As a former psychiatric social worker and assistant director of the charity Mind, you would expect a parliamentary debate on mental health to be right up Tessa Jowell’s street. But her reaction to a recent adjournment debate on the issue suggested otherwise. As health minister Rosie Winterton spoke, Jowell was pictured first trying to stifle a yawn and then dropping off to sleep. The late hour must have played a part – surely it wasn’t the subject matter or her colleagues’ soothing tones.
During a discussion about the General Social Care Council’s project defining the roles and tasks of social work at the body’s annual conference last week, Gina Tyler a service user representative, suggested that perhaps a famous cartoon duo could hold the key. Tyler said that the “love is…” series of cartoons, which tend to feature cute pictures of a young couple and a whimsical message, could perhaps be replicated to read “social work is…” as a part of the GSCC’s definition. A recent edition, on the website ComicsPage.com, suggested that love was “being constantly ‘on call’,” a sentiment that may be familiar to some in the sector.
Meanwhile, Ian Loynes, chief executive of the Southampton Centre for Independent Living, also speaking at the GSCC conference, used a novel simile to assess the gap between the rhetoric of service user empowerment and the reality of unmodernised services. Loynes said that although it was currently “sexy” to talk about user involvement, too often procurement of social care services was done very much in the same way that people ordered photocopier paper. “We are not photocopier paper so don’t treat us like that,” he concluded.
The recent jailing of two parents for the abuse of their daughter gave the media another opportunity to put child protection social work under the microscope. One of the starkest examples was on the BBC Radio Four’s Today programme when rottweiler John Humphrys savaged Association of Directors of Children’s Services joint-president John Coughlan over what the case of Child B said about the state of child safeguarding. One can imagine that being mauled by Humphrys was not top of Coughlan’s lists of priorities when he accepted the post.