Skip to main content

BASW Blog: Lewis Roberts reflects on recent Westminster Education Forum panel appearance

The panel discussed lessons learned during Covid-19 for improving child safeguarding and explored the future of virtual social work - a fantastic opportunity to ensure the social work voice and experience is shared with policymakers.

BASW vice chair Lewis Roberts speaks at Westminster Education Forum policy conference

It was a privilege to have the opportunity to represent BASW at the recent Westminster Education Forum Policy Conference on Child Protection in England, where I sat on a panel with several senior social work colleagues, as well as representatives from education and the legal profession. 

The focus of the panel session was to consider lessons learned during Covid-19 for improving child safeguarding and to explore the future of virtual social work - a fantastic opportunity to ensure the social work voice and experience is shared with policymakers. 

Despite challenges, meaningful and effective relationships have been developed

Panel member Dr Laura Kelly provided a valuable summary from the Child Protection and Social Distancing research group based at the University of Birmingham. 

Dr Kelly highlighted 12 key lessons for practice and noted that despite the many challenges that social workers have faced during Covid-19, meaningful and effective relationships were still been developed with children and families, some good outcomes have been achieved and that digital working should be seen as an “expanded set of techniques for social workers”. 

Services need to be 'brave and bold' post-pandemic

Emma Ford, Head of Safeguarding at Salford City Council also discussed the opportunities available within children and family services to learn from practice during Covid-19. 

Emma talked with passion about how services can be "brave and bold to build on those things that did actually work better for children and families during the pandemic” and that during Covid-19 "families have [displayed] incredible resilience that we probably didn’t give them credit for before”.

Emma rightly stressed that services need to do better at empowering families and utilising their strengths.

Virtual conferences and meetings have 'no place' in work with children and families

William Ham, Solicitor and Director of Greens Solicitors Ltd discussed the difficulties within the family courts. "The system is only as good as the technology allows it to be… many parents have struggled sometimes with the technological support, they don’t always have iPads, they don’t always have, even smartphones that are able to communicate on a video platform."

Primary School Headteacher Alan Garnett was clear in his views that virtual conferences and meetings have no place in work with children and families and he called for an end to terms like ‘agile service delivery’, noting that "even David Brent would be embarrassed with that management jargon."

Lewis shares the experiences of BASW members during the pandemic

As a children and family social worker, I wanted to share with delegates the everyday reality of social work practice during Covid-19. There is undoubted opportunity to develop new ways of thinking and delivering services post-pandemic, but we cannot discuss these without first acknowledging the suffering of many within our communities - and recognising the fatigue and strain within the social work workforce. 

In a recent survey BASW received thousands of responses from social workers who shared their experiences of practicing social work during Covid-19. Social workers informed us that many of the workplace challenges that existed pre-pandemic have remained; indeed for many social workers practice has become more challenging. 

58% of social work respondents agreed that working during Covid-19 has negatively impacted on their mental health; 71% agreed that the Covid-19 crisis had negatively impacted on workplace morale and 68% agreed that working from home during the Covid-19 crisis had made it more difficult to “switch-off”. 

Many social workers have struggled with the trauma of working through a pandemic and it will take time for the workforce to recover. BASW members have told us that life for many children and families has also got harder and that more families have been plunged into deep poverty. Foodbank use has exploded, with more children and families living in or close to destitution. Social workers are having to provide a lot more practical support to children and families to ensure that the very basic needs are being met. 

Increased use of digital is here to stay - but we need to address the challenges it presents to social work practice

BASW members reported some positive aspects to digital and remote working. We heard from members describing innovations and that some social workers have been able to maintain more informal contact with children and families, undertaking regular phone and video check-ins. Social workers have adapted quickly and demonstrated resilience and should be commended. 

BASW understands that increased use of technology is here to stay - and that flexible approaches to working can benefit some and will continue to work with partner organisations to advocate for social workers and ensure that best practice is developed. 

However, many members indicated that virtual social work and remote working has also been a real challenge. 70% of survey respondents agreed that they have encountered more difficulties in communicating with children and families because of the digital exclusion many face. 

We must be clear that social workers often work with and alongside marginalised people and digital technology is not always available and equitable. 

Moreover, social workers are not always provided with fit-for-purpose technology and connectivity can remain a challenge when working remotely. We know that undertaking sensitive work with children and families is not always appropriate over video calls and that social workers need time and space to reflect and decompress. 

Whether face-to-face or digital, good social work can only take place when working conditions allow. We must continue to fight for manageable caseloads, access to high-quality supervision and service funding that meets the needs of the communities in which social workers practice. 

Social work is a human vocation and building and developing relationships should be central to everything we do. Some aspects of life quite simply require face-to-face interaction. 

Children and family social work: 12 actions for change

BASW's vision for children and family social work outlines 12 actions for change and are highly pertinent when thinking about social work post-pandemic. 

We must get better at listening to those within our communities who have suffered most during the pandemic - often people with the fewest resources. Those with lived experience of social work services must be front-and-centre as we learn, recover and reform services.