What a week it’s been for Social Work!
David Cameron announced a revolution in child rearing by suggesting that all parents should attend classes on how to discipline their children. A few years ago I would have welcomed such an investment; however, his continued focus on pathologizing parents whilst downplaying poverty and structural inequalities has left me exasperated.
Nicky Morgan announced a ‘series of changes that will radically transform the children’s social care system’. These included a new regulatory body for social work to ‘drive up standards’ in education, training and practice, replacing the HCPC which succeeded the GSCC in the governments drive to cut costs by abolishing quangos only three years ago. And then there was the College of Social Work which was supposed to be the voice of our profession which lasted all of 2 minutes.
An announcement to change laws so that councils and courts would favour adoption over other forms of care resulted in Ms. Morgan coming under fire for a foster care ‘slur’. And Frontline, a scheme to recruit ‘high-calibre’ graduates into the profession, piloted since 2013, announced its nationwide roll out. BASW have cautiously said that it is too early to tell whether this scheme will have the impact it hopes to achieve. I suspect that it will do very little. Existing workers need the support and resources to do the job they are qualified to do.
I'm not saying that graduates have nothing to offer the Social Work profession – they do - but they're not superhero's that can be parachuted in to fix the problems of cash strapped authorities. I qualified as a Social Worker after first gaining an undergraduate degree in Sociology. I think this background gave me a strong grounding but not, I suspect, for the reasons the Government would like to see. Sociology is a discipline that is central to the understanding of structural inequalities and an appreciation for differences of epistemological views. However, these studies did not make me a better local authority Children’s Social Worker. They did not equipment with the life skills to work directly with different sections of our society. These skills were learned on the job.
In my experience, those that do it best are the workers that have qualified later in life. Those that have ‘done the time’ in support roles and have been sponsored to do the undergraduate degree by their employer. These are the workers that have the passion to remain in frontline practice and hone their skills in direct work. But with local authority budget cuts, a lack of finance options for mature students and a fixation by this government to ostracise those already in social care, options for these dedicated and valuable colleagues are disappearing.
I do not believe it’s the business of government to intervene in academia. The degree should equip practitioners with the knowledge, skills and desire to challenge oppression and inequalities. That syllabus should not be shaped by the very people Social Work should seek to challenge. By all means, support, train and nurture those in statutory agencies to do the job they are employed to do. Monitor and evaluate their competencies through a regulatory body. But government should not be undermining the professions foundation, the core values and the very essence of what it is to be a Social Worker.
I subscribe to the international definition of Social Work. I started my first Social Work role 5 years before I qualified, working for an international NGO compiling research and assessments that were used to advocate for indigenous populations around the globe. Whilst you don’t need to be a Social Worker to do this role – it is Social Work. Family Support Workers are also doing social work. Academics that research and highlight oppression, structural inequalities and social exclusion are doing social work. However, if we get to the point where only those that are happy to police the poor are supported to succeed and retain the title, the profession is going to be in peril.
But there is hope!
BASW, the largest members-led association for social work in the UK, has its 2020 vision and there is a growing number of Social Workers that are speaking up publicly; airing their dismay at the governments continuous cycle of investigations and reviews with little action or meaningful investment (The cynic in my suspects they are waiting for a report to recommend scrapping the lot of us).
I was moved reading Social Work Tutor’s open letter to the education secretary on Friday. However, Ermintrude said on Saturday that she was not longer sure whether she could continue to identify as a Social Worker following the latest announcements (Please don’t leave us!). We cannot allow the government to define us. We are a part of a diverse international community with an important history and, if we fight for it, a future of equal importance.
Stay strong everyone! Your profession needs you!
I'm a Qualified Children's Social Worker with a passion for safeguarding and family support in the UK.