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Why I Quit BASW (British Association of Social Workers)

I felt a tinge of sadness when I finally decided to quit BASW (British Association of Social Workers). I’ve been an advocate and member for a good few years and I have a great deal of respect for a lot of people who work there. I advised colleagues to join over the years amid general  waves of apathy. I wanted to ‘make a difference’. I wanted to contribute to the general good of the profession as a whole and I saw my membership and support as the best way.

I can understand some of their irritation with the way the College of Social Work  has been established but what I couldn’t understand and believe me, I tried to, via their own forums and press releases, to get to the heart of what their anger about was  about UNISON  (the trade union that linked with the College of Social Work) , with the College, with SCIE – who were charged with setting up the College on behalf of the governmentwas all about.

I know it was partly about control. BASW had initially thought to propose the idea of a ‘College of Social Work’ and probably felt that they should have been charged with running it. The problem was and remains that BASW members remain a minority of social workers. I remained a member though. I enjoyed being a part of the professional association. I thought that it added ‘something’ to my arsenal and allowed me, theoretically at least, to hold a stake in the present and future ‘state’ of social work in the UK.

However, for me, BASW seemed to become less relevant to me as a local authority social worker. They run events but they seemed to be focused on either students and newly qualified social workers or independent social workers (I’ve been told that this is a faulty perception but it’s the perception that I have regardless).

I looked at their magazine and I saw what appeared to be page after page of propaganda for their own campaign to disassociate from the ‘official’ SCIE led College of Social Work. There was no space at all for any kind of dissenting or alternate views.  It felt like some ‘official party’ magazine. Sure, there would be some interesting articles but it would be one or two amid the reams of pages about how important BASW was. This is a membership magazine going to people who are already members. The writing felt patronising in the extreme as if we were just being exposed to a propaganda machine and were incapable of independent thought.

I am a member of UNISON as well as BASW. I never saw the two as being mutually exclusive. I certainly haven’t had UNISON bad-mouthing my professional organisation in its literature but BASW seem to find the idea of UNISON so difficult that they have press release playing ‘number games’ with their figures – forgetting the obvious point that some people (like me) are members of both organisations so comparing numbers becomes less.. helpful.. when you consider that some are counted in both ‘fields’.

I think their move towards creating a Trade Union is wrong-footed. I was unable to attend their AGM and when I asked about proxy voting, I was told that they only count the postal votes if those present dissenting reach a certain threshold. With that I realised that my vote against the Union would be discounted as those who would attend would be much more likely to vote in favour. I felt genuinely disenfranchised because my vote would not be counted unless I was able to attend in person.

I am deeply disappointed by both BASW and the College and their lack of engagement and innovation as regards trying to find new ways to build social work links and make progress in an increasingly social world. The same people are being appointed to the same committees to discuss the same issues. It very much feels like that from my point of view.

I was willing to continue my membership to BASW through their gripes and through my increasing concerns with the way they were moving.

However when they pushed out to promote their new ‘Social Workers Union’, that’s when I decided to leave.

They seem to be pushing their union as ‘added value’ to their current members. It would add no value to me as I already have a Trade Union. In fact, in their membership booklet, it even says that they encourage social workers who join to also join a trade union – and so I did. I know my Shop Steward and I admire them greatly. We link very well with the Health members of Unison as a lot of the issues, for me at least, in a Community Mental Health Team, are very similar regarding employment issues.

I’ve had my gripes with UNISON in the past as well but knowing how the local authority is minded, I would rather ‘stick my oar in’ with my colleagues regardless of whether they are ‘social workers’ or not as opposed to being in a union which exists only to support social workers. Currently our jobs are at risk. UNISON is working very hard locally to establish links within the local council and NHS trust to consultation and they are created with being an established partner and union who has members across the council. With unions, however right or wrong it may be, I think there is strength in numbers and I dare not quit my union membership in these current times. If BASW are focussing on ‘being a union’ and I don’t want to be a member of ‘their’ union – why should I pay for it? Especially when I am content with the union representation I receive from UNISON?

I felt sad to pack in my BASW membership and may be back in the future if they steer towards a more conciliatory path. I would still recommend membership for students, I think, because the fees are lower and if they to incorporate the union membership it may well be a good ‘deal’ to assist through difficulties with placements. I would also recommend membership for Independent social Workers as they have good networks and frequent meetings and events for Independent Social Workers and have good insurance packages (so I’m told).

For me,  though, I need to see more and mostly I need to see more positivity. The organisation increasingly feels very defensive and negative and that makes me sad.

Ultimately what  I would like from a professional organisation/college is more local groups/social groups. Spaces both physically and virtually to discuss the future of social work and ‘safe’ places to bring together issues that affect social work as a whole. Not just a forum, online forums are ‘old hat’ but there are more ways to discuss and find space.

I think regional groups would definitely help build connections and membership.

I know there are good people in BASW and that they want the best for the profession but I couldn’t justify continuing to pay over £200 per year alongside my union membership as they move in a path I no longer agree with and in tough financial times, you have to ask ‘Is it worth it?’.

Personally, I felt it wasn’t.

My hope is that there is a move towards more collaboration with the College of Social Work but that those within the College will push away some of the apparently self-obsessed cobwebs from BASWs eyes and create and evolve an institution that can really work for Social Work rather that what appears to be their own ends because unfortunately that’s sometimes how it feels from the ‘front line’.

Committees arguing for their own continued existence. I’m sad to say that but that’s how I feel.

Just one aside, when playing their numbers games and trying to ‘outmanoeuvre’ Unison in claiming to have more ‘Social Work’ members, I commented that I would like to know two things

How many members attended the BASW AGM?

How many people voted in favour of the move towards a Trade Union (numbers not percentages)?

I haven’t been given these figures but if there is anyone from BASW reading, I’d really like to know.

I’m not saying at all that I’ve left forever. I really hope I will be back at some point but I have to see more effort and will towards promoting the profession rather than BASW itself.

The REAL College of Social Work – Part Infinity

BASW and SCIE may be planning to merge to form BASWCOSWSCIESWBOFEETOFIIB.

(British Association of Social Workers College of Social Work Social Care Institute of Excellence Social Work College But Only For England Even Though Our First Initial Is British)

Trips off the tongue.

Having a Scottish parent though, makes me feel marginalised by this new college, much though I approve of the name – so in the spirit of yesterday’s fiery post, I’ve decided to set up my own College.

It will be called the College of People  With Social Work Qualifications and Those Who Are Studying Social Work.  CPWSWQATWASSW.

Good thing I grabbed the domain name  quickly and have been sitting on it for two years, biding my time.

My proposals are:-

To create a job for myself so I can move away from front line practice

To create jobs for my friends so they don’t have to actually do anything that involves social work but we can talk infinitely about what’s best for the profession.

To produce an online magazine because print is so last millennium.

To promote links with social work organisations internationally – cough cough, free trips to the Caribbean to ‘investigate’ how services work there, please.

Membership will be open to anyone who wants to join.

To set up a new set of capacibilities that will be expected of all social workers -

- these will include

– being able to type at least 40 wpm

- advocacy skills when working with oppressive  management regimes

-   Being able to work with Housing departments without raising your voice.

- Ensuring chocolate and biscuit supplies are constantly replenished in your place of work

- The importance of washing your own mug not using your colleague’s  special kitten mug because that makes her really angry – especially if you don’t wash it up.

- Not hiding paperwork in drawers to make your desk (if you have one) look tidier.

- Never being more than one hour late for pre-arranged visits.

There will be a consultation period of one week.

Membership will be free today only but after today will rise to £10,000 per annum to pay for my living costs and trips to the Caribbean.  As I don’t believe in paypal and secure transactions are overrated you can just leave your bank details in the comments below and I’ll be in touch.

Special concessionary rate for international members if they live somewhere I want to go on holiday to and can put me up free of charge for at least a week.

Irresistable, I know.

Chief Social Worker?

A couple of days ago, I noted a that BASW issued a press release stating that their ‘chief social worker plans gain tentative ministerial support’.

BASW (British Association of Social Workers)  have been lobbying for changes in the Health and Social Care Bill to establish, among other things, the position of a ‘Chief Social Worker’.

I have to say I feel more than a little uncomfortable about this proposal. Perhaps it’s because I don’t understand it but I really don’t see how a ‘Chief Social Worker’ position would fit in to the government advisory framework. Perhaps it is a matter that the status issue troubles me. I don’t think we, as a profession and a young profession at that, need to ape the medical model of having a ‘Chief Medical Officer’ or a ‘Chief Nursing Officer’. We have a completely different function and work to different demands. I don’t want social work to become a profession that needs to ape and mimic others figuratively shouting ‘me too.. me too’ and waving its presence in the face of ministers.  One of the criticisms of the medical models is the hierarchical natures of some of their professionals frameworks and if the proposals of the Social Work Reform Board are to take shape, there are going to be more creative and exciting ways to progress as a frontline practitioner other than management. But this position through the name and nature of the role seems to want to perpetuate hierarchy.

A Chief Social Worker would invariably come from a background of working with children as that is where the public perception of social work traditionally lies and possibly where the most ‘media interest’ lies. How would they be able to comment on issues affecting other service user groups with any authority? Would we need three Chief Social Workers? One for Children and Families, one for Adult Services and One for Mental Health Services? If no, who gets the ‘top job’? I think it is a testament to the death of generic social work that I am even able to ask that question but it is an important question to me as already it feels that social work in adult services and mental health is somewhat marginalised. To me, this one position would do so even more.

Is there a ‘Chief Teacher’? Is there a ‘Chief Occupational Therapist’? I’m asking because genuinely I don’t know. I don’t think there are but could be wrong.  I actually see social work as far more closely allied to those professions in lots of ways than doctors and nurses and fail completely to understand how having a single identifiable officer would help.

I understood that a part of the remit of the College of Social Work, when it is established, will be to provide a conduit of communication between the government and the profession. Far better, in my mind, to have a board structure with a group of social workers with wider ranges of expertise than to have one identifiable ‘Chief Social Worker’.

Maybe I’m completely missing the point – it wouldn’t be the first time – so please do comment and tell me why I’m wrong in my scepticism at this role.

Social Work is a plural profession. Social Work is not only practiced in the public statutory sector. I would feel that it is a way of fragmented the profession further to place one ‘sector’ above others in the implementation of this role but I accept that I am one front-line practitioner who has infinitely less experience than those making these proposals. I just want to know how I would benefit from there being a Chief Social Worker and how it would help me in my practice.

I think that by begging for crumbs from Parliament we are approaching the need for the profession to grow in the wrong way. We need bottom up growth, confidence and development much more than top down legislation. For Social Work to gain the respect that we would like it to, we need to take action and support those coming into the profession to grow, be strong and to support and weed out poor front line management which instils poor values and habits and burns out enthusiastic entrants to the profession.

Social Work would have better media coverage if social workers were better supported in the entry level position and given support way beyond the first year of practice in developing more skills and being allowed to advocate and advance the cause of users of social services rather than being turned into Performance Indicator Drones. I don’t deny my own responsibility in that. I have spent the last couple of weeks madly trying to catch up with the end of financial year targets personally.

What we need to do is to draw on the idealism that we felt when we started our social work training and went through university because almost all social work students feel that. We need to think back on those wishes, hopes and dreams we had of really advocating, working to needs-led agendas and on strengths-based models with and alongside users and remotivate ourselves and re-energise our profession rather than rely on those who left the frontline behind years ago to do it for us.

Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes effort.  But it needs collective action of more of the ‘social workers like me’ to stand up and ‘be counted’. To involve ourselves in the organisations that claim to speak for us and explain why we do what we do and how our employers might help or hinder us when we do this.

For me, one of the great failings of BASW is on the local level in London (I know there are active local groups around the country) . Perhaps now is a time for local support groups of social workers to form and provide peer support for each other outside the ‘organisation’ and between ourselves. We see the growth of user support groups and carer groups. How about professional support groups – we are busy people and they don’t have to take place in a physical sense but think how useful it might be to  have a resource of cross-authority or cross-borough local social workers to talk about issues affecting the profession outside the banner of a ‘membership’ organisation.  We have opportunities to make connections and build ideas now that never existed in the past.

Grassroots – that’s the way to go.

So I’m asking you two things. Firstly, have I completely missed the point of a ‘Chief Social Worker’? and if so, tell me because I genuinely want to know.

Secondly – would you be interested in a network of local social workers to support each other – not related to cases or management issues – confidentiality is a big issue – but in looking at ways that we can affect the profession in a ground up way.

I have a feeling that might be an idea I come back to.

BASW vs College of Social Work

It was with more than a little weariness that I read in Community Care that BASW (British Association of Social Workers) may be about to launch their own ‘rival’ College of Social Work having been in dispute and frozen out of the ‘official’ discussions with the embryonic ‘College of Social Work’.

My first response was sheer exasperation. I’m a member of BASW. I pay a not insignificant amount of money to them annually for that privilege and I have a generally warm feeling towards them (I wouldn’t be a member otherwise!). I don’t see them as an alternative to a union although I would actually prefer it if they were. I like the idea of a more specialist union but I’m also a member of Unison, the public sector trade union and I also pay them a not insignificant amount of money for the privilege.

A little disclosure before I continue. I’m a little miffed with Unison currently. I know their reps must be incredibly busy as jobs are going and people are being asked to take salary cuts but I’ve been trying to contact my branch officers for weeks about something at work that affects a few people – phone calls, messages, emails and haven’t even had the courtesy of a response. I must have paid them thousands of pounds over the years, have never asked for any assistance before and honestly, on the scale of things, this is a fairly minor matter and have been wholly and completely ignored. Harumph to Unison but you know, I’ll of course, keep paying. And paying.

But back to BASW and the College. BASW it seems are being steamrollered by the College and are trying to put up a fight in the form of an ‘alternate college’ plan.  It is ironic seeing as BASW were so forceful in pushing for the existence of a College of Social Work in the first place.

BASW, it seems are unhappy with the deal that has been made between the College and Unison -

Under the deal, Unison will provide employee representation services to college members and the college will provide professional advice services to social workers who are Unison members.

First, I welcomed this potential merger but I do see an issue if BASW are going to be frozen out of the process.

As a lay-person, I see the potential role for a College of Social Work to be almost an exact equivalent of the services that BASW provides apart from having a statutory footing and the addition of trade union functions via Unison. It seems more than a little uncouth to push BASW out of the process.

I know that BASW don’t have a large membership base. It can seem almost cliquey at times but as a newly qualified social worker with limited money, if I had to choose between union membership and the membership of a professional body, I would go with the union membership every time just as a means of self-preservation.

That is what BASW have to face up to.

The problem is that they seem to have taken some kind of decision to split off from the process of establishing the College of Social Work. Whether they are right or wrong (and I don’t necessarily think they are wrong) there is a big problem of perception about being seen as ‘disruptive’ to the process. I can see how they might feel betrayed by the process of these different interest groups vying to positions of power. Retrospectively, I think they should have been given the lead role in the establishment of a College rather than SCIE (Social Care Institute of Excellence) but that’s all in the past now.

I say this with a heavy heart, but I’m not sure BASW can exist as an independent ‘College’ and I am not convinced that their branching off will be successful in the long run. I would have prefered a BASW-led college but I think we are now too far down the ‘other’ path.

My ‘perfect’ solution would have been some kind of mass consolidation of BASW, the College and Unison (or trade union functions by another means) but that looks nigh on impossible now.

The problem is that there are few enough social workers who are engaged with the process of actively wanting to be involved in these organisations as it is.  All these bickerings will no doubt put many people off membership of ANY of the organisations. You don’t want to ‘pick the wrong one’.

These rumblings leave a nasty taste in ones mouth and may be a disincentive for people in the social work profession to become involved.

Which will lead to the same people who like ‘being on committees’ and being at the head of things – mostly managers who can give themselves time off work for these things or retired/independent members – to run the same organisations and to claim to be speaking for ‘front line social workers’ when, in fact, none of them do because the ethereal ‘front line social workers’ are way too busy working to be bothering themselves with who represents them!

College update

Community Care has published the names of the members of the Interim College of Social Work Board and I have to say, when I glanced at the list I was prepared to be sorely disappeared and pessimistic but when I looked further, I actually couldn’t continue with my cynicism.

It’s quite unusual for me to be actively hopeful about a current development in social work in the UK, but you know, this time, I really am.

The list includes the usual managers and directors/assistant directors/academics  but it also has made a distinct effort to include front line practitioners who are currently working through a wide range of different services (adults, childrens, mental health, hospice, independent and voluntary sector) it also includes a newly qualified social worker who qualified this year.

I went to one of the College of Social Work consultation events. I found it useful and invigorating. What I found productive was that it united social workers and some social work students across different branches of the profession and with differing amounts of experience and tried to find the commonality that exists through the profession.

There was an element of cynicism (of course, what do you seriously expect from a room full of social workers!) but there was so much skill, experience and enthusiasm for change in the room – it felt in a way that some people were just waiting for some kind of leadership to create a body to develop the profession.

Of course until the College has been established, it is easy to be hopeful. The budget will remain absolutely crucial and it’s hard to see the government sparing much for the establishment of the College of Social Work so the money will likely have to come from members – but I know it’s something I’d be prepared to pay for (within limits of course!).

So in a week of misery, it’s good to have something hopeful to look forward to and feel more positive about.

Establishing the College of Social Work

Some movement has been reported in the setting up of the first College of Social Work as recommended by the Social Work Task Force last year.

Firstly two joint interim chairs have been appointed – Maurice Bates, previously interim Director of Children’s Services at North East Lincolnshire Council and prior to that, Director of Adult and Children’s Services at Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council.

At his side, virtually, will be Corinne May-Chalal – professor of Applied Social Science at Lancaster University.

According to Community Care, they both are currently registered as social workers which is a definite bonus compared to others who have been trying to provide leadership within the profession (GSCC, I’m looking at you..).

Interestingly, Children and Young People Now, report that the College is trying to link up with UNISON – the Trade Union that I’d say most social workers would join (I’m a member myself) so as to pool members and resources.  Community Care report that BASW (British Association of Social Workers)  are proposing some kind of merging of functions and membership with the College as well . I’m a member of BASW too.

Personally, I’d be in favour of both a linking of functions with BASW and UNISON. Currently, I pay to join both as I think they serve different functions but with the College in the mix and potentially a third set of subscription fees, it might make a mockery of the systems as they are. It also looks like a lot of the proposed mandate of the College overlaps with BASW.

Community Care reports that

The college is proposing to offer its members services such as a magazine, professional advice, information about training and continuing professional development, professional indemnity insurance for independent social workers and individual representation in disputes with employers.

And this is exactly the function that BASW currently serves. If a trade union association could be added into the mix (I was always in favour of BASW building further extensive trade union links) it would make any fee much more palatable.

BASW has a purpose but it’s purpose would be much better served by a larger membership of social workers. The voice of the combined membership of the college could be very loud and very effective.

I hope these plans of links with both BASW and UNISON come to fruitation because it makes the College more useful and more effective.

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