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BASW’s World Social Work Day 2019 celebration

This year’s theme is Human Relationships and our event explored why they are so important in social work

Over 100 social workers, academics and service users attended BASW’s celebratory event to mark World Social Work Day in London yesterday, as keynote speakers explored the official theme of ‘human relationships’ and workshops gave voice to service users. 

BASW chair Gerry Nosowska opened the event and gave an insightful anecdote of when she was tried to change the mind of a service user who had just finished reading a negative tabloid story of social work, before urging the room to tell the good stories of social work as “we need more stories of hope”.

The high commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda, Karen Mae-Hill, gave an international flavour of social work and human relationships with a stirring account of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The recent disaster caused $250m of damage to her homeland, ripping through 95% of the islands’ infrastructure.

It was the actions of ordinary citizens and neighbouring countries, who showed great courage, resilience and empathy to help rebuild the buildings and communities of Antigua and Barbuda.

Mae-Hill told of how 1500 people were evacuated to neighbouring Bermuda, with ordinary citizens using their own boats to transport people who had lost everything, and then housed them in their own homes – a great example of the power of human relationships.

David N Jones, Chair of BASW International Committee paid tribute to 'the quiet, determined work of hundreds of social workers, frequently working behind the scenes, who facilitate reconciliation between people and within communities and promote positive relationships in many situations of personal and social conflict'.  With thoughts going out to those affected by terrorism, violence and conflict around the world.

Professor Gillian Ruch followed and spoke about the great examples of human relationships in social work and beyond, and why they matter. She also introduced the Kitbag to the audience, which is a new tool that provides toys to children’s social workers to better communicate with very young children.

Lived experience

There was plenty of engagement with people with lived experiences, especially in the workshops, where we heard the good and not-so-good examples of human relationship building social work.

A person with lived experience from ATD Force – an international anti-poverty organisation – remembered when a social worker rang her and addressed her by her first name yet introduced herself by her surname. The message was clear - It would have been much better if it was done the other way around. It would have meant the relationship began on a better footing.

We also heard from service users who said they would sing the praises of good social work to families and friends. Whilst they knew that message didn’t always reach the social worker, they wanted to express on World Social Work Day that good social work was recognised and appreciated.

Government

We heard from chief social worker for adults, Lyn Romeo, via a recorded video,

Romeo talked of social work in a multi-disciplinary context and the importance of support and professional development of social workers to ensure the profession remains vital and valued. She also announced her fifth annual report is now available on the Department of Health and Social Care website.

Professors Gavin Davidson and John Devaney engaged the audience in raising important practice led questions on human relationships, especially in statutory settings and the clash between choices and resources.

There was a nod to the increasing difficulty social workers are experiencing when dispensing their duties against the constraining backdrop of austerity.

A graphic was shown that portrayed year on year rises in child referrals, protection plans and children in care contrasted with a 9% decrease in funding, critically highlighted this issue. And not to forget, that the impact of this number crunching is felt sharpest in the more deprived areas.

Mark Trewin, a social worker on secondment to the Office of Chief Social Worker, England, reminded the audience just how much power social workers have by recounting a scathing letter sent to the Department of Health and Social Care from a social worker.

It listed the ways services from this social worker’s local authority had been drastically reduced and impacted by cuts. It landed on his desk and found its way to the minister, whose team scrambled to find answers in reply to the social worker.

The letter caused a certain amount of alarm and put these problems on the department’s agenda. It showed, said Trewin, what can be achieved by simply “writing to your MP and Government”, and that we need to do more of this.

Capabilities Statement

Workshops followed, before the second major business of the day was announced: an update on the development of the Capabilities Statement for social work with people with learning disability.

BASW chief executive Ruth Allen and BASW England national director Maris Stratulis reflected on the progression of the Capabilities Statement. This highlighted a survey conducted by BASW England to inform current practice context for social work with people with learning disability.

The views of social workers and the views of people with learning disability were widely captured and fed into the development of the Capabilities Statement.

As a result, the priority areas for the refresh of the Capabilities Statement will centre on the knowledge of human rights in relation to practice, including an understanding of the distinct life course of people with lived experience and greater focus on a person centred assessment to support and care.

Finally, like all good celebrations, we finished with cake!