The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “religion”

Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

This was recently discussed by Community Care who summarise some of the key arguments surrounding Sheffield university’s controversial decision

Source: Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

In a nutshell, Ngole, a Christian social work student posted on his facebook page something that indicated he did not approve of gay marriage and said that homosexuality was against Biblical teaching.  Another student complained to the university and Ngole was expelled from the course.  The university said that anyone could have Googled his name and discovered his beliefs and that might mean that person would not feel that they could go to him for support.  It doesn’t seem to have been considered that on discovering Ngole’s belief there might be someone who felt more able to go to him for support, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

There are a number of problems with the university’s decision.

As a society we have absorbed many of the beliefs of Eastern religions without even realising it.  Western psychology long ago adopted Mindfulness from Buddhism.  What in the West we call ‘alternative’ health and fitness practices, such as acupuncture and the martial arts, and their various derivatives, have become so mainstream we tend to forget their origins in Eastern faiths.  We live in a society awash with ‘spiritual’ messages, if only we open our eyes to recognise it. Many of these practices rooted in Eastern philosophies have found their way into the practice contact books of today’s social workers.  Yet we don’t condemn them for promoting spiritual beliefs – because the profession is not as ‘secular’ as we like to think it is.

The argument about only having to Google Ngole’s name to discover his beliefs is weak.  I only have to look at a traditionally dressed Muslim (male or female), Sikh (male or female) or Jew (male) to know the belief system they follow.  Sure, I don’t know to what extent they adhere to their specific teachings, but I don’t even have to Google their name to start making some assumptions.  We wouldn’t dream of discriminating against someone wanting to become a social worker because of belonging to one of these religions (and I know perfectly capable practicing social workers who do belong to these faith systems).

We live in a society with a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, expectations and opinions.  The reality is that we work with people from that wide range of belief systems.  That person who is Googling their social worker’s name might just be looking for reassurance that their social worker shares their own belief system.  Or they might be reassured that their social worker has not tried to influence them with a different opinion.

What if the service users asks us if we are a Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or whatever?  What if they ask us if we are married or have children? Or where we live, or what kind of house we live in?  There are a myriad of personal questions that can come up.  How do we respond to them?  In the same way – we generally avoid giving a direct answer.

Social workers, like the eclectic mix of people and beliefs they work with, are not an homogeneous bunch.  Thinking of the diversity of the characters, lifestyles and beliefs of the people I have worked with over the years, it would be a great loss to the profession if we were to try and become homogeneous.  We are all different, as are the service users.  We all have deep rooted prejudices (try the online Implicit Association Test if you don’t think so).  We have all been influenced by the cultural norms of our societies and families.  Class, beliefs, values, experiences – good and bad – we bring them all into our professional role, and absorb new and changing experiences as we go through life into our beliefs and values.  Some hold to easily recognisable religious belief systems.  Others have a more eclectic mix of ‘spirituality’.  Few are truly a-spiritual.  The test should be: can we practice in a manner that adheres to the professional codes of conduct?  Can we accept that others are also able to practice in a manner that adheres to the same codes of conduct?  Can we accept diversity among ourselves?  Because it is that diversity that enriches our profession, enables us to debate issues and pushes at the doors of the dangers of professional and systemic ‘wilful blindness‘.

Did his university give Ngole the opportunity to prove he is capable of becoming that social worker, able to practice in accordance with professional codes of conduct?  How have the rest of his student group been enabled to come to terms with working with difference and diversity following the expulsion of one of their number for being different and diverse?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but surely social work training is about training to become, not evidencing that we already are.  Has Ngole been denied that opportunity?  He has made mistakes: firstly in believing that his private facebook page was truly private but secondly he may have thought he could trust his peers or educators to be open minded when it comes to diversity and trust. Ngole is not the first student to find out the hard way that that is not, sadly, always the case. To get the most benefit out of social work training students need to be able to feel safe enough to open up their vulnerabilities in order to challenge them.  Fear of expulsion, such as cases like this can cause, do nothing to promote that important part of training.  If social work is not the right profession for Ngole he needed to be able to come to that understanding for himself.  Instead he is now to be embroiled in a legal challenge supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and his opportunity for personal reflection and development is at least on hold if not ended.

I have expressed here my opinion.  I have made it public, as is everything I post on this blog.  I am very conscious of what I post publicly here and on Facebook, and on comments on other people’s blogs.  I am happy to be open to challenge and debate.  I may change my mind.  I may not. You may not know who I am in real life because this blog title is anonymised but available to employers – and those who already know me personally will have no difficulty recognising me; that is not the case for service users.  Like many social workers, my facebook page is in a different name to my registered practice name.  That is as much for personal security reasons as it is because I want to be able to express my opinions without fear of it influencing my work.

I have friends who are Christian, and many more who are not.  I seem to have missed out on having any Muslim friends but I have, and have had, colleagues who are Muslim and Sikh. I have friends on different continents.  I have friends and colleagues who are in gay marriages.  I have friends and colleagues who are not. I have one friend who thinks Donald Trump is ‘on the button’ for his views on Muslims and immigration.  I have many more friends who are seriously worried by the prospect of President Trump.  I have friends who are members of the Labour Party and others who support the Tories.  Although I work cross culturally most, but not all, my friends are ‘White’, but that’s because my birth family are ‘White’ and I live in a predominantly ‘White’ area.  Should I be condemned for any of these things?  Do they make me any less able to be a social worker and adhere to professional codes of conduct?  I hope not.  Just as I don’t condemn you for your beliefs, background, experiences, culture or lifestyle choices.  We preach tolerance and diversity.  Let us better practice it amongst ourselves.  Otherwise we just become afraid of each other in an environment where we are unable to challenge ourselves in order to develop and grow.


Faith, fostering and social work – a discussion

It’s a difficult question in today’s social work.  In a diverse society where people of many faiths mix, how representative are the caring professions of this mix?  I don’t yet have the statistical answers to that question but it seems that the climate is not in favour of persons of faith when it comes to employment in fostering. One relatively recent case highlights the discussion.

In a landmark ruling in 2011, as reported by BBC News, religious affairs correspondent, Roger Pigott, said, “the court said that while there was a right not to face discrimination on the basis on either religion or sexual orientation, equality of sexual orientation took precedence”. As of 2013 the Christian Legal Centre was still following up their case (Christians in the Firing Line by Dr Richard Scott).

The nub of the problem in this case appears to be the Johns’ position that they would be unable to tell a young person that being homosexual was OK as it would counter their spiritual beliefs. In all other respects there is no direct suggestion in the publicly available information that they would not have made good carers. However since they had previously fostered in the 1990’s, new legislation had been introduced and the world of fostering and social work had moved on.

Needless to say their case attracted a range of responses, from other Christians supporting the Johns’ position to those calling them bigots, highlighting the diversity of opinion in modern Britain.

If the Johns’ were suitable carers in all other respects it seems unfortunate they were not allowed to return to a profession they had previously enjoyed.  All the more so in an environment where more foster carers are to be welcomed. Of course, how they handle expressing their faith-based views should not be ignored and a part of their assessment and training should have included elements of going beyond stating their own beliefs, to understanding if they were able to acknowledge and express that others hold different beliefs, and how well they could work alongside other professionals who come from different religious persuasions and viewpoints.

Unfortunate though in that the fostering profession is wanting to encourage diversity; it would make for a very unequal and unrepresentative workforce if everyone has to fit the same narrow mould.  There are places for more carers from different ethnic, religious, social (an often overlooked element) and even political backgrounds, regardless of different opinions.

In court for the Johns’ the Christian Legal Centre argued that “all the major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) teach against homosexual conduct” and that “all hold to the orthodox view that any sexual union outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally undesireable”.  The court responded that whilst homosexuality is a capital offence under Sharia law in some places, the Church of England allows for same sex partnerships for its clergy as long as they remain celibate within that relationship (!) (Scott), and that there is no place in British law for Christian beliefs.

Clearly then, the ruling against the Johns’ has wider implications for both British society and adherents of all faiths in the caring professions.

If parents of children in public care are to stand a chance in having their religious preferences for their children honoured then this diversity is essential.  In ruling that equality of sexuality takes precedence over the right to religious belief, the door to fostering will have been closed to many who might otherwise have made suitable and good foster carers and narrowed down the options for diversity.

A good fostering agency (private or statutory) will be able to manage these differences through the placement matching process, which already takes into account ethnicity, cultural and religious preferences of parents where expressed, age ranges and the child’s presenting behaviours; try as we might there is no such thing as the 100% perfect match.

In the wider picture this seems to have been an unfortunate ruling and that in going to court on this case all parties might just have shot themselves in the foot!

[This blog is not advocating that the Johns should have been approved as foster carers.  This is not possible without further detailed information than is available in the public domain. The purpose is to look at issues affecting the fostering profession, particularly as I prepare to return to my role as a Form F Assessor.]


Christians in the Firing Line, Dr Richard Scott, 2013, Wilberforce Publications, London, ISBN 978-0-9575725-1-5

Johns’ case news reporting:

BBC News online –

Daily Mail News online –

Guardian News online –

Telegraph online – and

Responses to the news reports:

National Secular Society –

David Cameron as reported in the Daily Telegraph –



Moralities: Men raping girls is natural!!

What a shocking statement, apparently made by the Right Reverend Father Simon Lokodo, the Ugandan State Minister for Ethics and Integrity which Stephen Fry talks about in his interview on the Late Late Show (below) recorded in May 2013.

It hardly seems possible for someone to hold such an opinion, but for that man to be the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity makes it all the more incredulous.  In this situation Lokodo was defending his country’s appalling record on child rape in relation to proposed new legislation against homosexuals and his view that homosexuality is not natural.

The Progressive Secularist Humanist, where this report originates, says,  “The irrational homophobia of Lokodo and other Ugandans can be directly traced back to the influence of Christian missionaries infecting generations of Ugandans with the  most obnoxious and despicable religious bigotry, hatred and misinformation.”

Ethics, values and integrity are at the heart of the societies we form.  They are at the heart of religious beliefs.  They are at the heart of political beliefs.  They can also vary wildly.  Sometimes differences can make for lively discussion.  Even so there are normally some fundamentals that cross the boundaries, common themes among all peoples especially relating to not causing unnecessary harm.

Sadly, old religious values, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, historically devalue women and children and these values can still be seen in some societies today.  In that case it makes sense that raping a girl child would be acceptable because it would cause them no harm as they have a low value, but homosexuality, which is seen as incurring the wrath of God in those religions, would be harmful to men, who do have value.

I was saddened by Lokodo’s statement.  Saddened that there is still so much work to be done in achieving recognition of the rights and values of women and children around the world.  Saddened because this is just one example of many situations where standards of values and ethics still leave whole swathes of society without due care from those around them.

Moralities: Discussing Abortion

Earlier this week BBC European news reported: “A controversial bill in Spain to end women’s right to abortion on demand is set to be passed after an opposition challenge was defeated in parliament.”  Abortion on demand was only introduced in Spain in 2010 in legislation passed by the Socialists.  Since then the ruling power has moved to the conservative Popular Party.  The new legislation will restrict abortion to cases of rape or where the mother can prove that having the child will pose a severe risk to their physical or mental health.

Discussing abortion (but not rights)

Abortion raises many conflicting opinions.  The reporting quotes ‘rights of the child’, protestors in particular talk of women’s rights.  The Catholic Church supports the new legislation.

For myself, I could wish abortion did not exist (other than mother nature’s will).  But wishing won’t make it go away.

I can only begin to imagine the mental and emotional anguish of having my body nurturing a new life created from a traumatic beginning and I could wish that no child was conceived because of rape.  I could wish that rape did not exist.  But wishing won’t change things.

I don’t believe any parent truly wants a child with disabilities* and I could wish that no child was born with severe disabilities.  But wishing won’t help them or their parents.

* This is not including societies where a disability, especially in a child, is seen as an advantage when it comes to begging.  If acute poverty did not exist and begging was not necessary then I still doubt that any parent would truly want a child with disabilities.

I could wish that all children were planned and conceived within a loving and stable relationship.  I could wish that no child was unwanted.  I could wish that no child was conceived from incest or sexual abuse.  I could wish a lot of things but wishing doesn’t change reality.

The “good old days”

There was a time of course when abortion was not legally or readily available, although to some extent it has always existed: the medicine woman who knows of a few herbs that will do the trick, the back street abortionist with her famed knitting needle.  Women desperate enough have always found ways to end an unwanted pregnancy, despite the risks to their own health in these practices.  And often, in their time, for very good reasons: it’s only a hundred years ago that in England a pregnancy outside of marriage  resulted in the woman being imprisoned (for life) in a mental health institution and her baby forcibly removed at birth.  Pregnant teenagers and young women might be lucky and sent to a maiden aunt somewhere in the country where they could give birth in secret and return, childless, to their family, the family reputation still intact, the ‘future’ of the girl restored.  Even as late as the mid 1970’s something like this happened to a 15 year old relative of mine, who was sent to a young mother’s unit for her pregnancy and birth.

Those were the not so good features of the ‘good old days’.  But there was one aspect of life 100 years ago that we have since lost: the value placed on family and community.  A young couple facing the birth of another child in an already overcrowded home might have the option of one or more of their children living with aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.  Such as when, in the early 1900’s, after the death of his father and with the family sinking deeper into poverty, my grandfather went to live with a childless aunt and uncle.  In many African, Caribbean and Latin American cultures today it is still possible to see communities where parenting is seen as the responsibility of the wider family group, where childcare is shared, where children are loved and absorbed into the community without stigma or concern.


Are there alternatives to abortion?  Not many.

Pregnancy outside of marriage is no longer stigmatised.  It no longer carries the shame.  Illegitimacy is no longer stigmatised.  In fact the word illegitimate is increasingly falling out of use.  However, before the 1926 Legitimacy Act a child carried the stigma of illegitimacy until death regardless of whether or not their parents later married.  After 1926 legitimacy was granted providing the child had not been conceived while either parent was married to someone else, but it was not until the 1959 Legitimacy Act that children were legitimised regardless of whether either of their parents had been previously married or their marriage annulled for some reason.  That should have been great news for my father but to this day he still feels the acute shame of his generation, of having been ‘born out of wedlock’.

What this means is that there is a realistic option to abortion inasmuch as giving birth and caring for the child is an option today in a way it was not an option 100 years ago.  And certainly that has been an choice for many if the cries and criticisms of the likes of the Daily Mail castigating profligate ‘single mothers’ is anything to go by.  They can’t win can they.  Condemned by pro-lifers for opting for abortion, condemned by the government and press as scroungers and wasters if they don’t.

Which only leaves one other option: adoption.  And here I return to my ‘wish list’.  I could wish that society was more tolerant of women who choose to give birth and then willingly allow their child to be adopted.  It’s no easier a decision than abortion, in some ways it is more difficult.  Both result in emotional pain.  But abortion can be done in secret.  Adoption is very public.  We live in a society where it is automatically assumed that a pregnant woman will want to keep her child: after all, she would have had it aborted otherwise.  Standing up and say, ‘Yes, I’m pregnant but I’m choosing to have my child adopted because …..’ takes a special strength of character, and support from those closest to her.

The role of the Church and other religions

It’s all very well for the Catholic church to support the change in legislation in Spain, severely restricting the option of abortion.  It goes completely with religious beliefs that life is sacred, that abortion is murder, that only God can give or take life.  But focusing on topics like this is taking the easy option – and legislation doesn’t change human behaviour.  It’s also not real life for a significant proportion of society.  The church (and other religions against abortion) should be asking why women want abortions, why there is rape and incest, why families struggle and break down.  And then the really hard question: what can they do to support society so that the cause of what they perceive to be the ‘problem of abortion’ is tackled rather than the symptom.

In doing so, perhaps religions will also be helping young women to choose the open difficult path to adoption rather than the secret path to abortion.  Then at least young women will have three genuine choices when faced with an unwanted pregnancy rather than just two.

fear, vulnerability and inferiority?

Heavy with kohl, only her eyes could be seen as they peered between the strips of black fabric that made up the niqab of her outfit. Her shoes peeped from below the bottom of the hem of her dress. Her sleeves rode a little up her arms exposing her forearms slightly, the delicate lace edging of the fabric pretty against her arm. A man joined her as she sat in the waiting area at the airport. Her demeanor did not change. They chatted and appeared relaxed before they walked off, he leading while she followed pushing the luggage trolley. From her eyes, her gait and the age of the man she was with I guessed her to be in her late 20’s or early 30’s.

A lot has been said in the UK press, and elsewhere, about the rights or wrongs, values or merits of the niqab, the effect it has on society, how non-Muslims feel about it, etc. Some of the most recent comments have been about situations such as giving evidence in court, with allegations of the niqab denying other participants the opportunity to benefit from all types of communication, including facial expressions. Over time there have been comments from women who feel they are forced to wear the niqab against their will, perhaps because of the country or society in which they live. Others feel condemned because they choose to wear this garment. Either way, all I can say is that from where I sat, no more than ten feet from this couple, was that this woman’s body language did not obviously display any discomfort.

But it was my reactions that lead me to write. I am White British and no longer young. I was wearing trousers and long sleeves, I was not dressed to incite temptation. Yet my first feeling was of vulnerability. I felt exposed. Her voluminous dress and almost entire face covering denied me any sense of what she looked like, beyond the heavy kohl around her eyes. By contrast she could see if I was skinny or fat, if my hair was long or short, the distinguishing features of my face, if I was smiling and happy or otherwise sad.

As I observed her body language, that she seemed comfortable in her garb, I began to feel inferior. If the niqab was her choice to wear was I her spiritual inferior for not having the same dedication and devotion? Even though my religion may be different?

None of us are immune from the vagaries of our upbringing and experience. All we can do is recognise our reactions and emotions in situations such as these, and be prepared to challenge ourselves.  Especially when our work brings us in to contact with cultures different from our own.

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