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'Reclaiming social work'

The future of the profession depends on those in the profession, says England professional officer Wayne Reid

wayne reid reclaiming social work
Future of social work is in our hands, says Wayne Reid

Published by Professional Social Work - 13 January

It’s a new year with new and ongoing challenges and opportunities for social work. In England, 2020 will no doubt be an important year for the profession, with the incorporation of Social Work England to the landscape; legislative reform for adult social care and mental health provisions on the horizon; the green shoots of social work apprenticeships; the corrosive effects of austerity on society to name just a few.

Social work has most definitely reached an important juncture in its evolution and trajectory. And significant concerns remain.

As a social worker, I was incredulous at the recent cross-party election campaigns. The usual generous financial promises were made on education, the police and the NHS – but once again no specific mention of social work, which for me evokes ‘professional jealousy’.

Why is social work the so often-ignored elephant in the room in political debate while also being an easy scapegoat in the mainstream media? Why has ‘social care’ become an acceptable euphemism/synonym for social work?

I’ve now found myself being mildly pacified if ‘social care’ is mentioned - which of course is encapsulated and integral to social work - but surely there is a distinction, in law if nothing else?! This grey area reflects the miseducation and misperceptions of social work from people outside the profession.

Social work has become an enigmatic and hidden profession, with not enough ‘good news’ stories and pervasive unhelpful stereotypes. I sometimes wonder if ‘care’ is more palatable because of the connotations with the much-revered NHS.

However, as so-called ‘agents of the state’, working directly with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society when they most need it, it’s downright disrespectful and immoral for social work to be so routinely overlooked in such significant political arenas.

On another issue, why is social work never regarded as an emergency service, when various emergency social work roles exist? I’ve undertaken these roles myself - working with children and families; foster carers and young offenders out of hours - often when people are most dependent on services. This cloak of invisibility would erode the professional confidence and identity of any professional group and we shouldn’t allow it to undermine social work.

The complexity of modern social work is wide-ranging, and the various intricacies include genericism versus specialisation; proportionate accountability versus blame culture; privatisation versus shrinking local authority budgets; traditional academic training versus fast-track programmes – the list is endless.

There is no easy way to navigate these tensions, and they will require delicate and skilled leadership from those in power. However, a fundamental principle must be to galvanise the profession through reunification where possible – including the re-amalgamation of mental health and youth justice. Whatever happened to the idea of ‘reserved tasks’ that only social workers can do? 

We are skilled, versatile practitioners, trained using evidence-based methods, working collaboratively in challenging circumstances to meet the holistic needs of different service-users. Give us the recognition we deserve!

There remains a role for reclaiming social work (and re-educating the public) by promoting the profession in a positive light alongside other core statutory services delivering emergency, preventative, crisis intervention and duty-bound community services.

BASW is an essential ingredient in the glue that holds the broad church of social work together. We promote positive media narratives and give social workers a platform to have a voice. All the more reason to join us this year and involve yourself in our range of local, regional and national activities. 

Let your voice be heard and stay informed!

The future of social work and its direction of travel depends enormously on ALL students, practitioners, managers, academics, retired members and service-users. We need to make a stand NOW to shape our professional identity and ultimately protect the evolution of social work.

For more information about BASW England’s PPEGs, branches, campaigns or to become a BASW England Ambassador please contact me at wayne.reid@basw.co.uk

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.