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BASW England’s 80-20 Campaign conference review

Over 70 social workers representing 15 local authorities saw the latest developments from the campaign, including new tools and models of best practice

On Thursday 4th April, in Birmingham, BASW England held its first conference for its 80-20 Campaign, in partnership with the University of Sussex.

Over 90 social workers attended the event, representing Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Newham, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Bradford, Telford, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Brighton, Islington (borough of London), Staffordshire, Rotherham and Bexley (borough of London).

Also, in attendance were academics, service users and people with lived experience.

BASW England national director Maris Stratulis kicked off the event with a call for more relationship-based practice: “All good social work is dependent on relationships – and the strength of social worker’s relationships with service users determines the outcomes. Social work is a human service and is most likely to achieve its aims through building collaborative and constructive relationships with people.”

She then gave an overview of the work done so far, namely research and building awareness through media coverage of the issue.

This includes our survey report of 350 social workers that confirmed and built on existing research showing social workers are spending only 20% of their time on direct practice with children and families, but 80% of their time doing paperwork.

“We are campaigning to re-shift the pressures on social workers from admin and bureaucracy to putting relationships at the heart of what we do,” said Stratulis.

Social workers in the room recognised these pressures, with quotes like “We need to streamline paperwork, I write the same thing 10 times”, and “You need to see a child every day at the beginning to build rapport, not a statutory deadline of once in four weeks”, bouncing around the tables.

Stratulis then highlighted the latest stage of the campaign, which is to act as a conduit for new tools and models of good relationship-based practice to be shared across the country.

“We want 80-20 to be a national coalition that takes its campaign messages into discussions across the country in social work management meetings, staff meetings and away days.”

Next up was Gillian Ruch, professor of social work at the University of Sussex, to introduce the Talking and Listening to Children (TLC) project and unveil a new tool for children social workers – the Kitbag.

The project engaged with social workers interacting with children and asked pertinent questions through social media about children’s social workers and the resources they had to do their job.

Over 70% of these frontline practitioners said their local authority had no resources or tools to aid them to engage effectively with children.

Ruch and Dr Margaret Hannah, Director of Health Programmes at International Futures Forum, explained and then demonstrated Kitbag, which is essentially a ‘cloth bag and ribbon’ containing toys and crafts to help children express themselves better to social workers.

“Kitbag is about opening up a physical space for children to be safe and confidential,” said Hannah. 

Joanie Robins from Children 1st helped design Kitbag, which contains tools and toys such as calming oil, presence cards, one-minute timer, feelings cards, a talking stick and puppets.

Workshops followed, including a panel discussion from the Family Rights Group, which provided four parents – panel experts by experience – who told their moving individual stories about using services but being ignored and left out of decision making involving their children.

The panel unveiled a co-produced Charter listing five key considerations for social workers during first contact with parents. More on this can be read here.

The audience then got to see an uplifting model of best practice from Tom Stibbs the principal social worker at Brighton local authority.

Stibbs told of how in 2014 the department “wasn’t working very well”. Social workers and service users were agreeing on this point.

He then demonstrated how by pivoting Brighton’s way of working towards relationship-based practice, the department has vastly improved by nearly every metric.

Compliments from service users has increased, complaints have decreased, morale of staff is high (as Ofsted reported in 2018), recruitment and retention are stable with no agency workers currently working at Brighton.

“This was done with no real extra resources or money. We just rebooted ourselves and the way we wanted to work,” says Stibbs.

More information on Brighton’s transformation can be found here.