Ireland ran an online workshop for second year social work students at Trinity College Dublin. Facilitators for the workshop included ATD Ireland community activists and members, and Trinity professors.
The workshop began with a discussion about what poverty meant to the students. ATD Ireland then showed the video ‘What Does Poverty Mean?’, made for the World Day for Overcoming Poverty 2020. Then there was discussion on how the film relates to social work. In order to promote dialogue, ATD Ireland facilitators highlighted positive practices by social workers.
Statements from ATD community activists with a direct experience of social work followed, including poetry they had written on the subject. Activists explained that socio-economic discrimination is an issue many face when dealing with social workers. In addition, activists highlighted the unequal power dynamic between parents and social workers, noting the fear of social workers that many people feel.
The negative experiences people have with social workers, activists observed, often result from the systemic discrimination that exists in Ireland. Andrew, an ATD community activist, expressed how many people in poverty feel:
- “I would like to see change whether it’s by my actions or what I do. I want to see change because I am sick and tired of seeing injustice on the streets by people who think they are better than me. I’ve had a hard life and I will do anything within my power to make sure that my children are treated equally.”
ATD connected the issue of prejudice with its campaign for the country legally to acknowledge socio-economic discrimination. The campaign also urges society to continue challenging systemic discrimination against people in poverty. Positive social work practice, they insisted, is a way of tackling this systemic discrimination. ATD encouraged the students to take all these factors into account in their careers and to build relationships based on dignity and respect.
After talking about his own life and experiences, Andrew took questions from the students. Discussing his thoughts about the workshop afterwards, he observed:
“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.”
Comments from students
“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. [The workshop] 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 the ATD group took so much 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. That we social workers will need to evaluate as we move forward.”
Comments from professors
“The workshop from ATD was a valuable session for our 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 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.”
“The ATD Workshop with our social work students was a great start to what we hope will be an ongoing partnership between ATD and the School of Social Work and 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.”
ATD Ireland hopes to hold a follow up workshop in the autumn and would like to thank Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy for hosting them.