In Britain, social work has no memory. That is to say, the social work, as a constellation of discourses rhetorically founded on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the vulnerable, often appears oddly amnesiac. Partly because of this condition, the profession has tended to lack interest in unearthing historical patterns of engagement with the Irish community in Britain. For this reason, this book began with an examination of social work’s historical responses to Irish children and families in Britain. Initially, the focus was on how Irish women and their children were responded to in the 1950s and 1960s. It then went on to examine more contemporary responses; here, it was maintained that Irish children and families are largely rendered ‘invisible’ by mainstream discourses on ‘race’ and ethnicity. In the early 21st century, some changes are detectable. However, empirical research exploring the policies of social services departments (SSDs) throughout England and Wales and the perspective of a number of Irish social workers indicates that Irish children and families receiving services (and Irish providers of social work and social care services) are still not properly recognised.

This book can be seen, therefore, as a modest attempt to reshape British social work’s dominant approach to issues of ‘race’ and ethnicity. In this sense, the aim has been to question the black/white binary that lies at the heart of the profession’s approach. Although not a central concern in the foregoing discussion, social work’s dominant theoretical understanding also fails adequately to conceptualise the situation of many recent migrants seeking refuge and asylum in Britain (see Castles and Davidson, 2000; Parker, J., 2000; Simms, 2004).

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Social work and Irish people in Britain
Historical and contemporary responses to Irish children and families