How it sometimes feels to be a social work practitioner in the disability sector in 2019

An interesting point of view on social work these days...

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Hello, my name is Ronald Leech and I am a newly qualified social worker. I completed my degree in Trinity College in 2017 and later that year I was able to secure employment within the disability sector. I was delighted with this job as it gave me the freedom to practice social work. I say social work because I believe I have been given the opportunity to practice relationship based social work practice. I must add, I was a mature student who returned to education at the age of 45 having mostly worked in the construction industry. I am also a father of four and a grandfather of two.

In my role as social worker for adults with intellectual disabilities I was given the opportunity to work closely with many different agencies, families and clients. The experience I was receiving was invaluable and I learned to hone many of the skills I had been taught in college and together with my life experience, I felt I was doing a good job.

However, in 2019 the HSE decided to impress a neo liberal ethos on the disability sector. This changed the landscape in which I was practicing in to such a degree it made me feel like a solider at war. I have had a fascination with Vietnam movies for much of my adult life and I can only explain how I feel by using the following example, I do not know if any of you have ever seen one of these war movies where the solider gets lost from his company deep in hostile territory? This is how I felt but I keep my head up and think, ok, I still have my gun and grenades so I can at least fight back (services which were available, respite, community support, share a break, support from my organisation). All around me there are bombs going off (crises, multiple breaches of human rights, cutbacks, struggling families) but I still had my gun and ammunition.

Exhausted, I fall asleep under a bush for a short while but when I awake I find my gun, ammunition, grenades and boots are gone (further cuts, aka reallocation of resources).  I am in despair, feel hopeless and alone because all around me I see people who are unable to fight back being picked upon by the enemy (government, neo liberalism). The enemy in times of war (austerity) have decided to pick on the weakest. It is those who have no voice (service users) and those who are tired from battle (their families) who are targeted because they are easy pickings. They will show little or no resistance.

I struggle on doing what I can do helping the wounded with their wounds and eventually find my way back to my company (my fellow social workers) only to find, they too have been lost in hostile territory. They have also lost their guns, ammunition and boots. Like me, they feel despair and hopeless and alone. Together, we sit bemused and wonder if we can do anything at all?

Ronald Leech hails from the Northside of Dublin and completed his social work degree in Trinity College in 2017 having previously worked in the construction industry. In 2010 his  father was diagnosed with dementia spurring an interest in social work. He is married with four children aged 19, 20, 21, 33 and has two grandchildren.

1 COMMENT

  1. I, too, am a social worker in the disability sector in Ireland today. The picture that Ronald Leech has painted of what it’s like to work in a disability sector that is broken by budget restraints and cuts is akin to a war zone, making it untenable to provide support in any meaningful way. Naming the reality is crucially the first step to change. A strong poignant piece of writing.

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