Why I’m wrong – A response from BASW

I am not going to add anything to this post. After I wrote a post explaining why I left BASW, I was sent this as a response and agreed to publish it.  I’ll leave the questions and comments for others and I have asked that someone from BASW respond to any questions or comments that arise from this post but obviously they are very busy so here’s their post. – cb

I’m disappointed that you are leaving BASW and, as head of communications for the Association and editor of PSW, I’m equally disappointed about your assessment of this magazine.

BASW is fortunate that more members have been joining than leaving for some time now but retention is just as vital as recruitment so any loss is frustrating.

Most members leave because their circumstances have changed – they might have lost their job, left social work or retired. On those occasions when someone contacts us to cite a specific issue for why they no longer wish to remain a member, someone from within BASW will usually correspond with them to at least try to respond to their concerns. Whether it makes any difference isn’t really the point – the main thing is to secure a grasp of what we’re doing wrong and how to do it better.

Your departure, inevitably more vocal and more public, is no different except that it seems appropriate to respond equally publicly, given the platform you have employed to air your views.

You cite BASW’s launch of the Social Workers Union (SWU) as the reason for now deciding to leave the Association. Clearly, the odd gripe apart, you are happy with your union and with your local representative. Fine. Really, fine, BASW has no intention of encouraging social workers who are happy with their trade union to up-sticks and join SWU instead.

We hope members in this position will still reflect on the range of member benefits being part of BASW offers, and will want to be part of their professional association, but in no sense is it making a play to poach you and others like you from other unions.

There are two reasons why SWU can be a good thing for the social work profession generally without impacting on the social work membership levels of Unison or any other union.

Firstly, there are well over 40,000 social workers in the UK who are not a member of a trade union or a professional association, so have little of the security such membership affords a practitioner in need of support – from basic advice to prolonged representation. By no measure can this be a welcome fact.

To date, a standalone BASW, acting solely as a professional association and without a union arm, has not attracted these people into membership. Nor too has any trade union appealed sufficiently for them to consider subscribing. BASW’s launch of the Social Workers Union offers these people something else, another option which some of them, just some, might choose to take.

Secondly, and most pressingly, there is one significant factor in BASW deciding to establish SWU that shouldn’t be ignored. A number of local authorities were increasingly unwilling to allow our Advice & Representation officers to attend internal disciplinary or conduct hearings. Although in contravention of ACAS guidance, this was leaving some fee-paying BASW members without access to the sort of expert representation they were entitled to have.

The ACAS guidance, it would seem, is just that, and if you are not a trade union then you don’t have guaranteed access to represent members with employers in the way we would want. By launching SWU, for no extra cost to members, we ensure, among other things, proper protection for local authority staff. This has to be a good development for social workers.

And let’s be very clear about which social workers. You describe BASW as ‘less relevant to me as a local authority social worker’ and ‘focused on either students and newly qualified social workers or independent social workers’. Yet SWU is, more than anything else, about ensuring we can support local authority social workers fully and properly in the increasing number of cases we are sadly being presented with where members are being poorly supported by employers.

You do allude to something very interesting though on the issue of how BASW represents local authority social workers and where we can do better. You suggest that the one thing you would really welcome is the chance for informal social networks – ‘safe’ places, physically and virtually, where like-minded people can discuss the future of social work. It’s a very strong concept and one BASW has recognised but could do far more in developing.

In this instance it is fair to say that we have gone much further down this road with independent members than local authority workers, as illustrated by the number of very successful independent groups holding regular meetings around the country. These aren’t controlled propaganda exercises – BASW staff usually only attend the first meeting to help get things off the ground – but informal meetings of independent social workers which BASW helps facilitate and that participants themselves then take forward.

We have staged a host of ‘tours’ within all UK countries over the past three years, many of which proved to be useful two-way discussion sessions, but facilitating networking groups within local authorities would be a good step for our members and should be explored further, and soon.

One of the most notable aspects of your blog, and the one I felt most keenly, was your assessment of PSW magazine. In particular, you referred to ‘pages and pages of propaganda’ and that there is ‘no space at all for any kind of dissenting or alternate views’. I will respond to this at some length but in brief I do not feel this is an accurate assessment of this magazine or BASW’s approach to dissent.

I have worked for a trade union where the members’ magazine became solely a propaganda device, where every editorial item was utterly patronising and where opportunities for dissent gradually dissolved to the extent it was untenable for me to remain with that organisation. I don’t miss it and I wouldn’t go back into that same environment or remain in an organisation that developed such a mindset. BASW is not that kind of organisation. Not even close.

Look at page 11 of this month’s PSW and you can see that one of the three letters is a direct attack on the magazine for publishing an article the correspondent loathed about lessons to be learnt from the Baby P case. I might disagree with the contributor but his was a valid member’s view which we published without hesitation.

Go back to March when we published a double page spread of comments posted by members online after BASW launched its own College of Social Work (as you will know, the name has since been dropped as BASW and the SCIE-sponsored College work to establish a single organisation for 2012) and you will see two sharply critical views and one far from convinced about the move. As a proportion of the 200 or so responses we received online this wasn’t just a fair reflection of dissent, it actually represented a higher proportion of opposing opinions than were actually posted.

Go back even further to the fall-out from BASW’s decision in early 2010 to hold a referendum of members on the kind of college members wanted to see. We carried letters from one BASW Council member who had resigned and another from a member at the end of his term, both of which were sharply critical of any move away from the SCIE college. No censorship, just publication.

It may surprise you but we actually don’t get a massive postbag of alienated members wishing to air their ire. Far more correspondents focus on something specific they have read, respond to requests for comment on a particular topical issue or, to my inevitable frustration, highlight minor errors of fact or grammar.

As for ‘reams of pages about how important BASW’ is, this is a tougher one because to some extent you have a point – we didn’t used to highlight the Association’s work that much in PSW at all. And people would complain that they didn’t know what BASW did.

People used to wonder why they were paying their membership fees if BASW wasn’t more publicly prominent, more vocal about the issues that mattered to them. BASW is definitely more assertive, more opinionated and, sometimes, more bolshy and for a lot of members that is a good thing.

Now, should that entail using the magazine for endless self promotion? No, in my view it should mean members get to read what BASW’s position is on key issues, whether on the riots in England, adult protection laws in Scotland, funding cuts in Northern Ireland or a consultation document on the future of social work in Wales.

As a monthly title PSW can’t present you, in print at least, with the very latest news, but it can reflect on the past month’s developments by offering the facts and adding a BASW view. This doesn’t change the facts but it does enable members to see what BASW is lobbying for, using the membership subscription fees they pay each year.

News is only a small part of the magazine though, so too is The Chief, where the chief executive is free to write what he wants to the BASW membership. Elsewhere you can read content including features, book reviews, advice columns and interviews, none of which offers a BASW view or seeks to evangelise.

Incidentally, though not without relevance, 345 members replied to a survey on our communications output in early summer and 92% said PSW was either a welcome or very welcome member benefit. It’s not scientific and there are plenty of members who haven’t expressed a view but it’s not a bad statistic considering it is an anonymous poll and I haven’t stood behind anyone’s back twisting their arms.

And just to go back to the issue of self promotion, only a couple of days ago, after reading your blog, I noticed a comment within a Guardian story about research it was co-sponsoring into the causes of the riots, in which the editor-in-chief waxed lyrical about the ‘great strides in the field of data journalism’ The Guardian was continuing to make. Possibly true but certainly self promotional.

BASW is an active, growing organisation that is constantly developing new services. We need to talk about this if we are to sustain our growth as, to borrow from your blog, there is ‘strength in numbers’ and the more members we have the more we can represent the interests of the social work profession – whether you are a student, local authority worker, independent or anyone else.

Joe Devo

………

As for those Annual General Meeting numbers you wanted. Around 230 people attended the Practice Symposium in the morning and 164 remained for the actual Annual General Meeting. Of these, 134 supported the launch of SWU, 21 opposed the motion and eight abstained. Proxy votes totaled just nine, with five opposed to the launch of SWU and four in favour.

Would we like more members to take part in the decision about the future of their organisation? Absolutely and we are trying to learn lessons from our attempts to promote the AGM in May. Several advertisements and e-bulletins actually attracted the biggest turn out at a BASW AGM in my time at the Association, around five years, but we must continue to try and up the numbers further as clearly those who attend the event are clearly a minority of our overall membership – though this isn’t particularly unusual for any union or association.

Considerable effort will be made to alert members to the next opportunity to shape the future of BASW on 1 November when an Additional General Meeting in Birmingham will be asked to determine whether BASW should transfer its assets into a new College of Social Work. This will commence in earnest once BASW Council meets on 21 September to consider the latest position ahead of the Additional General Meeting.

Making Adult Social Care Better 1

I think I’m fairly good at griping and raising ‘problems’. For the next week, I want to try and take a positive approach and look at solutions as well as problems.

A few conversations I’ve had over the past week have focused on what is wrong with adult social work and mental health social work at the moment but more importantly what can be done to make things better.

My frustration is that for all the discussions that take place in the sector, so few seem to focus on those of us who have worked and are working at the so-called ‘front-line’. A home carer knows about the ways that contracts have been managed and awarded at the lowest cost and they will be able to tell you with far more insight than any contracting manager about the effects of 15 minute ‘spot’ visits and the lack of dignity present in the care for older people. They would also be able to give you an amalgam of ideas which branch from consideration, knowledge and experience of a wide range of service users.

Are employed home care workers ever invited to discussion forums and debates about the future of care? No. But you know, maybe the feedback would be the most valuable.

On a more personal level it feels as if the conversations about service design and delivery take place around and above us – with us being the people at the front line of support. Yes, there are discussions  with service users and carers but how much effort is made to seek out opinions that do not fit in the model that the consultants want them to express? How many of the people who attend these meetings, discussions and debates become self-selecting.

If you create a service user group, for example, in a particular borough, it seems to me obvious that you are most likely to engage will be those whose voices are already heard through different means.

I like to set myself up as some kind of advocate in terms of having an understanding of the needs of people who don’t often have their voices heard in these kinds of meetings and debates because the discussions I have are mostly with people who are at their lowest ebbs on the scale of health and need.

For me, it is crucially important that these people are not left behind by commissioners and service design but my experience and understanding of the sector suggests that they are.

I don’t want to keep harking back to the roll out of personal budgets on the back of the model of direct payments but I will. The voices of those without support and without advocates are understandably quieter and the way that the services have been designed focuses quite rightly on choice but what is not present is a way for an equitable service to be delivered to those who aren’t for some reason able to express choice.

So things that can make things better

– Use of advocates in a more formalised manner throughout the system. Volunteer advocates have a role but I see more mileage in professional advocacy with extensive investment in non-directed advocacy as that is potentially where the greatest need lies. If I weren’t so tied to my job in terms of needing a salary to pay the bills, I would, at a flash, try to establish some kind of enterprise to focus specifically on support planning and advocacy for adults with dementias. I hope there is a role for independent social work in this area in the future – in the meantime, if anyone wants to jump on my idea and run with it, I am happily ‘open sourcing’ it.

– involving front line practitioners in conversations, debates and discussions with the local authorities relinquishing some of the reins of power in respect to conversation. Recognise our professional vigour and competence. We see people and have discussions with people that will never attend forums collectively. We can signpost and support commissioners and contracting officers but we are never asked and never given the time to think more creatively outside our little boxes of control. We have ideas and a happier, more connected workforce is an engaged and interested one.

– speak to home care workers too – those with agencies and where in-house services still exist, with them. They will have good ideas about the ways that their services are failing.

– home visits to facilitate discussions – why have all meetings in a central hall when it can be limiting regarding those who have greater physical and mental health needs.

Technology can facilitate greater conversation and communication with two-way flows but face to face discussion is still very important as technology and keyboards can alienate some people – perhaps exactly those people whom it is most important to connect with.

-Practitioners have to be more engaged with developments in the sector and unfortunately I don’t see BASW or the embryonic College of Social Work being particularly engaged with social workers. Why have social workers become so disengaged from professional organisations and unions? Is it to do with a fear of employers? I think some more group action could really build the strength of social work but it is hard to shrug off the feeling that we are a disengaged and disenfranchised profession that like to feel sorry for our collective selves and wallow in our diminished status. I think if we took a stronger political stance and stood up to our employers and their political agendas and displayed more independence of thought, we would be able to demand more respect.

I have decided that while I can moan and groan with the best of ‘em, coming together with ideas for improvement is by far the best way of making our voices heard.

Lansley, Nurses, Social Workers and Colleges

Yesterday, as a part of Lansley’s so-called ‘listening’ exercise, he found himself at the conference of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as they voted in favour of a  motion of no confidence in him personally by a fairly substantial 99%.  Rather marvellously when you take into account the 13 abstentions, only 6 nurses voted against the motion of no confidence. As was mentioned on Twitter yesterday, it seemed to be a miracle that 6 were to be found.

You’d have thought that that was quite a strong message for Listening Lansley to have paid heed to but no, he wanted to give a perception of listening (as if the vote of no confidence wasn’t a strong enough message!).

He asked for 60 specially chosen RCN representatives to talk to him while he ‘listened’ for 90 minutes in a room to which press were not allowed.

Well, nothing wrong with listening of course. I shouldn’t scoff but I can’t help it amid Lansley’s gruff and graceless apologies. Why? Because the listening should have been done before the plans were announced. The listening should be done with a whole wide range of people who have an interest in the health service.

He has got it wrong  but he doesn’t seem to want to listen as much as try and persuade and regroup around his message of privatisation.

The message from the Royal College of Nursing was strong, and powerful and it has caught the news media. People listen to nurses when they say things are wrong.

But we can’t forget how wrong the government got when they brought these proposals to Parliament in the first place. What does it say about a government that has to do its consulting AFTER it has taken a Bill to Parliament that has been so strongly attacked on all sides by public and professional opinion. It doesn’t exactly make one comfortable that we are ‘in safe hands’ as they like to promise at election time.  Maybe it’s because all the consultations they did before the Bill was presented were with private companies and party donors.

This is a government which is struggling under the surface and has been caught out already on many occasions by acting without any idea of what the plans that they propose actually signify. It is when they try messing around with the health service that people sit up and shout back but what about the other measures that they have proposed like the changes in the welfare benefit systems which seem force degrading and inappropriate ‘tests’ to claimants to jump through hoops to get the money they ‘deserve’.  This is what we need to speak up against as well.

And one of my sadder moments yesterday, when I thought about the impact of the nurses and the fact that they are at least being listened to for press purposes, is how we, in social work, have been poorly served by the organisations that supposedly represent our interests.

We should look at the RCN and what they have done and the effect a vote of confidence had on the ridiculousness of Lansley’s ‘listening’ exercise when with an almost unanimous voice they have humiliated him. Where is the nearest equivalent social work voice?

Community Care reports that the Chief Executive claiming that ‘he simply doesn’t believe’  Unison’s figures of having 40,000 social work members.

Honestly, is that the best he can do in rousing his members? Is that the best we can do as social workers when we should be at the heart of opposing the government agenda to heap the cuts on those who have the least? We just get into squabbles between Unison and BASW about who has the most social work members? Who is going to ‘lead’ the College of Social Work? Are we going to have a ‘Chief Social Worker’? Surely better to have a broad members organisation that can speak for all social workers rather than split members into different ‘camps’.  As for me, I’m a member of Unison AND a member of BASW. Generally, I’ve seen value in both.  It isn’t about a competition about who has more members and some people like me would be counted twice in the figures.

More than anything we can see the importance of having a strong, national voice as a profession and as representatives of a social care sector that is being and has been ravaged by repeated governments. Perhaps a broader College of Social Care might not  have been a bad idea.

The stronger the body the louder the voice.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen. It looks like we will be left with a College that few social workers who are on the front line will be interested in because we don’t have time for the politics within the profession. We have too much to do and need to focus on the politics of the country before everything that we know and love about this society is lost.  So while the College or Colleges (depending) spend all their time and money rewriting competencies or capabilities or capacities again and again and again ad infinitum – some of us will just be getting on with doing the actual work.

But the shame of it is that a College of Social Work/Social Care could perhaps have been a voice to shout against the Welfare Benefit Bill and the ridiculous tests that are put in place to make decisions as to ‘eligibility’  in the same way that the nurses are a voice to shout against the health and (oh the irony) social care bill.

We should be more like the nurses. We need to be if we are to survive and have relevancy.  We need to be listened to as well.  But in order to be listened to, we need to build support up amongst ourselves rather than squabble like schoolchildren. That is the pity.

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.