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Give social workers the toys to do their job

Campaign calls for councils to fund play materials for practitioners to use in direct work with children

Prof Ruch speaking at the BASW England event

Published by Professional Social Work magazine - 10 April 2019

It is “unacceptable” that social workers have to fund play materials for work with children out of their own pockets because many employers don’t provide any, an academic has said.

Speaking at BASW England’s 80:20 campaign conference in Birmingham, Gillian Ruch, professor of social work at the University of Sussex, highlighted results of a Twitter poll that found just 30 per cent of 151 respondents said they were provided play materials by their councils. She said the same demands to work without vital tools wouldn’t be made of other professions.

“If you were a doctor you wouldn’t be expected to be able to make people better without having access to medicines and drugs. If you were a school teacher you wouldn’t be expected to work without some kind of black board or white board,” she said.

“[Social workers] have boxes in their car boots with things they’ve had to put together themselves. Which is precisely why we asked whether their employer provided them with the materials because people were saying ‘we are paying for it ourselves’. That seems to me to be unacceptable.”

­­Prof Ruch is part of a campaign calling on all councils across England to plug the gap by providing ‘kitbags’ to their social workers. The bags are designed by Scottish education charity the International Futures Forum and contain a range of play resources, including finger puppets and play cards.

The kitbags were introduced in schools in Scotland in 2014 and are used by Scottish children’s charity Children 1st in their restorative practice work. Brighton council is piloting giving all its children’s social workers the resource and Prof Ruch’s university will be providing them to social work students on placement.

“We all know if we’re talking to a child of any age that appropriate resources for communicating with any child are necessary,” she said.

The project has been backed as a good way of enabling good relationship-based direct work by BASW England’s 80:20 campaign, which aims to help cut the paperwork and burdens that have left some some social workers spending just 20 per cent of their time on direct work.

Maris Stratulis, BASW England national director, said the campaign wanted to build a “national coalition” to drive change and push for the working cultures and conditions needed to support good social work.

“It’s really important that we build upon the good practice out there. We want to campaign and promote the importance of relationship-based social work and make sure you can get the time you need to do direct work with children and families.”

Stratulis said a dedicated 80:20 campaign section of the BASW website was in development which would allow social workers to share their stories of what helped in their work. The project was one of BASW’s campaigning priorities for the next year alongside wider working conditions work being led by BASW and the Social Workers Union, she added.

Look out for more coverage of the 80:20 conference in the next issue of PSW.

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.