Published 28 May 2020 -  view the vlog here. 

Ruth – Hello Im Ruth Allen, Im the CEO BASW, welcome to my vlog and today I am delighted to be speaking with Julia Ross – hello Julia

Julia – hello Ruth good to be here!

Ruth – Julia has been a BASW member since finishing her generic training between 1970 and 1972 after an initial career in nursing. She is now on BASW Council.  She has had a long career as a social worker in London and Scotland, went into management and has held senior roles including joint Director of social services and CEO of a PCT within the Department of Health. For the last 9 years she has been working social work and the digital field. 

She is joining me to share some of her experiences and reflections on social work in England since the 1970s and coming up to date with how those professional roots have informed her career and who and what social work is today.  

The particular reason for this session is it is the first of a series of vlogs I am doing over the next month exploring our history, our present and our future as part of BASW’s 50th birthday celebrations in June. 

Do sign up to our birthday festival online sessions on 22nd and 23rd of June and we are fundraising for 3 charities SWBT, Child Poverty Action Group and ATD Fourth World – a service user and right organisation in the UK and internationally 

Today 29th May - is a related birthday – it is 50 years since the enactment of the Local Authority Social Services Act – the LSSA – in England and Wales.  This is still in force although amended in England but there is now devolved legislation in Wales and we will explore the different laws there and in Scotland and NI in another vlog. 

That legislation in England & Wales in 1970 created unified social services departments integrating various local government welfare services with a central role for generic social workers - a unified profession created out of the disparate strands of specialist social work that had gone before. And with this came the consolidation of one profession training.

The LSSA and unified social work was based on the 1968  Seebohm report, which had recommended creation of a community based and family-oriented service…. available to all. This new department will, we believe, reach far beyond the discovery and rescue of social casualties, it will enable the greatest possible number of individuals to act reciprocally, giving and receiving service for the wellbeing of the community’. So, a real community and empowerment focus.

BASW was created on 9th June to represent this unified profession through bringing together 7 of 8 representative bodies for social workers - the Association of Social Workers, the Association of Family Caseworkers, the Association of Moral Welfare Workers (‘moral welfare’ was in large part work with unmarried mothers), the Association of Child Care Officers, the Society of Mental Welfare Officers, the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers, the Institute of Medical Social Workers. The one that didn’t join was the National Association of Probation Officers which is interesting considering what has happened to probation particularly in England.  

This new generic social work in local authorities was to be focused on holistic work with families and individuals of all ages within communities and was set up in contrast to the health service – and in part as a means of overseeing and being a rights based check and balance to the institutionalising and controlling elements of parts of health care – so rather than being focused on diagnosis, deficits and institutions the new social work and social services departments were intended to be focused on citizenship, rights, communities and on prevention – concepts that sound really modern and important now.  And similar to what we are wrestling with now

A lot has happened since then! But with that as a backdrop, Julia I come to you and would like to start by asking you about how you came into social work in the early 1970s, into this context -  and what it was like?

Julia – thank you Ruth it was a really exciting time. I trained as a nurse in St Thomas’ London after ¾ years I felt I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do.  A short story of someone I was working with at the time stuck in my memory as to why I wanted to change.  ill call her Maggie but that was not her real name.  

Maggie came in to one of the women’s wards, she came from Lambeth, with a nasty abscess and we drained it gave antibiotics and rested her.  I thought she was in her 40s with her mom and  3 children all under 5.  Clearly Grannie was looking after the children.  Maggie was discharged and when home.

Three weeks later she was back in again with same abscess same place and same problems.  This time Granny didn’t come in with them and her children.  She said that her children were in care.  I was so shocked, one that we didn’t know and two that we sent her back to a situation where her health deteriorated again and then her family broke down.  At that time I was a nurse not at Social Worker It just stuck with me.  Maggie was actually in her 20s.  

That is in part what disillusioned me about nursing. it’s a wonderful profession but it cant achieve everything and Social work does that other bit which is about working with whole people and families.  

This is what drove me into social work to make me retrain and join London Borough Hammersmith and Fulham in 1972 when Peter Weston was the CEO.  It was all a long time ago!

Ruth  - the issues are current aren’t they and the way social work relates to other professions as well is captured in that story and our roles too. 

 Ruth – One of the key aims of the legislation and the creation of social services was to have social workers working generically – id be interested to hear your comments on that aspect and also working in and with communities.  That was the drive want is.

Julie – Yes that’s right, that’s what it was all about and what really made it so exciting.  When I joined Hammersmith and Fulham it was a brilliant place to work.  I joined as an unqualified SW and they sent me away on training, they also gave me an extra year – a day a week- to train at the Tavistock which was then known as the Institute of family and group analysis and I learnt family therapy and group working which was a wonderful opportunity.  But the bit you’re describing about communities is so important.  I arrived in H&F it was like coming to the moon!  There were two departments: Children and families who were largely qualified SW and then there was the welfare, they were largely unqualified.  And then there was mental health, there were PSW’s -psychiatric social workers- and I was supervised by a PSW which was brilliant.  When in training she used to give me case work and then continuous recording. that took for ever but I learnt so much from it.

So what then happened then we created community intake teams that did short term work.  Ive brought a book with me that I have read a lot.  Brief and extended case work by REID William, SHYNE Ann; it was my bible and that is how we worked together as an intake team – with our different specialities we allocated cases as they came along and then we went out into the community.

The joyous thing about the community was that there was such a strong network of voluntary orgs, there was the salvation army, and a whole range of other that did practical things that as social workers we didn’t do then but we learnt together as a team.  it was a really good feeling and a good time to join.

Ruth – you were talking earlier about your identity as a SW, you really do identify as a generic SW and of course since that time the profession especially in England has come a very long way from that notion, although at BASW we absolutely see SW as a unified profession.  We have largely unified training still across the UK, so I wondered about your thoughts on the generic role and more recently on specialisms in more recent times.

Julia – Yes, Im sorry that some changes that were made and we moved away from what SW is so good at because the basic philosophy and values are still there and shared.  Its about working in an integrated health and social care way because for me that was what was important.  I saw people as whole people, I saw systems as whole systems – always have done always will do.  And yes some home post LSSE we have lost that and created these much more individual departments. 

I was in Barking and Dagenham as Dir Social Services there and CEO of the PCT one of the first in the country doing it jointly when Margaret Hodge was minister for children.  She made that very big decision to take children’s social care out of social services and but it within education.  That happened in most parts of the country. 

I thought that might be really exciting because families could go to one place to get their whole needs etc but it never worked out like that.  what it did was separate the professions out, it wasn’t the intentions but we need to work together to resolve that so that we don’t have the separation within families as they age.

I did start as a generic social worker but I was also one of the first child protection SWs in the country and that was a really big learning because I couldn’t do that on my own, I career grade child protection worker and served on the select committee for violence in families as an advisor for a while.  I didn’t really feel I was working with just the children and families that needed protecting I still felt I was working with the whole family- and that’s the way I treated it because grandparents, aunts, uncles and other members of the family have their problems too that contribute to what’s happening to the children and also contribute to how the children can be supported, helped, nurtured within an extended family.  I think some of these divisions are therefore quite forced, they are not real to me and I don’t think they are to families either. Why would you need to see a different social worker because your granny needs to go into a home? I don’t know why that would make sense.

it’s the bit about joining up with health that is really important too.  When I began I always worked with health visitor, when in hospital social worker I always worked with the health visitor teams  to make sure children could be returned to their families etc.

that happens now but the division between teams seems to have grown larger and im not sure why.

Ruth – We still have similar issues around distinctions between different professions and how SW works with other professions and that seems key.  I was also wondering; you had a role as Dir Social services and PCT. What do you think are the challenges for senior leaders to support social workers to be more holistic and overcome some of the boundaries you mentioned and create whole services given how service structures are now set up.

What is that like if you are a director or manger who is trying to create services for families and individuals in communities?


Julia - I think its all about relationships because, in some areas of the country its been achieved very well.  You get leaders at the top and also at the front line too.  If you have a community of GPs and SW who value each other and have relationships it happens because both know it is important, they are putting the person – service user, client, patient, whatever.   centre.  its about single accountability to one person or family from all the professions.  So it works incredibly well in some areas despite the structures and sometimes the senior leadership – but usually because of it as well. That leadership has to be professionally led, and sometimes we forget that. 

I’m very pleased to be part of BASW and can see BASW moving from strength to strength.  If we can forge that leadership of social work through PSW’s and leaders at all levels and the potential for more understanding by health professionals – we can both contribute to improve lives and wellbeing. 


Ruth – Advocating the role of SW with our partners within health or education is a crucial issue and BASW has a really important part to play in that.  I was also interested to hear what you were saying there about that move to personalisation.  Professionals are there for the needs, the wishes and the motivations of people that want to live their lives with support who have the right to have that support.

Ruth - You worked for some time leading the department for health leading the care services and health partnership which had personalisation at the heart of its intention. We have heard about your passion for a move towards personalisation, is there anything you would like to say about that shift over the years in SW?

Julia – The Care services improvement partnership (CSIP) was led by Richard Humphries a former colleague of mine who is now with Kings Fund. I ran the social care programme and we had projects on personalisation.  And a huge workstream on personal budgets. that work was led by Martin Routledge  - it was such a wonderful opportunity to do things differently – it was about personalising what people could do, what was their choice etc. Co-producing.  But it hasn’t worked as well as it could have.  I think we can rescue that. Particularly the whole issue of social prescribing because that is what it is, part of the problem is that has been taken on by health and social work doesn’t see itself as the owner anymore.  And yet it was a natural progression of using personal budgets – I would like to see that happening in the future. 

I would like to see health budgets become health and social care budgets.  that would be a wonderful way to help solve some of the problems around funding continuing and care etc.  personal budgets worked well with leaning disability and mental health issues.  and less well for older people.  that is a missed opportunity that we could probably recover, it would be good to see. 

Ruth – yes absolutely.  I guess at the heart of personal budgets and direct payment has been about choice and control.  However the money moves around and transactions made the key is how people have control and can choose the support they need and want.  that is really crucial.

I was interested in the point you made there about older people and at the moment we are dealing with Covid situation and really vast numbers of our older generations have been exposed and not protected from the virus in care homes.  Care homes have their place but it has shone a light on how do we support older people in a personalised way that is safe and humane and about them as people.  That is a narrative that will come out of this situation and will be informing those of us who are professionals and care about the quality of care. 

Ruth – I also wanted to ask you about your interest in digital, and digital futures. You have been doing a lot in that area.  Do you want to say something about you see that fitting into the story of social work, your story of social work over 50 years.

Julia – You are aware that BASW took a leading part in the digitalisation of social work and that is a first step in a huge new movement. 

I worked of  8 years on data analytics creating what I think is important which is integrated care pathways for whole groups of people – cohorts of groups and families, children, looking at older people – how they go into hospital, what the costs are, the activities, pathways of getting there. 

What we could do at BASW is make better use of data – better use of an evidence base.  We tend not to lock into it in terms of reading the data and Im sure BASW will help lead on that in the future.

Ill never forget what a service user / expert said in one of the digital workshops – it was a young man of 16, he said you mustn’t talk about sending emails – I have a digital self.  This is me, you must relate to my digital self.  I think we ignore that at our peril. 

Ruth – Julia thank you I’m going to draw it to a close there.  It was really fascinating and great to move through so many stages of social work in your career.  and to reflect on some of these really important messages in what was an idealism in the early 70s I think.   But the ideas were very powerful, and very important and some of them come through in our same preoccupations around rights, choice, welfare, social approaches, family and community, as well as individuals.  And the throughs on the current priorities and future for social work practice, how we practice and our digital selves – as we are evidencing right now! is important.

Ruth -We have been learning over the last couple of months - accelerating our learning around that.  I guess we are also learning what we are missing in terms of not being able to be in the same room as each other which is also fundamental to Sw and the celebration of the human spirit and human relations in life.  thank you so much thank you for your support for BASW.  great to have you on Council and to join me today

I will be doing more of this over the next few weeks -exploring different aspects of the 50 years of BASW and social work.

Thank you very much thank you and goodbye Julia!

Julia – thank you very much and good bye!