From the moment we first open our eyes, what we see, who we meet, where we live and work and what we experience will have a lifelong influence. So many things affect who we are. There are factors at the individual and familial level, but also at the social, cultural, economic and societal level. We know, for instance, that social factors have a profound impact on health, and that certain populations, such as people living in poverty, are disproportionately afflicted by poor health. Newcomers to Canada are another vulnerable group; their health often starts to deteriorate several years after arrival. As social workers, we must understand how myriad factors – genetic, biological and environmental – interact and influence people at every phase of life, from infancy through childhood, adolescence, early and middle adulthood, and older adulthood.
Social work is particularly well situated to conduct research that explores and addresses the social determinants of health – the way factors, such as where we live and work and the health services we use, affect our health. With the Faculty’s close links to community and connections with fields as diverse as neuroscience, social policy, and public health, we are arriving at a better understanding of the complex interplay of factors that affect people throughout the lifespan. Consider the work being done by Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, holder of the Sandra Rotman Chair at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. Her research shows that physical abuse of children is strongly linked to many chronic illnesses in adulthood, including heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, migraines and peptic ulcers.
Our learnings are shaping policy, education and practice. One of many examples is Professor Barbara Fallon’s research with the Canadian Incidence Study (see Using research to help neglected and abused children on page 15). The study helped provide dramatic evidence of over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system. The findings – a stark example of the effects of systemic discrimination on people’s lives – were influential in negotiations on the national funding formula for First Nations child welfare agencies.
At the Faculty, we’re working hard to turn our findings into practical solutions for people of all ages. Research by Professor Lynn McDonald in the area of work and retirement has recently contributed to a remarkable financial literacy series for older adults. Produced by the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly, the series provides guidance on everything from preparing taxes to managing debt.