The Effects of Historical Movements on Training in Social Work

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Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing (International, 2014) As outlined above, the aim of social work is to solve social problems and to help bring about a more just society socially so that equality for all regardless of gender, faith, race etc is the norm and not the exception. While looking at the development of social work in general, I will particularly investigating its development in Ireland.

During the Middle Ages, a landowner, lord or king was responsible for providing land, shelter and protection for those under his care in return for labour. These serfs or vassals were generally peasants who were obliged to serve their masters although they could not be sold as slaves. With the demise of the feudal system, poverty-stricken serfs left the land in their droves in search of work and a better life in the towns and cities. Such was the vast number migrating into the towns that governments were obliged to respond in some fashion in order to contain increased social problems and resulting societal unrest. Laws were passed and many charitable societies were founded to aid those in poverty with all its associated problems. The Poor Laws were introduced in Ireland in 1834 using the British model. Workhouses were established to enable the poor to ‘earn’ their way and not get an easy meal (Anon., n.d.). These laws were seen to help prevent idle acts among the people suffering in poverty one of the deadly sins (Evans, 2015). Those working in these houses did so under very harsh conditions and were separated from their families upon arrival, sometimes never see each other again. Even infants couldn’t stay with their mums fulltime and only saw them for brief moments each day. During the famine years there were bad cases of overcrowding, disease and death with bodies thrown into a mass grave on the workhouse premises. (O'Connor, n.d.). After the famine years these houses were than used to house ‘problematic’ members of society: unmarried mothers, orphans, older people and the insane. In theory the Poor Laws were abolished by 1925, but they left a legacy that continued for many, many years in Ireland with reformatory and industrial schools in existence well into the twentieth century. These charitable societies and movements were supported and often run by wealthy married women who embarked upon filling their sometimes foot-loose and fancy-free days doing good deeds in society - strictly speaking they were not allowed to work due to the marriage bar.

After some time of social work being seen as something for ‘good-doing’ rich married women, the state got involved and made it their job to allocate people to look after the less fortunate people in society. The poor laws were introduced to Ireland in 1834 using the British model where they were using work houses to let the poor ‘earn’ their way and not get an easy meal.(Anon., n.d.). The poor laws were seen to help prevent idle acts among the people suffering in poverty as it was seen as one of the deadly sins (Evans, 2015). People working in these houses were working under harsh conditions and were split up from their families upon arrival to never see each other again, even infants couldn’t stay with their mums fulltime and only saw them for brief moments each day. During the famine years there were bad cases of overcrowding, disease and death; the bodies would be thrown into a mass grave on the workhouse premises from then onwards. (O'connor, n.d.). after the famine years these houses were than used for the ‘problematic’ society members: unmarried mothers, orphans, older people and people who were seen to be insane. The poor laws were abolished by 1925, but this didn’t stop the idea of them being used still or prevent the uses of reformatory and industrial schools in Ireland.

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Reformatory schools were introduced in Ireland in 1854. It was a school for juvenile offenders ages 12 to 16. They were set up by the reformatory school act as a result of one third of the Irish prison population was made up of children who have been convicted. (Toblin, 2015). The first school opened was for girls – High Park in Drumcondra and was run by the Sister of our lady of charity refuge who also later ran the Magdalen Laundries. (Toblin, 2015). The schools were a split between Catholic and Protestants and by 1862 there were nine schools. These schools were said to provide education and training to the residents to help prevent further criminal records. In 1868 industrial schools opened, these schools were for neglected, abandoned and orphaned children who were seen to be likely to commit offences. An example of this type of school was St. Joseph’s in Kilkenny was opened in 1870 and closed in 1969 and is now well-known from the history of social work due to the amount of abuse allegations and having been talked about on the documentary: States of Fear produced by Mary Raftery and broadcasted on RTE in 1999. In the documentary a man named Ed Walsh who first came to the home at age four describes the abuse he and the other boys went through and the fear that still lives with him today. The documentary also touches on the court cases in the 1990s where some of the abusers plead guilty to the abuse allegations against them (States Of Fear, 1999). From these incidents’ reports such as the Kennedy report, the Murphy and the Ryan report have been written investigating the claims of psychical, mental sexual abuse and showing the evidence backing up the claims. These reports have gone on to help create stricter guidelines and practice procedures we have to prevent these cases reoccurring again but also to be able to recognise the signs for these incidences.

While the reformatory and industrial schools ‘looked after’ with children who were ‘troubled’ and outcasts in the society there were mother and baby homes and Magdalene Laundries who took in women who were either pregnant out wedlock, were seen to be endanger of it happening to them in the future or were victims of sexual abuse and had been outcasted from their families. In 2014 a mass grave was found on what would have been the site of the Tuam mother and baby home in Galway. The home was opened in 1906 and was funded by the Poor Law guardian and Dublin Union. In this home there were 35,00 women recorded to have resided there and 6,000 babies or children to have died there. These bodies were then given to universities to use in dissections against the mother’s wills (Hickey, 2017). While the mothers were pregnant in these houses, they were forced to work seven days a week all day no matter how heavily pregnant they were or how tired they were, they were not allowed stop. The conditions they were working in were inhumane and they also couldn’t go by their normal name as a way to degrade the girls. When they were in labour it would be a rare occasion to have a doctor there, and then their babies would be taken away from the and either illegally adopted without the mum’s permission or used in medical experiments(O'Shae, 2018). In 1968 it is to be said that 16,000 children were adopted against the mothers will in these homes across Ireland (Quinn, 2018).

The first of ten Magdalene Laundries in Ireland and was located on Lower Lesson street Dublin in 1765. The laundries were run by four religious order: The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Sisters of Charity and the Good Shepherd Sisters. From 1922-1996 when the laundries closed there were 10,000 ‘fallen women’ residing there (Anon., n.d.). The girls were imprisoned against their will, with many attempting to escape but majority of them failing and ending up in a lot of trouble and given punishments. The girls were forced to work, the work including needle work and washing clothes with their bare hands as back then there was no washing machines, this was a very labour intense job and the women had to do this every day from sunrise to sunset (Design, 2017). The children of the mothers in the laundries who were not adopted were sent to reformatory schools and most likely experienced the abuse stated above that went on in these schools. Also girls from reformatory schools were sent to training schools- located on the sites of the laundries, were they could learn skills to get jobs in the real world and live on their own, were really sent into the laundries to work along with the other women (Anon., n.d.).

In the 1930s there was an introduction of social work training courses in Ireland. The first place to start the training was Alexandra College in 1912, followed by Queens university of Belfast but both stopped in 1922 due to the fees of the social work opportunity (Skehill, 2005). In 1932 the Civics institution 1914 (involved in town planning), the Lady Aberdeen and the Lord Lieutenant and the International council of women came together to decide on what would be good to include in the curriculum for a social work degree. And then in 1934 Trinity College Dublin accepted this curriculum and took up the social work bachelor degree course (Skehill, 2005). The training was to help prevent a repeat of what the dark past of social work was. The Irish association of social workers was set up in 1971 and to date has over 1,200 social workers. The association was set up to help improve standards and quality of the services provided, support social workers and inform the public more about the work social workers do and helping to influence policies and NGO’s so that more people can be helped and supported (Anon., 2013). It works alongside Tusla- founded in 2014, and CORU who set the standards people must meet to be a fully qualified social worker and get their name down on the register.

While most of the policies in social work were made due to cases in regard to the two schools mentioned above there have been more modern individual cases that have caused changes in the social work system also; one of these cases being the Victoria Climbié case 2000. It is said to be the most high profile case seen as of yet. Climbié’s guardians – her great aunt and her great aunts’ boyfriend were convicted of her murder. Climbié died in hospital on February 2000 with 128 injuries found on her body. Following this the Childcare Act 2004 was put into place (Child safeguarding, 2005). The vetting of volunteers and people working with kids practice came along after the Chapman and Wells casein 2002. The two girls were killed by a groundskeeper in the school, who when his file was looked at had been investigated for burglary and sexual assault (Child safeguarding, 2005).

While there are numerous reason for how social work is now a days and many things that define it; I feel that the incidents that occurred in the duration that the reformatory and industrial schools, the mother and baby house, the Magdalene laundries and cases such as the Climbié case and the Chapman and Wells case have had the most influencing roles in defining the practice of social work. I think they also have made huge implications on how social workers are trained- the curriculum they study in college and the strict standards they must follow in their practices.

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