By Jadwiga Leigh
It was a rushed start to the morning, the day of the open forum with chief social worker Isabelle Trowler and government adviser Martin Narey. Despite catching the 7.24 train from Stockport, delays left us scrambling to get to the Local Government Association building in London, 15 minutes late.
Luckily they waited for the latecomers before starting, and it was probably a good thing that they did, because the first question that was asked by a member of the audience was “whose idea was today?” This question was a great opener which gave me an opportunity to then explain how the discussion behind the open forum started.
It came from David Cameron’s announcement of a Criminalisation Bill, which sparked a debate on Twitter. But 140 characters is never long enough to have these kinds of sensitive discussions, so I hoped today would provide social workers with the opportunity to ask Isabelle and Martin questions about any concerns that they had. Both agreed to engage honestly in a question and answer debate.
What became noticeable immediately was that it wasn’t just a Q&A, but ‘question-answer-question’. Isabelle and Martin did listen and they did answer questions, but they were also interested in what the audience had to say. The very first question, about whether they supported the criminalisation of social workers, was answered with an explanation of how the Bill emerged in response to victims of sexual exploitation feeling that they have been failed by children’s services.
Naming social workers
The conversation did not end there. It opened up into a discussion about the impact this legislation would have on social workers, how this might then be affected by Lord Justice Munby’s recommendation that social workers be named in court proceedings and how this all ties in with mandatory reporting. This thread concluded with an observation from one audience member who recognised that if obtaining a wilful conviction was going to prove difficult such legislation was simply tokenistic: a point I think we all need to consider in a lot more detail.
College of social work
In the next hour we talked about the closure of the College of Social Work, the beginning of a new professional body, the future of social work education, influencing policy makers and listening to all voices in the profession, including mothers, fathers and service users. Social workers also wanted to understand what exactly Isabelle’s role as Chief Social Worker for Children and Families consists of. We were told, in answer to this last question, that Isabelle is not the voice of our profession – we are.
I also learned that there were many people who attended today who do not use Twitter or Facebook but who want to be part of a future professional body, one which will represent their beliefs, their values and which is, most importantly, independent from government.
The final thing I have learned from the open forum and from putting down my reflections on it is that it is not easy to get everything I want to say into just a few hundred words. I hope any detail that is missing could be filled in by others in future. This blog doesn’t have to be the only one, it could be the first of many and Isabelle and Martin made it clear they are interested in having more open forums with social workers. Having these kinds of meetings doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other but discussing what those differences are is, I think, always a good place to start.
The next Open Forum will be held in South Yorkshire later in the year. More details to follow.