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The importance of safe spaces in practice to challenge systemic racism

A new group of social workers is changing practice by remodelling supervision and creating safe spaces to tackle racism.

28/11/23

The importance of safe spaces in practice to challenge systemic racism

In a joint presentation at the COMPASS Jobs Fair, London, Patriche Bentick and Pamela Shodeinde, frontline social workers, discussed the Black and Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium (BPS), the first such group where professionals can discuss and promote anti-racism in social work.

BPS is an online group for members of BASW (British Association of Social Workers). It was formed by Wayne Reid, BASW Anti-Racism Lead, in 2021, in response to the murder of George Floyd the year before.

Established during lockdown, ‘It became very apparent at that time that there needed to be a safe space for people in minority groups to have somewhere they could vent,’ said Pamela Shodeinde. Today, ‘we do a lot more than venting: we think of ways we can collectively make our practice better and help those we support.’

Ms Bentink added, ‘We think about how we can challenge structural racism and how we can challenge language [and] role-model excellence. For me, seeing black excellence in different spaces allows me to feel really confident, put my foot forward and think that I can be that person. [The BPS] evaluates existing frameworks and a lot of that has been around the work we do with Parliament. All of the members do individual work and speak in public, especially on anything in social work that isn’t being addressed such as the issues around Child Q [The black teenager who, in 2020, was strip-searched at school by police officers, after she was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis].

‘Activism is heavily connected to social work, so we use that,’ Ms Bentink said. ‘ We pair with other agencies; I was recently very proud and honoured to be present at a retreat for black professionals to think about how we challenge government on behalf of black families. That space was full with GPs, police, youth workers, as well as social workers – people you would normally work alongside, but would not normally know about.’

Tackling racism through social work supervision has been another influential area. A new supervision framework, originated by BPS member Shabnam Ahmed, has been shaped by practitioners, social work students, managers and practice educators across the country.

Ms Shodeinde said ‘we partnered with the Department of Education to think about how anti-racism supervision can be modelled within local authorities and in social work practice because that is not something that is really thought about. To make supervision meaningful – not just for black people or minorities but for everyone -- that education is important.

‘One of the really beautiful things about being in the BPS is that we take a lot of what we learn in that space into our different employers and are able to advocate wherever you work and say “well this is possible, we’ve done it and it is working”.

‘It’s challenging in itself – the labels start to come out -- troublemaker or what-not, but again one of the things that has really helped me is about using the right language, and understanding why it is important and why we use it.’

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