The 19th March is an important day in the social work calendar. It should come pre-printed into every social worker’s Sherwoods Diary, and be highlighted as a recurring an ‘all day’ in their Outlook calendars. Why? Because it’s World Social Work Day – the brainchild of the International Federation of Social Work (IFSW), and this year’s message was to “promote social and economic equalities”.
According to the IFSW, “social work has a critical role in the promotion of social and economic equalities and in striving for a people-focused and regulated economy”. This statement highlights that across the world, social work is not just about the protection of the most vulnerable, but is actually about achieving social justice and equality for those who are often excluded or on the periphery of our society.
The IFSW goes on to say that World Social Work Day is, “the annual opportunity to advocate a social work perspective in political systems…and to celebrate the social work contribution to societies.”
This is a noble aim, but across the world and especially in the UK, the profession is seriously under threat. Those in the profession could question what is there to celebrate? Local authorities are being forced to accept more devolved powers from central government, and with cuts to already tight budgets something will eventually give way. One example is the cost-shunting of children who are on remand, now being brought into care and becoming the responsibility of the local authority
On 1st April, we’ll see cuts to legal aid, and over the summer the inevitable fallout from the benefit cap will see people knocking at the doors of social services looking for assistance with housing. On World Social Work Day, the British Association of Social Workers, and it’s trade union arm, the Social Work Union, report that these cuts are affecting social workers, as they are facing “unacceptable opposition from employers when they attempt to stand up for service user and promote social justice.”
So, what can the profession itself and social workers do to make social worker proud of their role in enforcing social justice, and us something to shout about on World Social Work Day 2014. Here are three little ideas which can certainly get the ball rolling.
As a profession, we need to recognise the existence of World Social Work Day. This is our day to shine, so we need help from the profession and employers to promote the importance of the day and what we can do to highlight our work on that day.
In a straw poll conducted of 15 Social Workers, only 2 people knew that the 19th March was World Social Work Day, which equates to 13%. If this result was generalised to the rest of the social work population (87,442 social workers in 2012), this only equates to about 11,000 social workers who knew about World Social Work Day.
This poses the question, is one day enough to celebrate all the work that social work encompasses? The other major promotional event in the social work calendar is National Adoption Week (which takes place from 4th to 10th November this year), that’s right a whole week. Now, definitely and an advocate for adoption, however, it is a small part of the children’s social work sector and an even smaller part of the whole social work profession. Surely if we want to shout about social work, we should shout louder and longer to celebrate the whole of our profession.
I’m calling for the profession, employers, and social workers to pledge how they are going to shout for World Social Work Day 2014, and for the profession to hold a series of events culminating on the 19th March.
2. Let’s get political
Secondly, to enable us to advocate for social work in a political system, we need to get stuck into the political system, and show politics what social work is all about.
In Parliament, there is a lot of a support for social work and the things we do. This is crucial with the Children and Families Bill progressing through parliament. In addition, there are at least three All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) looking at social work, looked after children and care leavers, and child protection, supported by a number of MPs. Plus, the Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP has first-hand experience of the effects of social work. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at the APPG on Youth Affairs on the 6th March. He spoke with passion about his background, the effect on him of fostering, and how social work has impacted his family life.
Despite these key interest groups and an Under-Secretary with a unique experience of social work within Parliament, there are only a handful of MPs who were former social workers, such as Dame Tessa Jowell MP, a former childcare officer in Lambeth; Hywel Wiliams MP, a trainee childcare social worker; and Ann Coffey MP, a fostering team manager in Oldham. Not forgetting Ann Clwyd MP (Chair of the APPG on Social Work), Mike Wood MP and Paul Goggins MP. Bridget Robb, Interim Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers, feels that MPs should shadow social workers to “spend time with social workers out doing social work…sharing the challenges of working in the community, in schools, the courts and hospitals”.
I believe social work needs to go further.
MPs are not the only public figures who have an impact in our local communities. Local councillors (who control local councils, and therefore social work budgets), chief constables, magistrates and other public figures, all have a role in moulding and shaping our communities. Social workers need to get each and every change maker to experience social work first hand, to see what we do, how we do it, and how we can bring about social justice to the people we work with.
I’m calling for public figures to go out and shadow social workers, so that when these change makers are determining the fate of social work in Parliament, the Council Chamber or the Magistrates Court, they do so with first-hand knowledge in how we affect social justice.
Finally, social work needs to help society gain a better understanding of what social work is, and what social workers do.
Our professional bodies like the newly established College of Social Work, the British Association of Social Workers, and our new regulatory body the Health and Care Professionals Council, who work to support and uphold the profession through codes of ethics and value statements, all commit to ensuring social justice.
Just like the BBC as a public body has a duty to educate society, so too should social work bodies, and embrace the fact that educating society is a crucial step towards achieving social justice. Part of the role of our professional bodies should be to educate the public about what social workers do, to avoid the vilification of social workers in the community.
The BBC’s “Protecting Our Children”, three-part documentary into social work profession, sparked both positive and critical debate about what social workers do and “got the people going”. But what is not helpful to these attempts to positively educate society into the world of social work are wholly inaccurate news and fictional television story lines which paint social worker as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-styled Child Catcher, such as the Lola Pearce storyline in Eastenders.
I am calling for our professional bodies to support the promotion of social work to society, and to shout louder in the build-up of World Social Work Day in 2014, and for the profession to hold a week of events culminating on the 19th March.
Let’s campaign and crusade to get more publicity for our profession, and give us something to shout about in 12 months time.