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The magnificent seven characteristics of social work

Wales’ Minister for Health and Social Services and former social worker Mark Drakeford outlined what he believes are the key characteristics of social work at BASW Cymru Social Work Awards ceremony:


1) Social work is a profession characterised by a determination to get alongside the vulnerable individuals and families it works with.
2) It is a profession that understands the structural forces that so often shape people’s lives. The social in social work is there for a reason. It is there because social work understands the individual dilemmas and distresses we see in people’s lives are not there because of some personality trait; they are there because so often structural forces have shaped the opportunities or lack of opportunities these people have faced.
3) We respond to those needs in a genuinely non-judgmental way. Almost all those who come into contact with social work have lived lives in which the conditions that affect them lead to be judged by other people. Whether they have a mental health condition, an issue of substance misuse, they struggle to look after their children or they find themselves in old age unable to look after themselves in the way they would like to, all of these are conditions which, in our society, bring the attention of other people to your door and it is often of the fiercely judgmental kind.
4) Social work needs to be different to that. It needs to be focused on the strengths and assets of people, not the problems they have. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has assets even when they are submerged and frustrated. The job of social workers is to find those strengths and bring them to the surface.
5) Social work is always infused with a sense of optimism about the chance of improvement. However gradual, however fragile, even in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances, if we don’t believe things can get better for the people we work with how can we expect them to invest in the efforts that they need to make?
6) It ought to be a condition of social work that it acts wherever possible to support families in their efforts to look after their own children rather than removing their children from those efforts. And that it is dedicated to promoting independence among older people rather than creating dependency.
7) To do that, social work needs to be reconnected to the principles that determine advocacy which were hammered out in some of the darker days of social work in the 1980s. Those principles position social workers very clearly as brokers in the system, working with other services alongside, and speaking up for, their users. We need to create relationships of equality with people who use services; where we recognise what we do and also the expertise of those people who use services. We look at the things we provide and the things individuals provide and by combining them we get the best outcomes of all.