Much human suffering, conflict and disadvantage has its origins in human relationships, and all suffering conflict and disadvantage has profound implications for our personal and social relationships. Social work is one means by which society tries to alleviate suffering and disadvantage and mediate conflict. Meaningful and effective social work always entails the provision of an attuned, reflective, and professionally thoughtful relationship with service users, carers, networks, social work colleagues and colleagues from other disciplines – even and especially under conditions of stress and conflict. Good services are by definition services provided through, or in the context of, such relationships. However, modern social policy, professional training and service management frequently and systematically neglect these dimensions of social work. The Centre for Social Work Practice exists to challenge this neglect, and to promote the centrality of relationship based social work practice, management, training and policy. The philosophy of the Centre is that ethical social work practice is impossible in the absence of relationship based practice.
Relationship based practice takes many forms, because it is the central thread running through the wide spectrum of activities and responsibilities that make up social work. The provision of sound, basic therapeutic relationships as a part of ordinary front line service provision is just one such activity. The capacity to work effectively with adverse power dynamics in the lives of service users, but also in our own teams and organisations is another. Social work’s value commitments only have meaning when they are enacted through direct relationships. The ability to deliver, facilitate and receive reflective supervision and to integrate this with the demands of modern management systems is another. Working effectively within inter-professional systems, where competition, rivalry and hierarchical tensions can so easily arise, is equally a matter of relationships. Knowing how to look after ourselves in the face of the emotional and relational demands of the workplace is just as important – emotionally and physically depleted individuals and teams cannot provide good relationship based services.
Relationship based social work draws upon a variety of theoretical and practice resources. These include psychological, psycho-social, systemic, social pedagogical, and socio-political perspectives. But importantly, social work needs to rediscover greater confidence in developing its own body of theory for practice. Chapter 1 of Wilson et al (2008) represents a description of relationship based practice theory that reflects the Centre’s broad ethos.
The Centre for Social Work Practice recognises that many individuals and other organisations – training programmes, service users, service providers, research units – share these perspectives. Since there is no other national forum or voice dedicated to promoting the importance and centrality of relationship based social work, the need for our charity is clear.