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Cut to pieces – why do we persevere with local authorities when they can provide such an unsatisfactory milieu for social work? – Opinion piece by: Hilton Dawson @BASW_UK

This is an opinion piece by Hilton Dawson (@HiltonDawson) the CEO of British Association of Social Workers  @BASW_UK.

Join @SWSCmedia debate with Hilton Dawson Tuesday (26-June-2012) at 8:00 PM UK. / 3:00 PM (New York) & share your views.

It’s a month now since BASW published its ‘State of Social Work ‘ report.

Even if you’re not a BASW member you must have heard of it – on BBC Breakfast and followed up in the national news all day, featuring in more than 250  radio stations and newspapers it set blazing headlines  – of danger to children and vulnerable adults, of bullying and overwork.

No-one denied it – well apart from some presenter on Radio London who suggested that social workers are abusing their power -‘ because the Government are so determined to avoid another Baby P that all you have to do is cry ‘ child protection’ and resources unfairly fall into your hands !’

After facing that one at 6am no-one else denied it. Not least Tim Loughton who both on TV and in a subsequent letter to BASW has tried to absolve himself with the claim that the Government recognised all these problems in their response to Munro and it is the responsibility of local authorities to make the best use of their resources.

On the whole the response of local authorities has been very limited. All of 16, barely 10% of the 152 to whom we sent our report responded, some merely to acknowledge it.Others wrote to question the validity of a report based on 1100 responses and to tell us that actually they are doing well and about to implement the SWRB recommendations.

However, most respondents  provided thoughtful and positive information with action plans on supervision and CPD, an Academy for newly qualified social workers, an increase in social work posts, no requirement that unqualified workers undertake the roles of qualified social workers, revised supervision policy and review of back office services. I was delighted to hear of streamlined processes and simplified paperwork, of recording information only once and removing barriers to admin support, of the recruitment of more social workers and unchanged eligibility criteria, of the significant commitments that a handful of local authorities expressed to serving the needs of their population by supporting social work well.

No-one of course is required to respond to a letter from BASW.

Local authorities are beset by 27% cuts in the current financial year, on top of £3.5 billion cuts since 2010 with no respite in sight. Many local authorities who did not respond to our survey will be doing their level best to cope with a strategy of passing cuts from central to local government and leaving them to fight it out. Many will be setting up collaborative or shared services, maximising income, disposing of assets.

No doubt by tapping into existing synergies there’ll be improvements in some services, but, inevitably there’ll also be lost services. So I wonder how the 90% who have not yet responded to BASW will fare in this situation? How will their services be affected? And How many of them  will be protecting social work and social workers?

Aside from my role as the CEO of BASW I emphasise social work and social workers since they play such an important role in our society and in the protection of those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged in our society.

Faced with the damning evidence of ‘ this job seems only to be possible if you sacrifice your own health and well being ‘ ,’it is another Serious Case Review waiting to happen’ , ‘ ridiculous caseloads’ and of  ‘ 82% believe lives could be put at risk’  shouldn’t there be more collaboration between local authorities and social workers/BASW?

Of how seriously Local Authorities take this matter shows how much they are concerned about their own staff and the availability and quality of their own services.

Another headline story is relevant here.

Witness the appalling revelations of the sexual exploitation of children in what passes for residential care, underpinned by the more pervasive scandal of the wholesale retreat from children’s home provision. The Care System already inadequate for decades has lost a vital element – consigning children to the streets or to a prison system at 15.

Can we really be confident that social work and services are safe in the current context

This view I know is anathema to many social workers.

Elements of the BASW Social Work Bill delivered to David Cameron in the first months of the Coalition Government called for professional supervision of social workers independent of local government line management. We sought to have budgets for social work  identified and placed in the hands of local people and local communities rather than being subject to the risk of being raided by local authorities. However, we were told that this was undemocratic – as if the pathetic turnouts for elections and complete lack of public scrutiny of various government decisions are somehow justifiable. I  was described as an arch exponent of ‘privatisation’ when I actually don’t care who provides social work. I just believe that social work should be good.

I believe that social work is the most important profession and if supported, good social work can help people transform their lives.

Speaking recently to a senior trade union official who is also a registered social worker it became apparent that he literally could not conceive of social work being provided outside of the structures of the public sector, indeed of the local state. I believe the exact opposite.

Even when social work is charged with the most fundamental duties to protect society’s most vulnerable members I do not see why the creative, intuitive craft that is our profession is best run by the local Council. I don’t understand why anyone should necessarily believe that the skills of human communication embodied in our work,the use of our own selves in working with other human beings is the exclusive province of local authorities. Notwithstanding the important role of the local authorities, I believe that the private/independent practice of social work profession should be encouraged and supported.

Of course there are excellent people working in local authority services and good things happen there. However, I would argue that much of work in local Councils takes place in spite of the complexities of, and at times conflicts between, various policies  and because of the professionalism and dedication of social workers. whisper it, against the deeply cherished beliefs of many in our political “leadership” who themselves don’t understand what social workers do.

I think that social work is much too joyous and  important to be constrained by those who aren’t in sympathy and don’t understand it. Our profession is all about the myriad of possibilities for people and therefore it’s our duty as social workers to test it out in collectives run by the people we serve and their communities. In social enterprise and yes in private practice where we can allow our skills and what we believe to be important to be challenged in the market place. I believe this will bring about a new public and private partnership and alleviate the current challenges faced by Local Authorities.

I want to see new models of public financing which move far beyond the current limitations of personalisation to put real money, real power in people’s hands but this will only happen when people are supported by the real social work of advocacy, enabling and empowerment

Social Work is a great profession.

When will we have the courage to stop politics from failing it ?

And When will we make it truly our own ?

Hilton Dawson (@HiltonDawson) is the CEO of British Association of Social Workers  @BASW_UK.

Join @SWSCmedia debate with Hilton Dawson Tuesday (26-June-2012) at 8:00 PM UK. / 3:00 PM (New York) & share your views.



2 thoughts on “Cut to pieces – why do we persevere with local authorities when they can provide such an unsatisfactory milieu for social work? – Opinion piece by: Hilton Dawson @BASW_UK

  1. Reblogged this.

    Posted by towardchange | June 26, 2012, 2:13 am
  2. Hi Hilton,
    Thank you for this piece. I understand the frustration and constraints of social work being within local government bureaucracies but would be unhappy to see a total divorce between individual and family social work (as in clinical practice in the States) and local and national social policy development as well as the separation from local and national planning that impacts on us all. It is more difficult to see how this will be achieved with a wide diversity of private and voluntary providers. Planning for real exercises some years ago on a new estate were essential to ensure social, heath and educational faculties were thought about just as hard as drains, roads and housing. Social workers were central to bringing the community together with everyone else.

    Posted by Jackie Rafferty | June 26, 2012, 4:32 pm

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