Chair's Blog


A question of identity

Those eagle-eyed Professional Social Work (PSW) readers among you will no doubt have been wondering when the Chair's blog will launch, given my assertion in the latest edition that I had begun writing it, 'as you might have seen'. Apologies, you couldn't actually have seen it, as it hadn't appeared until right now.

So now that it is underway, I am really pleased to have this opportunity to communicate directly with BASW members (as well as non-members) and to hear back from you in turn. I plan to post regularly, to keep you up-to-date with some of the things that are happening within BASW and with my activities as BASW chair, and to share some of my thoughts about what is happening in the world outside.

Below my posts there is the opportunity for BASW members to comment in response to anything I write and I would really welcome it if you did - in brief or at length, in agreement or disagreement, with ideas, questions or anything in general you'd like to say.

I'm keen to know what you want from BASW and from the BASW leadership; my virtual 'door' is always open to you in general and via this blog in particular.

One thing that held up the launch of this blog is that I've been in the process of completing a dissertation for a Master's degree in philosophy - my subject being the effect on personal identity of embodied cognition. This might sound dry and theoretical, but actually has some interesting implications.

Personal identity involves questions about what makes a person at two different times one and the same person - is it about continuity of the mind, or do we need to be in the same body, or just have the same brain, and so on.

Fascinating stuff - and personal identity is a special case of the issue of identity more generally, which throws up many other questions, some more important than others. It may not matter so much whether, after I have changed some of its components, I have the same Hi-Fi system or not, but consider the following.

First, the current debate and forthcoming vote on Scottish independence. This raises questions about whether a country persists as the same country if it has different borders, or is it then a new country altogether? What other changes can a country go through, yet remain the same country?

Then take the example of social work - what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for an activity to be social work?

Starting from an activity - more accurately, a set of activities - which we might all agree is social work, what could be taken away from that, while leaving the remaining activity still being seen as social work? Conversely, what other activities could be added in to the mix, without meaning it is no longer social work that is being done?

The activities social workers engage in now are clearly different, in part, than when I trained and qualified in the late 80s, and this would no doubt be the case if we examined any 25-year interval. What, then, is the necessary essence of social work? This is a question worth returning to - and one always to keep in our sights.

It's a question that's relevant now, as BASW is currently urging all social work practitioners to respond to the consultation on a 'checklist' of skills required by children and family social workers that was launched in August by Chief Social Worker for Children and Families Isabelle Trowler.

When not doing philosophy recently, I've been reading Ray Jones' new book, The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

It says something that really needed to be said, but that I actually never imagined would be. To read Jones speaking up for Sharon Shoesmith and the sacked social workers, Maria Ward and Gillie Christou, as professionals who had dedicated their working lives to protecting children, "recognised and respected for their care and commitment", was intensely moving.

There is an excellent review of the book in this month's PSW magazine, which states "it is difficult not to read Ray Jones' account of the media and political power play that took place after the death of Peter Connelly without feeling a sense of outrage".

But outrage is surely the correct response. Such scapegoating has happened many times before, but this must have been the most egregious example of it, and I think we have to say that enough is enough. It is not OK to treat social workers that way. So, in part, the book elicits an emotional response, but it does much more, a clinical dissection of the way a tragic story of the killing of a child can be spun to grossly malign a group of dedicated social workers. Do read it.

The 'skills checklist' consultation ends on 9 October 2014 at 5:00pm, and can be viewed here.

Professional Officer Nushra Mansuri will be coordinating BASW's response to the consultation and is keen to hear members' views. Please email


Ruth Stark on 12/09/2014 15:19:33

Interesting perspective on the Referendum in Scotland. It is worth reading Andrew Marr's books on some of the history about how we have arrived at this point and the difference between a Union and your reference to a 'new' or the 'same' country. The description he uses is a 'stateless nation'. If we apply social work principles and ethics to a person or nation that is 'stateless' where does it take us? The theme of the next two years of the Global Agenda, which BASW is signed up to, is to work towards dignity and respect for all peoples. This is what we have used to shape our statements from IFSW about the situation in Israel and Palestine under the banner of Peace and Self Determination. It is important to look beyond the glib media headlines to the substance of the debate - we were strongly advised in 70's social work training to look beyond the presenting problem. In what ever direction BASW moves forward many of it members, like myself, will be hoping that it is done after proper consideration of the facts, a reasoned analysis and working with the membership on the adopted way forward. This means moving beyond outrage to finding creative solutions based on social work principles and ethics.

Tim Parkinson on 16/09/2014 17:09:43

The simple definition of "Social Work" used to be " The work done by a Social Worker" i.e. a qualified professional using their own knowledge, skills, and assessment to determine and execute an intervention.

If Social Work is now any work carried out by any person to promote the social welfare of another, then it does impact on the identity of the social worker

The corollary of this might be that if someone called a Social Worker only ever carries out tasks towards improving the welfare of another which are prescribed in detail by a manager , or by processes and procedures, then they are no longer a Social Worker. They are a welfare worker who is the agent of a prescribed utilitarian process.

Thus the philosophical concept of continuity of identity despite a changing environment and methodology falls.

Especially if term applies to "professional identity"

So while being positive about embracing change and integration and synergised practice in teams of other professions, the maintenance of a mandated level of professional autonomy and discretion within prescribed parameters has to be carried forward if we are to continue to identify as professional social workers.

Guy Shennan on 23/09/2014 16:24:36

Hi Tim
Thanks for responding, and... I couldn't agree more!

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