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Looking back over the BASW Cymru conference 2017

I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on the annual BASW Cymru Conference which was held this year, in Cardiff, on the 7th June.

The theme of this year’s Conference was the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) (SSWb(W)) Act 2014 – ‘What’s working well and what needs to change?’ The Act has been implemented for just over a year and it’s the first Wales-specific, social care legislation. Significantly, the Act marks a divergence from social care legislation in England.

Rebecca Evans – Minister for Social Services and Public Health, opened our Conference. BASW Cymru enjoys close dialogue with the Assembly Government in Wales and the Minister asked for feedback following the Conference.

BASW Cymru also enjoys a long and valuable relationship with our Regulator in Wales – Social Care Wales. We were grateful that Ian Thomas – workforce development manager, gave us an overview of current changes and future developments, for social work and social care in Wales.

Professor Luke Clements was invited to deliver the key-note speech - partly because of his long and well-respected relationship with social workers and carers in Wales, and partly because of his depth of understanding of the new Act – no mean feat!

Professor Clements delivered a powerful and critical commentary on the Act, one in which he emphasised the role of BASW Cymru, as an independent organisation, to ‘speak truth to the Welsh Government: to ‘tell it how it is’. Professor Clements attributes many of the problems inherent within the legislation to a lack of independent scrutiny. These problems have become increasingly evident to social workers trying to work within the new legislative framework, also to individuals, families and carers on the receiving end of the changes.

Professor Clements didn’t just focus on the perceived flaws within the legislation – after all, we need hope that we can affect change, and he offered solutions too. Some of those include: a simplification of the overly complicated eligibility regulations; a reduction of the bureaucratic overload on social workers, so they have the time to do what they came into social work to do - support people; minimising organisational change; targeting resources at those most in need; strengthening social enterprises; and engagements in genuine dialogues between Welsh Government and truly independent organisations – such as BASW Cymru.

Professor Clements also commented on the challenges of trying to implement such significant legislation at a time of continued austerity. This accords with BASW’s campaign to keep attention focused on the impact of continued austerity on those who use services.

The Boot Out Austerity 100 mile walk from Birmingham to Liverpool was undertaken to keep the spotlight firmly on austerity, and maintained a long tradition of activism in social work. At this year’s annual Conference, we were supported by four of the 7-day walkers – Guy Shennan, current Chair of BASW Council; John Dudley, Chair of Finance and Human Resources Committee and Angi Naylor, Social Workers Union Executive and composer of one of the Boot Out Austerity anthems!

Guy spoke briefly about the walk, giving a real sense of the people we met along the way, the morning rallies, the welcome we received from diverse groups and the evening events. Then, in true #bootoutausterity fashion, we sang one of our anthems, which included an additional verse (written by the wonderfully talented Angi Naylor) to convey respect and solidarity to the Swansea walkers, who walked one day in support of us.

The SSWb(W) Act has been drafted, in many ways, as a response to continued austerity measures. The legislation places people at the centre of decision-making about their well-being, places carers on an equal status with those they care for, focuses on prevention, and places a duty on services to work collaboratively. Standing alongside those who use services, and finding solutions together, are core social work values and skills. We were therefore, delighted to welcome Nick Andrews, from the Wales School for Social Care Research, to talk about ‘Co-productive partnerships’, which he did in his uniquely warm and engaging style. Nick asked us to think about words - how we interpret them, what they mean, whether we’re sharing a common language. This is vitally important as ‘what matters conversations' are at the heart of the SSWb(W) Act. We must be sure that we are all speaking the same language if we are to engage in co-production and not car-production.

Th early indications post-implementation are that those who use services, and social workers trying to work within the legislation, are struggling to understand what ‘personal wellbeing outcomes’ and ‘what matters conversations' really mean. The spirit of co-production is inherent within the Act:

‘3.58 …Obviously good quality assessment is vital, but it has come to dominate services. We want to see social work and the relationship with the social worker as a means of enabling people to make the changes they need in their lives. We believe that the concept of “care management” is outmoded - conveying a sense of control by the service, not by the citizen. We know that social workers are not simply the deliverers of pre-determined care, but co-creators of the support that people need’ (Welsh Government, 2011)

 

As social work is relationship-based, is there something about the training, guidance and codes of practice that’s acting as a barrier to doing what is really at the heart of our practice? This is what we need to know, and at BASW Cymru, as a truly independent voice, we need to be part of finding this out, so we can support social workers in being confident to practise relationship-based social work.

I am only too aware that I haven’t thanked everyone who contributed to our day, and would like to take this opportunity now to thank the consultant social workers and therapists (including our own acting country manager – Carol Davies) for doing such a wonderful job.

It was an excellent Conference, evidenced in some great feedback, which happened because of the dedication and hard work of the outstanding BASW Cymru Committee As this was my first experience of organising any sort of a Conference I am indebted to their guidance and wisdom.

The two keynote presentations are available on the BASW website at  https://basw.co.uk/

Please look out for, and complete, our survey on social workers experience of implementing the SSWb(W) Act 2014.

 

Allison Hulmes

Professional Officer, BASW Cymru