The National Children and Adult Services (NCAS) Conference was held over three days earlier this month and here is a round-up of some of the news and views that BASW came across. It is by no means an exhaustive list, rather a wrap-up for members that couldn’t attend.
Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults, was a prominent speaker at NCAS and she rarely missed an opportunity to urge audiences to recognise transformative social work, which she said, happens best when the focus is on practice rather than processes. “It all comes down to relationship based work. Funding and systems matter, but knowledge and skills is the bedrock of good quality social care.”
Equality and diversity expert, Clenton Farquharson spoke with gravitas about a need for a “more citizen approach” to social care and had a message for NCAS to be “more human”. He also questioned the need for so many panels and the lack of transparency involved with them, before reminding the audience of the barriers he has as a wheelchair user with the fact that he arrived at Bournemouth train station at 6pm but had to wait two hours before an accessible taxi was available, forcing him to arrive late to an evening event.
Lord Gary Porter, Chair of the Local Government Association, kicked off the NCAS conference in a despondent mood, often straying from his script – and apologising to colleagues as he did – before giving up entirely and speaking straight from his heart. He gave stark warnings about diminishing services, worrying most about children’s and adult services, saying, “if we don’t get housing right then services are destined to fail – and the public will notice”. He also stressed that prevention is better than cure, and that the government “need to understand if we don’t provide a safe, secure upbringing for our children then it will cost us a lot more in the future”.
Staying on the theme of money, or rather funding, apparently the UK spends so little on adult social care as a percentage of GDP that we lag behind the likes of Luxembourg, Czech Republic and Ireland – and apparently spend less than a 1/3 of the Netherlands’ budget. These was the rather surprising stats provided by Margaret Wilcox, president of ADASS, who went on to state that “we are spending too little on adult social care and this urgently needs to be addressed in the autumn budget”.
In one of the many workshops available to attendees, Kevin Hyland OBE, the United Kingdom’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, led a presentation on the growing concern of modern day slavery and trafficking. Worryingly, we are one of the main destinations in the world for trafficked human beings forced into slavery. Current estimates of 13,000 people living in slavery in the UK are “old” said Hyland, and that true figure is “in the tens of thousands”. Asked about the role of social workers, he advised “it isn’t about reinvent the wheel”, but to stay diligent, as they, like all public-sector workers from housing to employment sectors, are more likely to come across trafficked slaves in their line of work and have a duty to report suspected cases. He finished by asking how many of the audience use nail salons and car hand-wash garages, to which I put my hand up as did my colleague. Turns out these businesses are very likely to be using trafficked workers and paying them a ‘slave wage’ – food for thought.
At an evening debate held by the Guardian newspaper’s Social Care Network, BASW CEO Ruth Allen sat on a four-person panel discussing leadership. On the issue of whether leaders needed to have an actual social work background, Allen said: “It's slightly odd that just as social work became a profession through a regulatory framework we also lost ground in terms of some of those most senior roles needing to be social workers, certainly in terms of directors.” Adding: “Maybe that's not a problem but I think it's worth thinking about. We need to think about how that social work capability and those social work values come into senior roles over the future.”
Speaking of leadership – who is leading the way? This is the question that was asked at the Principal Social Workers Network (PSW) fringe event following research gathered from over 141 Freedom of Information requests to local authorities. Findings showed that out of 757 local authority senior managers 90.4% were white British. PSW didn’t shy away from looking in the mirror, reporting that 87.3% of PSW’s were white British, with a span of ethnicity only covering three BME groups. Co-chair of PSW for adults, Mark Harvey hosted the event and challenged audience members to “look around the room” at the NCAS conference and see if it was diverse. In the event’s brochure, he goes further by asking the social care profession if “have we stopped looking at ourselves? Is it not time that we had an honest discussion about whether this is a question we must consider and how we do that in the most productive way possible”.