The British Association of Social Workers has set itself the most difficult task in its history in attempting to launch a breakaway national college for the profession, a senior social care figure has said.
The senior figure told Community Care that BASW, which has 12,500 members, representing around 12% of the workforce, now faced a “very distinct challenge” in its latest endeavour.
“In its many years of existence it has never been able to become the voice of the majority of social workers,” the source said.
“Launching its own plans for a UK college is far more ambitious than the project of becoming a professional voice for social workers.”
The warning came after BASW’s decision to formally consult its members over plans to form “a UK college of social work”, separate to a similar college being developed under the Social Work Reform Programme for England.
Fran Fuller, acting chair of BASW, said “the current view of the college is neither potent nor compelling enough to make a difference”.
BASW wants to fund the breakaway college through member subscriptions and fees from associated membership organisations. So far, only Nagalro, the professional body for children’s guardians, has backed the proposal.
The source added that several of the demands made by Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW, have been met, such as ensuring that the interim chair of the national college, who has yet to be appointed, must be a registered social worker.
People involved in the reform programme were also taken aback by Dawson’s fierce criticism of the government, the source said, citing the row between Dawson and Ed Balls, the children’s secretary, at the National Children’s and Adult Services conference in Harrogate last year as an example.
“It was a very heavy, bitter attack, the sense of it was ‘the government doesn’t care about social workers’ – that’s the tone Hilton Dawson has adopted, without offering anything constructive. If BASW wanted to influence government then Hilton has gone about it the wrong way.
“In order to succeed the college needs to bring together not just social workers but key interest groups across the profession: employers and academics, and it should have very good links with government.”
Another senior figure close to the reform programme questioned why BASW had chosen to launch their own national college now, and not at any other point in their history.
Fran Fuller responded to the criticisms by insisting that BASW had “really tried” to work constructively with ministers and other organisations throughout the initial college development talks, but had become frustrated that their proposals had been ignored.
“The College of Social Work across the UK should work constructively with all individuals and organisations in the best interests of social work,” she said. “We certainly intend it to work positively with any government because we must have effective action from government to embed it in legislation and guidance. This isn’t BASW’s own College; we are inviting all social workers to use BASW to make it theirs.”
Fuller added: “The reason why we’re doing this now is because the situation for social work and particularly the users of social work is urgent and we must have a real effective college led by and accountable to social workers.”
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