• by Siobhan Maclean
  • 22nd Sep 2018


Last week I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland after dropping off my youngest daughter at University there. I was well aware of the potential of “empty nest syndrome” and so had planned in a few days on the Antrim coast to take some time out for self care and to work on my next publication. Each day I spent a couple of hours walking and exploring the coast line and the rest of the day working. I took this photo at the Giants Causeway, which is a place that I have always wanted to visit. It was incredible and has left a lasting impression on me. The interconnections of the rocks were so intricate and yet so strong. I must admit to being surprised at the numbers of people walking across the causeway and climbing and jumping on the rocks. Yet the people, the crashing waves and all the forces of nature did not break those vital interconnections. Last year World Social Work Day was all about community and environmental sustainability. The theme for the next two years is about the importance of human relationships. The time I spent at the Giants Causeway helped to reinforce for me the link between these two themes. Systems theory of course helps us to explore the interconnections between people, whilst exploring the impact of different systems in peoples’ lives. But somehow at this point in my life as my daughter takes her own steps towards an even more independent future, I am reminded about the vital importance of human relationships, people may move into new systems, but the strength of connections created by good relationships remain. Relationships provide the very foundations of everything we seek to do in social work. Yet the move towards more and more calculability in practice can impact on that. Walking around the causeway I reflected on the move towards using data and particularly an understanding of ACEs to determine aspects of practice involvement. There is definitely some merit in the use of information and research findings, but these must never be used to replace the vital importance of relationships-based practice. So, I would ask you what do you see in this image? I see the strength of connections reaching out to sea. The waves are crashing against those connections, but they stay strong and begin to build a pathway towards the island ahead. There is an old saying that “a smooth sea never made a good sailor” social workers who face challenges to their practice are often more reflective and have a stronger sense of their professional identity. I really hope that the theme of World Social Work Day 2019 helps us to remind those around us of the importance of human relationships in social work practice.