World Social Work Day

Tomorrow is World Social Work Day. As I am taking a break from updating the blog this week (apart from today!), I am writing my post for the day now.

I wanted to consider a few things in relation to the ‘celebratory day’ such as it is although celebration seems a bit raw in the face of the  humanitarian disaster taking place in Japan. I don’t want for there to have to be these disasters to provide context. People do not need to suffer in order for me to learn. But my human reaction to those pictures is to look inside myself for ways that I can console my own thoughts. Part of human nature is to look for answers. We have enquiring minds. I am not religious although I toy with agnosticism. I thought the Independent’s piece was thoughtful though.

Back to World Social Work Day. I’m not doing anything special to ‘celebrate’ apart from going to work. Which I think, in this economic climate and amid the vagaries of chance and an angry earth, more to celebrate on this Monday morning than I might credit.

I am going to spend World Social Work Day not celebrating as such. I think for me, the day will be more about inward reflection and consideration of what it means to me to be a social worker. What the job has provided me with and the areas which I am still lacking in.

How can I learn to be better at my job? How do I reconcile the tough days when I arrive home exhausted with the good days when things fit together? How do we become more confident as a profession to the extent that we don’t need external bodies to ‘speak for us’ and we don’t rely on the morsels that the media throw at us but we can stand among ourselves and have enough confidence to be proud of being social workers without having to claim a need to be like doctors, or nurses, or occupational therapists or teachers.

I see an issue of a lack of professional self-confidence. We are, in the UK, generally, servants of the state and often despised. But we also buy into it and just as I would tell an adolescent that she needs to learn to love and respect herself before anyone else will – so I feel a need to tell our still, in some ways, adolescent profession, that we need to learn to love and respect ourselves – as social workers – before anyone else will.

Regardless of media interviews, regardless of social media campaigns. If we are not advising our children to become social workers, we should work on creating a profession that everyone, including our children, will strive to join.

This is no time to be bashful but before looking outwards for approval, we need to seek it internally – amongst ourselves.

So for those social workers, on World Social Work Day, it’s worth looking on what it is you want to achieve and how being a social worker will help you. And if it won’t, consider what needs to change in the profession for you – for us – to be able to realise our goals.

I love my job. I’m proud to be a social worker. I heartily recommend the profession and anything else I have done has not been as stimulating and challenging. I  have found qualities that I never knew I had and have been able to develop them  but now I see a flailing and unconfident profession.

Not helped in the UK by the bickering over the identity of social work by the professional organisation and the nascent College. My message to BASW would be to listen to your members rather than the Council and treat democracy seriously – while remembering you only represent 13,000 social workers – some of whom are not English (so wouldn’t be part of the College) and some of whom are members for the insurance benefits. You can’t take a unilateral decision and palm it off as ‘democracy’. My message to the SCIE ‘college’ would be to take listening seriously if you want to gain credibility.

As Social Workers we shrive for social justice and providing a voice for those without one. So a College for Social Work needs to consult and provide channels for the voices within the profession that don’t always shout the loudest.

Finally, I’d recommend this post by JaeRan Kim. Watch the videos. And reflect on why we do this and what we need to do to make our profession stronger. It isn’t about colleges and unions and professional organisations (although they all have a place) – it is about self-confidence, a strong moral and ethical compass and strong reflective practice.

Happy World Social Work – I’ll be back at the weekend!


NB Tomorrow, The Guardian Local Government Network are having a Q and A session between 12pm – 3pm about achieving a work/life balance in social care. Very topical for World Social Work Day!

Of Pride and Social Work

I have attended a number of meetings and training events recently that have been either borough-wide across social workers in many different teams or across different boroughs. These events have put me into contact with a lot of other social workers I wouldn’t otherwise have met  – in my office there are three others, one of whom is my manager.

At one of the events, I was the least experienced by about a decade (and I’ve been qualified for 10 years myself). All the other participants had been working in the field or in management for 20/30 years, some were recently retired or about to. They bemoaned the state of social work in general and how difficult things had become, how paperwork was overwhelming and face to face contact was not given the priority that the job deserves. When it was my chance to ‘introduce’ myself, I expressed surprise at some of the negativity because I’m fortunate to be in a position where I enjoy my job and perhaps despite some of the endless reorganisations and reconfigurations, the positives far outweigh the negatives. It is very easy to revert to the ‘wasn’t like that in MY day’ type rhetoric.

Another training course and a different group of people. Again, we were talking about social work and being a social worker in quite general terms by means of an introduction. The facilitator said that she felt it was so sad that no-one was proud of being a social worker anymore and that people didn’t tell others their job for fear of a poor response.

Participants nodded sagely and sadly.

I was confused. I have never not told someone I’m a social worker and am immensely proud of my job and my profession. Is that really so unusual? I didn’t think it was, especially. Maybe it’s the friends I mix with..

Processing these thoughts, I figured if we are so negative ourselves and show no sense of pride, is it any wonder the contempt that we are able to be held in more widely?

Yes, there is a media agenda and the government won’t get much political capital from pushing money or praise into social work but surely self-pride, respect and strength is what emanates outwards?

Personally, I think there is an overemphasis on ‘status’ and being ‘considered professional’ which reeks of self-indulgence and lack of confidence. It is almost like the profession is trying to look for reassurances from the ‘general public’, the ‘press’, other ‘professions’, in order to put ourselves on a par.

But often respect is as respect does. Yes, we have had to deal with some rather bizarre chopping and changing to regulation/training/function over the last decade or so – but sometimes we, as a profession, don’t always help ourselves.

We can look jealously at the esteem that other professions may be held in but that doesn’t mean we must expect automatically that the professional title we hold will be enough to garner that respect.

Professional independence doesn’t always have to be granted, sometimes it needs to be claimed.

We are in a precarious position at the moment. Local government is shrinking. Anyone who thinks social care or social work is exempt from the forthcoming cuts is living in an illusionary world.

The Guardian is reporting that Suffolk County Council are about to outsource virtually all their jobs and services

A few neighbouring boroughs in London have been looking at sourcing joint services between them which is an obvious way to reduce staffing costs.

A good social worker is and needs to be an advocate in a broad sense – for the people that the service is intended to serve.

A good social worker is a confident social worker.

Is being proud such a rarity in the UK that the matter was brought up again and again to me in various ways and means? Maybe.

I sometimes have waves of negativity. I have no doubt it is evident in my writing. I get angry at some politician or journalist who might show an extreme lack of knowledge in the sector or the environment. When I get into one of those fixes, I find the best thing is for me to recall why I wanted to be a social worker and what I love, not just about being a social worker but about my job in particular.

I wanted to fight societal injustice and still do. Social services are entrenched in social policy and social policy adapts quickly. We have to be able to think on our feet and think independently. Perhaps some of that independent thought has been ‘managed’ out of some of us by an encroachment of Performance Indicators and constant outcomes measurements.

Of course these need to be done because there has to be some measure of efficiency. Most people can probably think of a few in any office who might be less inclined to hard work than others. The ends cannot however, justify the means.

A good social worker is compassionate, competent and confident. Compassion without competence or confidence will not be enough. Competence without compassion is not enough. There is a need to actually care about individuals and the results of interventions. That doesn’t mean we have to like the people we work with but we have to offer an equitable service regardless of personal feelings and opinions.

Compassion and competence without confidence may result in being led by potentially poor management.

How are these skills developed? Not just through university courses but by good examples and good supervision in practice. A confident and competent manager will, as often as not,  have confident and competent staff.

So to anyone thinking about the profession who might be put up by the malaise of negativity that sometimes engulfs us, don’t be.

There is a lot of work to be done still. There are a lot of inequitable systems that need to be fought and they can be fought from within, indeed, they need to be.