Communication and sensitivity to other people’s needs are fundamental to good social work practice. Considering the language needs of the service users you work with is vital.
The 2011 census recorded that 19% of people living in Wales can speak Welsh, and the Welsh Language Measure of the same year conferred official status on the language. So social workers and other care professionals in every part of Wales need to be aware of the potential language needs of service users – whatever your own language skills are.
In a practical guide to the Welsh language and social work practice, Judith Davies, head of social work, Wales at the Open University, outlines the role of social workers in proactively determining language choice, and how small changes to your practice can make a big difference in someone’s life. These are a few tips from her guide. Community Care Inform subscribers can read the full, interactive guide on Inform Adults and Inform Children.
More than just words
The framework for the Welsh language in health and social care, More than just words, recognises that, for many people, full participation in their care can only be achieved in their preferred language. The ‘active offer’ principle means that the onus is on service providers in Wales to provide Welsh medium services, rather than individuals having to ask for them. Indeed, people who use services often lack the confidence to proactively request Welsh medium services as they do not want to be perceived as a “nuisance”, “demanding”, or even as an “extremist” (Care Council for Wales, 2014; Davies, 2014; Beaufort Research Ltd, 2014).
This must be of concern to social workers as this is a matter not just of choice, but of safety and wellbeing, and positive health outcomes (Welsh Language Commissioner, 2014). While most people in Wales can speak English, at times of stress, ill-health, or difficult circumstances, this ability may be compromised or even lost (Davies, 2014, Welsh Government, 2015). Effective communication in a language someone understands is therefore at the heart of effective assessment and safe care (Welsh Language Commissioner, 2014).
If you consider yourself a non-Welsh speaker, you may be surprised at how much of the language you do know – such as how to pronounce Welsh names correctly, or give simple greetings. You may also know how to respond appropriately to someone who speaks to you in Welsh, even if you can’t continue with a long conversation. By using even a limited amount of Welsh, you are signalling that you understand language needs, create a closer relationship, and put people at ease in what may be a strange environment.