Chair's Blog


Social work practitioners and service users at the summit

It’s the last Friday in January and if I don’t get a move on I’ll have fallen at the first hurdle. Surely, I thought at the outset of 2016, writing at least one blog post each month can’t be that difficult…

It’s not that there isn’t much to write about. Yesterday I attended the launch event of Social Work for Better Mental Health, heavily featuring a certain Ruth Allen, co-author of the publications accompanying this initiative designed to develop mental health social work. As a northern exile in London I enjoyed the fact that the presentations were all from departments from northern authorities (though it would have been nice to have had one from west of the Pennines). I liked what Mark Trewin (Bradford) said - ‘mental health is social work’ - and it reminded me of something I often used to say - all social work is mental health social work. An excellent event, excellently chaired by the future chief executive of BASW!

There was much talk of co-production yesterday, as there was a week previously, at the social work summit that took place at the Church House Conference Centre in Westminster. I think I can say that this event was a great success without being complacent, though the latter always has to be guarded against when the level of the challenge ahead is so high.

What was it that makes me think it was so successful?

When I opened the day at 10am I found myself saying, quite spontaneously, that it felt like it was a success already. It had been one thing planning who to invite to the day, but it was another thing altogether to see the vast majority of these people - some of the leading figures in social work today - actually gathered together in the one room. Knowing the programme we had devised, I could not see at that point how it could fail. The day was designed to enable maximum dialogue and to draw out the knowledge and expertise of the attendees and this is what happened throughout the day.

A crucial feature of the day was the involvement of service users, and representatives of service user and carer groups took part alongside social workers in each section of the day, presenting, taking part on the two panels and facilitating the afternoon ‘cafe conversations’. Shaping Our Lives played a major part in the planning and delivery of this. Both their co-chairs, Peter Beresford and Ann Nutt, took part, as did their general manager, Becki Meakin and I’m grateful to Becki for her help in planning the service user involvement. There were also two very powerful presentations by two parents whose contribution was enabled by an organisation I had never heard of before but which I am grateful I have now, ATD Fourth World.

Service user groups were a part of the diversity of the event, and in fact the only thing that was held in common was that everyone present was either a social worker or a user of social work services. Actually, the exception to this was the journalists who were present, including David Brindle of the Guardian co-facilitating a cafe conversation on building public confidence in social work, and Andy McNicoll of Community Care.

A number of social work academics took an active part, and the responses of two on the morning panel, Ray Jones and Peter Beresford to comments from the Chief Social Workers about their role have been reported elsewhere. It was also important to have academics representing JUCSWEC, the Association of Professors of Social Work, and UCU.

However, in social work there has always been an unfortunate separation of practice from  academia, and without the right sort of career progression available to encourage social workers to stay in practice (i.e. in social work!), social work practitioners have never had the voice and recognition which we need them to have. So I was particularly pleased that a number of social work practitioners took an active role and spoke on the day. I think the value of BASW developing local branches and networks was apparent here, as the roles held by Janet Foulds and Gavin Hutchison, chair of the Derbyshire branch and one of the founders of the Portsmouth network respectively, paved the way for their involvement in the summit.

David Thomson of BASW Council also spoke, and David, a practitioner from Scotland, is a tremendous advocate of the need for more practitioners to be involved in the governance of BASW.

Also from Scotland, Colin Turbett co-faciliated an afternoon group on developing and maintaining good social work practice, alongside Anna Gupta. Colin is one of those rare examples of practitioners - or close, as a first line manager - who has written social work books while in practice. Steve Rogowski is another who comes to mind, and - from virtually ancient history - Mike Simpkin who wrote Trapped Within Welfare in 1979. There must be more who have done so, please do get in touch and tell me of others!

There’s much else that could, and will, be said about the day, and, crucially, it now needs to lead to future action. What I’ve ended up highlighting here is the diversity of the day, and the involvement in it of social work practitioners and service users. For me, that was the most important part of it.


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