Terry Bamford jets off to Brazil for the International Federation of Social Workers’ (IFSW) annual conference this week to collect the Medal and Diploma in Memory of Andrew Mouravieff-Apostol, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to ocial work.
“I’m looking forward to the trip to Brazil,” Bamford says, despite having previously lobbied for this year’s conference to be in Birmingham.
A career that started in probation – “when probation was social work” – nearly 40 years ago has seen Bamford always up for a challenge. He was one of the first social services directors to take on the housing brief while at Kensington and Chelsea then crossed the health divide to run the London borough’s primary care trust and between 1985 and 1990 headed-up one of Northern Ireland’s health and social services boards.
But it is not just his work in the UK that is being recognised by the award. Ever since the 1970s he has been interested in international affairs, initially highlighting the plight of South American social workers persecuted by repressive regimes. Since 1990, he has been IFSWs’ special representative to Amnesty International and was secretary of the Federation’s human rights commission for 10 years.
Bamford has worked in several roles across most client groups. Currently, he is a board member of a housing trust, a trustee of Save the Children Fund and director of mental health campaign group the Social Perspectives Network. He has also been the chair of the London Drug and Alcohol Network and chair of the Westminster Area Child Protection Committee.
He first came to prominence in the late 1970s when as a council member of the British Association of Social Workers he took part in negotiations between striking social workers and the government. The action was over job losses and service cuts. “We’d been told to plan for increases so for reductions to be made came as a huge shock,” says Bamford.
Between 1982 and 1984, Bamford was president of Basw, something he rates as his proudest achievement. It was during his tenure that the Barclay Inquiry sat to consider whether social work should be regulated. “We thought it should have been but they decided there wasn’t a case.”
It was another 20 years before the General Social Care Council was established and the foundations laid for formal regulation of the profession.
“If that had come 20 years earlier I wonder whether the profession would be in a stronger position today,” reflects Bamford. “It might have given social workers an opportunity to establish an identity different to their employer.”
As a self-professed “old-style” social worker Bamford is concerned about the “check-list approach” that has prevailed of late. “We’ve destroyed all the face time social workers have. I still see the relationship between client and worker at the core of changing people’s lives.”
But he believes the advent of personalisation could prove to be a liberating development for social workers.”Social work as a profession will have to sell itself on the marketplace to partners rather than being the statutory provider,” he adds.
While Bamford says he can remember the concept of personalisation being discussed at the London School of Economics in the mid-1960s, this time he believes the agenda is unstoppable.
“People are becoming far more challenging: I’d want more information about the surgeon doing my knee replacement,” he says. “We’ve been talking the talk about empowerment for the past 30 years: now mechanisms have been introduced that could make that a reality.”
He says that this agenda also links in with the increasing portfolios of chief officers. In some areas, directors of adult services now have overall responsibility for an array of council services.
For a man who has always been interested in looking across service boundaries this seems a logical move. “The way people live – from their leisure facilities to the physical environment – make up the quality of life in an area. We’re seeing former social services directors becoming chief executives of councils – it is a good background and preparation for that role.”
The IFSW’s president David N Jones will be writing a series of blogs from this year’s IFSW annual conference in Brazil.
Bamford’s worst day
“On 1 May 2005, when I was chair of Kensington and Chelsea PCT I went to an internet café while on holiday in Cyprus to check the results of the general election. There was an e-mail from the chief executive of the PCT to say we were £9.5m in the red that we didn’t know about [due to an administrative problem].
“I believe that people at the top should take responsibility when things go disastrously wrong and so I felt I should resign. You do feel a strong sense of personal responsibility. It was a bad time.”
This article is published in the 14 August issue of Community Care magazine under the heading UK social work’s international champion stays ‘old school’