To die destitute today: What are the implications for social work?


Mim Fox, MSW, is a Senior Social Worker at St George Hospital, NSW.


The link between the public hospital and the destitute funeral has a long historical background with hospitals today continuing to retain their delegation over the fates of those who die destitute within them. This qualitative study evaluates the roles and skills of social workers when assessing the need for a destitute funeral in the public hospital system. Social workers located in two public hospitals within the same Area Health Service participated in interviews to evaluate the roles and responsibilities of social workers when working with destitute funeral recipients and their significant others. Emergent from these interviews are the social workers’ candid perception of the importance of the destitute death. The analysis is structured according to the priority that the social workers themselves accorded: the importance of the destitute death to the organisation, the family and friends of the destitute person, the social workers themselves and to society as a whole. The implication for social work practice is that this study informs policy locally within the hospital social work department, and public health policy within the hospital system. In addition, it is a springboard for practice reflection and advanced clinical practice by social workers in the field of destitute funerals.