Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

No more 'needs': growing confidence and improving skills around sexuality in social work research, learning and practice

Keywords: sexuality, communities of practice, learning networks

Authors: Ms Joy Trotter (University of Teeside); Ms Trish Hafford-Letchfield (London South Bank University)

Social work is familiar with concepts such as social exclusion and marginalisation, and with practice that is anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive. This might imply that social workers are adequately prepared to embrace equality and diversity, become 'culturally competent' and subscribe to moral and ethical standards which include respect for others, regardless of their sexual orientation.

However research continues to document that sexuality issues are still marginalized or excluded in social work practice and education programmes. Technicist approaches to assessment and service provision have emerged which seek to identify the particular 'needs' of 'minority' populations. These have focused on non hetero-sexual people, implying a) heterosexuals do not have needs, b) non hetero-sexual people have only 'needs', c) non-heterosexuals can be regarded as one homogenous population and d) there are no overlaps or 'needs' that are held in common between the 'two' populations. Furthermore, it is assumed that once these so-called 'needs' are 'known', they will somehow be addressed. These assumptions have been criticised.

It is important for practitioners, researchers and educators to be confident in articulating and developing these criticisms in their organisations to promote learning in this area. Problems arise due to lack of experience in leading on sexual orientation issues and the very few texts or support networks to draw on when addressing these issues in practice.

This paper will explore the experience of developing a national Special Interest Group - The Sexuality Symposium. This 'community of practice' has enhanced discourse between practitioners, researchers, academics and students through a virtual and real support network. Regular conferences, workshops, joint research initiatives, on-line support and dissemination of best practice through publications and consultation have led to mutual support, an increased knowledge base, growing confidence and enhancement of practice around sexuality. A number of these joint enterprises will be discussed.

The Symposium has a wide range of interests for practitioners, academics, researchers, students and service users and has built bridges between these 'stakeholders' in practice. It has encouraged and supported joint working between different members and its focus is on dissemination and sharing of best practice in its activities in a very accessible and developmental way.

Date: Wednesday 23 January 2008, 12.00-12.30

Venue: Carrick Three

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Organised by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in association with PEPE (Practical Experiences in Professional Education).