Update From Social Work First: The Challenges Of Work In Calais.

Social Work First explain how the first month of practice within the Jungle camp has developed, and inspire us all to keep social justice at the core of the profession.



SWF has been up and running now for just over a month.  During this time we have recruited 50 social work volunteers, both qualified social workers and social work students, ready to come over to the Calais refugee camp and directly support the refugees.  We also have nearly 300 members, including social workers from France, Spain and India.

The last month has been spent engaging with the volunteers in the camp, organisations outside of the camp, and developing a model of social work practice.  We have spoken with Lena Domenelli, which was a brilliant opportunity, and Lena is interested in the application of a social work model in practice to support refugees around the world.

This has been the most challenging aspect of our work to date.  We are very clear around our theories of Empowerment and Anti-oppressive practice but how do we actually implement them?  We are not only up against a dominant political narrative which, seeking to avert attention from their failure to address the systemic causes of this crisis, pursues a rhetoric intended to dehumanise refugees by apportioning blame on the victims.  In addition to this we have also had to countenance the fact that social work is no longer a universally respected profession associated with social justice.  Volunteers inside the camp have been reluctant to engage through a mixture of distrust of our profession and lack of understanding as to what social work can actually deliver for the most vulnerable people on the planet!  This seems to me an indictment of the failure of our profession to stand up and be heard as a coherent voice, unequivocal in our support for the poor and oppressed.

However, we have gradually pushed through the fear and resistance and have been sending over social work teams eachSaturday, to get to know the people and the camp.  We have been working alongside vulnerable children in the Kids Space restaurant and have listened to unimaginable accounts of hardships and horrors, relayed by children and adults alike.  We will shortly be working from a venue which we will share with Care4Calais, and we will start to reach out to the adults in the camp.  We are looking to arrange events and activities as a means to get to know the citizens of the camp and begin to help empower people to have more control over what is happening to them in the camp, to develop emotional resilience in response to their social conditions, which are fundamentally linked to cultural coping strategies.  Using Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy to ensure we are not seeking to integrate people into their structures of oppression, we work in solidarity with the oppressed to change those structures.

Social Work is fighting back. With SWAN, BASW, social workers without borders and social work first we can reclaim social work from the shackles of the state and have pride in our profession.

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We want to develop a network of service users, practicitioners, academics and students to support radical and progressive social work. We need a social work that is ready to challenge oppressive practice, that means working collectively across the country and internationally to advance Social Work.