Podcast: racism in social work

This episode features two guests who have lived experience of racism and abuse from service users and colleagues


The Social Work Community Podcast is a new offering from Community Care.

This episode is about racism within social work. We speak to Nana and Ash, both children and family social workers, about their experiences of racism. There is discussion about racism from families they have worked with but also from within the organisations they have worked for.

  • What should a team manager do if a family asks for a different social worker based on their race or religion?
  • How much support is available for social workers who receive abuse from service users?
  • How important is allyship? Is there a need for more cultural competency within social work?
  • And how much has changed since the death of George Floyd?

They discuss this and much more in this unmissable episode.

More on racism in social work

Over a quarter of social workers faced racism from colleagues or managers in 12-month period, finds survey

My role as England’s first anti-racist lead practitioner

Conference calls on senior leaders to take action to embed antiracist practice

The podcast is available on most podcast platforms, including Spotify , Audible (Amazon) and Apple podcasts, or you can find it by putting ‘the social work community podcast’ into your search engine.

Listen now:

Listen to “Racism in social work” on Spreaker.

You can read the transcription here.

This podcast is also part of our new community site, The Social Work Community, which offers a safe, positive space to share careers guidance, network with peers and exchange experiences of social work. If you haven’t already, you can sign up now!

Did you catch the first two episodes? Listen back here:

The pros and cons of being a young social worker

What is the impact of negative media coverage of social work?

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13 Responses to Podcast: racism in social work

  1. Pauline O'Reggio January 4, 2024 at 1:58 pm #

    Racism within social work continues, yet it is not addressed by managers or the organizations in which we work. Some families can be openly racist yet managers do nothing to address the family’s unacceptable behavior toward the social worker, in my opinion, this only reinforces to the family that they are justified to behave in a discriminatory manner. As a social worker, you are left feeling unsafe, within the organization you are employed by, your professional practice is not valued, it impacts your confidence and leaves you feeling invisible to the organization you have invested in.

    I can give further examples of the impact this leaves on your emotions and self-worth but will not.

    Families have requested a different social worker because they did not want a black worker. (They stated this was the reason) I should point out that the family worked with me until I completed my assessment and expressed concerns during the assessment process.

    I expressed my opinion not to be removed based on my (color) and not on my practice, which was emotionally devastating for someone who took pride in their practice.

    I expressed this sent the wrong message to the family and the children with whom I was working. Despite expressing my concerns I was removed from the case. What appeared to be lost in doing so was my assessment and what I considered serious concerns for the children who then had to build a new relationship with a white worker, it also appeared that no one cared how this made me feel.

    Most recently a father refused to engage in the assessment process with me, again this was following concerns within the assessment process despite informing the managers no instructions/advice was given to me about how to proceed, it appeared better to ignore.

    These are based on my experience. I can say with confidence racism continues to take place in social work on all levels from families and within the workforce. What is not considered is why parents play the avoidance/race game and can use a professional’s color to manipulate the outcome of the case with the agreement of the organization. Racism can be direct and subtle.

    The question is why the organization and managers continue to allow such behavior to continue even when they are confronted by it. This is an area that needs to be addressed if social workers are to be viewed as professionals undertaking a professional and serious role that protects children.

    • Carla January 6, 2024 at 3:44 am #

      Im so sorry to hear this
      I’m mixed race mum and I feel I have been treated badly and been allowed to be treated badly due to my skin colour.

    • No name January 7, 2024 at 12:35 am #

      This is so true and in changing of the worker, you will find that some tend to brag that the family works better with them and this makes it seem like you were not competent or you did something wrong.

      Lack of promotion and if you are you are promoted to team manager you are targetted by colleagues and there is lack of support from senior managers as they are unable to deal with the issues of racism and do not want to acknowledge this area. Racism in work place is subtle, and leaves you questioning whether you experienced it or if you have gone crazy for a minute. I’m glad I left the profession as this ate away at my confidence and would have left me with Mental Health issues. The less diverse the area you work in the more prevalent Racism is. I feel for all social workers who are from an ethnic minority background, especially those who are newly qualified and encourage them to join work place BAME groups.

  2. Pauline O'Reggio January 4, 2024 at 11:46 pm #

    Having worked in social work for 43 years + in child protection nothing has changed in my opinion.

    There have always been sub working groups to address the same issues dating back over forty years.

    Managers reinforce discrimination towards black social workers by not challenging parents. Social workers are there to carry out the duty of safeguarding a child.

    It is not enough to tell a social worker they must be resilient when faced with racism, the department has a duty of care towards the social worker and should send the family a letter stating what your role is and that you are there as an employee of the local authority. The family should be made aware should their behavior continue legal advice would be sought to enable you to complete your work.

    The department should demonstrate to the family and social worker that they support the social worker in carrying out their professional duty, and that such behavior will not be tolerated. My question is why is this approach not used by a professional public service to safeguard the social worker and the child when other professional services make it clear unacceptable behavior will not be accepted?

    It is no wonder parents can openly state they do not want a black worker.

    It is misleading to calm the worker is removed to safeguard them. Why can two workers not be a priority when working with difficult/avoidant parents? meetings should be held in the office if the black workers’ skills and knowledge are valued within the organization is it not good practice to ensure the worker can carry out their duties rather than reinforcing to the parent that such behavior is justified?

    We should remember child protection social work is a serious and professional service.

  3. Not My Real Name January 5, 2024 at 4:41 pm #

    Excellent. I think you need to do another one for Adult Care. There are similar issues, but also different ones. For example many, maybe most, of my clients with dementia express racists views, which black staff are expected to just ignore. It’s also extremely common for clients even if they aren’t confused to express racist views to me, a white Social Worker, as they think I’ll agree. You can challenge, but when they complain to management you may not be supported.

  4. Pauline O'Reggio January 6, 2024 at 12:11 am #

    If managers and the organizations that employ black social workers and people from ethnic minority groups are not supported does this not blatantly imply that black and minority social worker’s skills, knowledge, and intelligence are not worth defending when in reality you are carrying out the duty you have been employed to do.

    Every social worker will face issues where parents will focus on what they believe is the professional’s weaknesses or where they can deflect from issues, that may arise this pattern of behavior may undermine you as the worker so that you and others question your ability as a professional to complete an assessment. Parents may question your age and maturity, your race, and your beliefs. Is it not the organization that should make it clear that you are an employee carrying out their duty?

    Unfortunately and heartbreakingly even during serious child protection concerns a black social worker will be removed at the request of a parent than a social worker whom the parents believe is too young. What does that message reinforce to that child who may not have had an issue with a black worker, what message does that send to other children whom that child may know, what message does that send to the black and or ethnic minority worker, what message does that reinforce to other professionals and the worker’s colleagues,is the organization not unconsciously,/consciously reinforcing a divide in its organization and creating a culture of elitism and more opportunities for certain cultures in the workplace and those whom we are employed to protect.

    What has changed perhaps I am missing something.How can a social worker have open and honest discussions if you know you can be removed from a case based on the colour of your skin and not your ability has practitioners.

    Black and minority workers are equally competent yet there remains inequality in social work today, it is no wonder parents have a lack of trust if an organization can not be seen to support all its employees in carrying out important roles within society, what are the changes children from black and ethnic minority groups are being treated with respect and equal safeguards are being put in place for them if a worker can be removed from a case based on their color. Have we forgotten what we trained for and the principles of social work?

    My brief opinions are based on my experience and observation of child protection social work over forty years. My intention is to give a balanced and honest view. I have always been proud to be a social worker, however there remains discrimination for employees and service users.

  5. Violet January 8, 2024 at 12:42 pm #

    While social workers of all grades go all jelly legged and fawn at the ‘honour’ of being given British Empire medals and accepting Knighthoods and Damehoods from the Crown, we can not expect that racism can be tackled in this proffesion. You can’t be an anti-racist while accepting an ‘honour’ built in the image of the Empire and on the oppression of colonised and enslaved people.That choice debars you from the right side of the debate. Tackle that and social work might begin to look and address racism rather than virtue signal from behind the privilege Empire ‘honours’. That’s all I know.

  6. Retired social worker January 8, 2024 at 3:03 pm #

    Dear No Name and Carla I fully understand what you are saying, what you have identified is true and sad when your skills, knowledge, and desire to support vulnerable children and families are undermined and devalued based on one’s skin color. It is worrying as this will impact services and those we are employed to support/protect.

  7. Pauline O'Reggio January 9, 2024 at 10:34 am #

    In my opinion, there is no doubt racism exists in social work, it is clear to observe despite objections all are equal, this is not true. Over my 43 + years of practice I have learned to believe in my self-worth and the reason I entered social work, accept you have strengths to offer the profession when you are told you are not good enough however, this is difficult to do, you have lots of self-doubts, tears of frustration about what is taking place in clear sight, and having to listen to excuses being made which do not make sense.

    I attempt to express my true opinions to make it clear of the impact on myself and service users. It is uncomfortable and certainly impacts your career and integrity.

    I understand why social workers stand back and observe those around them elevated to management roles without the necessary qualities to lead a team of social workers or have the skills, maturity, and or desire to support black and minority groups against clear discrimination in the workplace.

    Could this be the reason why nothing has changed? If you as an employee believe you will not be supported what does this tell you about the leadership you are experiencing? Does it also explain why there is a high turnover in the workforce?

    I also think it only fair to say over my 43 years of service there have been only three managers whom I can say I have respected and who have attempted to make decisions for the right reasons only to receive criticism from senior management.What does this tell you?

  8. Pauline O'Reggio January 9, 2024 at 12:43 pm #

    Respect, dignity, equality, and integrity are the rights of everyone you should not have to continually highlight this to a service that is there to ensure the voice of everyone is heard.

  9. Pauline O'Reggio January 17, 2024 at 11:19 am #

    I feel it is only fair and balanced to feedback that in this situation the assessment was accurate and the parent continued to use the same reason with other agencies.

    While organizations make excuses for parents, change will not take place and abuse will continue undetected for longer than is necessary.

  10. Pauline O'Reggio January 18, 2024 at 8:22 pm #

    I listened to this podcast, and what I found interesting was the representatives stated that things had marginally changed since the killing of George Floyd, for black, Asian, and minority groups and that they have not experienced racism however went on to explain how one had faced racism in the workplace and received no support but was told there was not the staffing capacity for two social workers to visit a service user who could make allegations against the employee.

    Visiting a service user’s home in two’s should not have been an issue nor should staffing levels be an excuse, other professions go out in two’s, especially in difficult situations why are social workers treated differently do we not face similar issues if not more complex issues?

    Does this imply the worker’s judgment and safety are less important than asking another colleague to accompany them on a visit? (perhaps there should be a duty worker available for the team to support the team in situations like this) why is this not a good use of another social worker, this does not make sense to me, is there no more working as a team? Is it now normal to work in isolation?

    Racism does exist in my opinion. There is no doubt that there is a fear of being open about this issue because our employment status is dependent on not being open. Not defending who we are and our very existence in this world will impact our mental health and children’s mental health in the future, as it affects our very identity and self-worth in society.

    In regards to service users and children identifying with their social worker. As professionals we are carrying out the duties of a professional, whose responsibility is the safeguarding of ( all) children, we are there to carry out a professional service that is what we are trained to do.

    For children from different minority groups, society is made up of different groups the service they come into contact with should represent this, the next generation should see themselves in professional roles on an equal basis and not marginalized, undervalued, invisible, and not able to reach their potential, is this not what the working together guidelines stipulate.


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