HAPPY WORLD SOCIAL WORK DAY!
Promoting the relationship based social work practice community and the environments that sustain it.
This year the theme for world social work day is promoting community and environmental sustainability. These interconnected themes have great resonance for us at CfSWP as we want to promote and sustain our community of relationship based practitioners, and support and develop the kinds of environments that are the most conducive for relationship based practice across the UK. Right now, while recognizing that social work in all UK nations is under immense pressure, we are particularly concerned about the social work education, policy and practice contexts in England.
Promoting community – the Children and Social Work Bill and the role of the Chief Social Worker. The English social work community recently successfully challenged the clauses in the Children and Social Work (C&SW) Bill which sought to suspend law and regulation. These clauses, which were introduced with the arguably spurious intention of ‘testing new ways of working’, have now been dropped. It was hugely encouraging to see so many coming together to demonstrate why and how this proposal would cause rights violations, damage the relationship between social work and the public we serve, and risked further opening the door to profiteering from the misfortune of those in need of support and protection.
The C&SW Bill has many positive aspects and we are pleased to see references in it to the significance and importance of relationships. However, the failure of the Chief Social Worker to see how contentious and damaging these particular clauses were, remains a matter of concern to us at CfSWP. It is vital that the office of Chief Social Worker is strongly independent of government and acts in the best interests both of the public we serve, and of our profession. Promoting a close and effective social work community and relationship based social work environments should be central to the role and task of the Office. The role must include regular and effective critiques of and challenges to government policy where appropriate, combined with a truly collaborative approach to finding alternative solutions for addressing problems. We fear that the way the role is currently conceptualized and carried out resembles an echo chamber for government. We hope that future Chief Social Workers are stalwart in their efforts to bring the social work community and those we serve together in the shared aim of promoting equality and social justice for all, as our professional integrity demands.
Despite the positives in the Bill, we are concerned that the government is further fragmenting relationships between social work and the people we serve, and between social work and government, by creating confusion and division in the professional education and regulation system, and by failing to anticipate and act on the widely-shared concerns of academics, practitioners and users of services.
We see two aspects of environmental sustainability as pertinent to our cause: the need for our natural environments and resources to be protected and nurtured locally, nationally and across the world for the benefit of all; and the need for UK social work environments to be more attuned to sustaining relationship based practice (RBP).
At CfSWP we are concerned that the three-year university education, a foundation for all professions, is being undermined by the Fast Track to Social Work and Frontline initiatives (and which are promoted by the Chief Social Workers). These schemes fail to adequately address the need for social workers to develop their way of practice over time and in a variety of contexts. The integration of new professional understandings with the associated personal attributes and professional values, achieved through the support and challenge of colleagues, fellow students, academics and practice educators, demands a sustained period of education. There is an assumption that people with a first degree in subjects that may relate to social work, will be able to hit the ground running after a few months of training and with some support from practice leaders. While this may be the case for a small minority, for the majority the complexity and demands of social work cannot be adequately understood and addressed in such a short period of time. Social work education is not merely a case of learning theories, policies, methods and models; crucially, it is also a journey of self-discovery, challenge and development that cannot be fast tracked. The risk of poor social work practice as higher with these schemes than without.
The regulation of social workers, as with other professions, must be kept independent of government. Bringing the regulation of social workers under government control will not serve the public nor the social work sector well, and creates another unnecessary layer of compliance that works against the strong body of research evidence about how effective social work practice thrives.
The environments for relationship based social work practice have been under great pressure over a sustained period, with the forces of competition, managerialism and process compliance dominating the environments many of us work within, whether that is in practice, research, education or policy. Environments, whatever their makeup, need to be tended and nurtured for anything to grow and thrive. Relationship based reflective practice is no different, and needs to be tended and nurtured in individuals, teams, organisations and the sector if it is to thrive. CfSWP is currently supporting some organisations to establish strong structures and systems that nurture the kinds of environments that help RBP to thrive, even, and perhaps especially, under the sometimes, toxic conditions that prevail. This is just one way that we support the systemic changes needed for the environmental sustainability of RBP. We also canvass our members for their views, and put on learning events around the country for people to engage in professionally and personally enriching opportunities to learn and debate RBP. Soon, we will be expanding our offer by putting on webinars and other interactive learning opportunities on our redesigned website. We are working with allied organisations to campaign for deeper and broader understandings and practice of relationship based practice across our country.
Our relationship based practice community and the environments that sustain RBP need to grow. You can help by joining us, by attending our events online and in person, by donating your time and/or your money, by questioning the systems and practices that work against a concern for and focus on relationships, and by promoting those that support and nurture the conditions for relationship based practice to thrive. Only together can we place relationships at the heart of all social work practice – join us today, we’d be so pleased to welcome you!