One of the Task Force recommendations was the establishment of a College of Social Work with potentially Royal chartered status for Social Workers. It fact, the summary quote is
A new and independent College for Social Work led and owned by the profession, which must establish a stronger voice for social work and exercise appropriate influence over national policy making and public debate. Ministers will support it to become the first Royal College of Social Work as soon as possible;
So far so good.
However it has been undergoing a few birthing pains. BASW (British Association of Social Workers) has been sidelined and although there is some potential debate as to whether this has been forced or elected, it has led to a potential split in the different interests who are involved in establishing the College. The issue has been around those five words ‘led and owned by the profession’.
BASW is now set to ballot all her members about setting up an Independent College
. The government, it says, has had too much input into the ‘official’ College talks. It has involved parties but has sidelined social workers in the set-up and had no intention of setting about allowing actual practising qualified and registered social workers to have a say in the process of the College. The ‘owned and led by the profession’ has been or is at danger of being, lost.
It is a debate that may split professionals.
I come to this point as a member of BASW – and it is worth bearing in mind that most social workers in the UK are not. Membership runs at around 12,500. It is the only professional representation though that we, as social workers have. UNISON (the public sector trade union) has too broad a brush to wield and has interests in too many different areas to be able to speak for social work as a profession – although I’d venture a guess that a lot of social workers are members.
I remain a little bitter that the GSCC (General Social Care Council – which maintains a register of all social workers) is so far removed from actual social workers and front line practice.
I’m still not convinced as to which way I will vote in the members’ ballot though. I like the idea of a wholly independent college. I like the idea and feel it is necessary for a college to be organised by social workers and for too long we have allowed government interference to override our own aims, goals and status.
When I talk about ‘government’ I do not mean government in any political form as I have no doubt that any political colour of government will have a similar impact. Social Work is not a ‘vote grabber’ and pushing money or voices into a government sanctioned body is not something that will spring to any government’s mind immediately post-election.
I think a part of BASW’s reasoning that any planning instigated by central government will be lost in the flurry of a potential change in government.
Ideally, I would have preferred BASW’s sphere of influence to have been maintained within the ‘official’ talks although I’m not remotely privy to what might have happened which led to the ‘parting of ways’.
I am not convinced an independent ‘breakaway’ college set up by BASW can survive though. BASW needs to engage more actual social workers and unfortunately cost will be an issue. While I am paying for BASW membership, union membership and GSCC registration – a further request for more finances would push me hard – and although it might be difficult to accept a government-sanctioned college set up between professional civil services, policy-makers and academics as opposed to practitioners – it would be hard to resist joining up so as to make a voice heard.
Hilton Dawson (Chief Executive of BASW) writes in the Guardian about the need for an independent College. It is an heartfelt piece and is hard not to find his arguments compelling however I wonder if it is a bit late – that BASW should have perhaps, pre-empted the Government talks and done this a while back. I know it’s easy to be wise in retrospect.
But it is, at least, creating debate and controversy in the field and showing some kind of action. Which is better than just allowing things to wash over us in the inexhaustable workloads and papers that need to be signed and completed on a daily basis.
As I said earlier, I haven’t decided which way to vote yet. I see the appeal of the rhetoric – it is hard to refute to be honest – but perhaps it is the years of practice that make me cynical of the future of the proposal.
I expect it is a debate I will return to more than a few times over the coming weeks.