Children’s policy ‘tipped too far’ towards removing children at point of crisis, says BASW

Association’s manifesto for social work calls for the next government to shift policy towards early intervention

Photo: Elvira Schafer/Fotolia
Photo: Elvira Schafer/Fotolia

The British Association of Social Workers has called on the main political parties to shift children’s services policy towards early intervention and tackling poverty.

The association’s manifesto for social work, published this week, warned the rising numbers of children in care was a result of policy being “tipped too far towards removal of children at points of crisis”.

Any future government should empower social workers to tackle disadvantage, prevent family separation and provide skilled family interventions to improve outcomes for children and adults, the manifesto said.

Workloads

To address “unmanageably high” workloads, a future government should also work with BASW to create national policy that improves the working context for social workers, the manifesto said.

BASW also called for a sustainable funding settlement for adult social care, more funding for social work university degrees and for a future government to recognise BASW as the professional body for social work.

“Social work and social workers across the UK need a strong, independent professional body that promotes best practice and self-determination of the profession in the long term,” the manifesto said.

BASW listed eight priorities for political parties to adopt:

  1. End austerity policies that cause harm to children, adults and families with care and support needs
  2. Work with BASW and partners across the sector to ensure social workers have manageable workloads, effective organizational models and the right working conditions for excellent practice
  3. Commit to continued adequate funding for university education for qualifying social workers, ensuring the numbers of new entrants meets future workforce demand in all fields of practice
  4. Ensure a realistic and sustainable settlement for adult social care across all countries of the UK
  5. Shift children and families policy towards tackling child poverty and intervening early to support families and communities. Ensure strong, coherent democratic accountability for statutory social work services.
  6. Improve the resourcing and recognition of social work within mental health services
  7. Ensure parity between unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and other young people in care
  8. Recognise BASW as the professional body for social work and social workers, and work with it to improve the standing of the profession

Ruth Allen, BASW’s chief executive, and Guy Shennan, BASW chair, called on social workers to use the manifesto to ask prospective MPs what they would do to address the issues.

In a statement, the pair said: “Take this opportunity to promote social work values and advocate for the wellbeing of all and particularly those in need of care or support or whose rights are at risk. This is part of being a social worker.”

3 Responses to Children’s policy ‘tipped too far’ towards removing children at point of crisis, says BASW

  1. peter barron May 16, 2017 at 8:27 am #

    Excellent idea putting BASW as the professional body for Social Workers. The HCPC does very little to promote the role of Social work merely diligently collecting it’s fees!

  2. Steve Rogowski May 18, 2017 at 8:41 pm #

    All excellent BASW stuff!

  3. Ellie May 21, 2017 at 11:00 pm #

    At long last! This is one of the first promising initiatives that I have seen from BASW, and I sincerely hope it gets the backing of Government and the Social Work profession, alike. As I have oft pointed out, maybe what was needed all along was some sort of “manifesto” that sets out the Social Work professions’ aims and intentions, plus what they require of others who promise them support. I have long argued that organizations like the RCN are more than capable of pushing issues that relate to Nurses, and we see organizations that represent the issues of Doctors doing much the same. Nurses and Doctors hog the media limelight, and demand political attention almost constantly, with their professional bodies repeatedly asking that someone address issues faced by the NHS. By contrast, Social Workers have become somewhat like the “Cinderella sister” of the NHS – Social Work being the one caring profession that is not NHS operated – and their issues have been somewhat sidelined, their professional status undermined.

    It is great to see BASW finding a voice, and making a play to become Social Work’s professional body. Social Workers so desperately need a collective voice and identity, because otherwise the profession is at risk of becoming fragmented. Already, we are seeing the problems caused by having so many different types of Social Workers, who work in so many different areas, and who seldom gain an awareness of what each-other does. Already, we are seeing the arguments, and divisiveness caused by having so many different types of training, and so many different generations of Social Workers who trained differently; this is compounded by new changes to training and qualifications that only affect certain types of Social Worker (e.g. the demand for approved social workers in Children & Family services).

    Social Work requires champions and spokespeople, just as do NHS workers, because just like the NHS Social Services is a vital, valuable service that the general public rely heavily upon. Furthermore, the NHS struggles to work effectively without equally effective support from Social Services; the two organizations have a symbiotic relationship, and one that requires they should be treated as EQUALS. Which they are not! Currently, the NHS is struggling in respect of funding, recruitment and working conditions; Social Services are having it even harder. Whereas a lot of NHS funding is “ring fenced”, that of Social Services (being allocated to local authorities) is not, and thus many services offered by local authorities have recently come under fire due to “austerity measures”. This has a knock-on effect for the NHS, because it limits the amount of support Social Services can provide to people in the community. It is vital that those in power understand the need for a close, and effective relationship between these two organizations, plus the need to treat them equally in respect of funding, staffing issues, and working conditions.

    I am so glad to see BASW setting out clearly eight priorities for political parties to adopt, particularly because they seem to have given some thought to how politics impacts upon Social Work (an example being “austerity measures”). Politics and Social Care are extremely closely tied (I could write papers on this issue!), in that the views of dominant political parties are often reflected in social policy, which in turn affects how Social Workers are permitted to work. For example, it is clear that “austerity” policies impact upon societal poverty, which in turn creates more social problems that Social Workers find themselves working with. The more that individuals and families are pushed towards the “breadline”, the more we see them struggle. “Austerity” also means other problems too – unaffordable cost of living, high unemployment, stress… these are all things affecting people as a result of “austerity”, and are all things that Social Workers will end up helping people to cope with. Social Work and politics go hand-in-hand, and Social Work is highly political in nature (even though some might try to deny this), because Social Workers are the people most likely to be working with what are considered to be “society’s problems”, problems which are also highly political in nature. Social Workers work with criminals, in cases of domestic violence, in cases of child abuse, with the poor and homeless, with the mentally ill, with those who have learning disabilities… Each, and every, category of people or problem that Social Workers work with has been politicized to some degree.

    My point is that Social Workers work with society’s “outcasts” – people who have unfortunately been labelled, and thus stigmatized. Remember what I have oft said about language? Words are peculiar things in that they can have power, can have multiple meanings, and can be easily manipulated. Words can also create labels for people. Labels can create stigma. (Read Jenny Morris, “Pride Against Prejudice”, published by the Womens’ Press for more on labelling, and stigmatization). All the words used to categorize people that Social Workers work with are also labels – mentally ill is a label, abuse victim is a label, criminal is a label, homeless is a label… And all such labels carry stigma, because they single the bearer of such a label out as “different” and as somehow problematic and “less than”. Labels are intensely powerful, in that they stick with people (often for lifetimes), they single people out, and they criticize people (all of which equal stigma). Labels can also be manipulated, and used to manipulate public feelings about a person who has been labelled. For example, if somebody is labelled as mentally ill, this label provokes a reaction in other people which can be profoundly negative. Labels often provoke negative reactions, and can be deliberately used just to do this.

    The problem for Social Workers is that they work with people who are labelled, and stigmatized as a result. I cannot help but wonder if some of this stigma rubs off on the Social Work profession (i.e. if a profession who work with stigmatized people ends up stigmatized too)? Certainly, many of the people that Social Workers work with are underprivileged in some way, and it is this underprivilege that leaves them so heavily politicized. Indeed, their very reliance on assistance like Social Care leaves them open to politicization. You see, the problem (in my eyes) is that society tends to question the validity of people who require assistance, especially during times of “austerity”. When a country is struggling economically, people who are sick, disabled, elderly, homeless… may come to be viewed as a “burden”, which again politicizes them, as politicians are asked awkward questions about how the needs of such people should be met, and whether their needs should be met. When a country is short of money, people with considerable needs (e.g. a need for home care; a need for 24 hour support; disability; homelessness; frailty…) may be seen by some as an “inconvenience” that the country ought not to find money for. Stigmatization of people is little more than the open accusation that they are somehow “inconvenient”.

    The stigmatization of many groups of people with whom Social Workers work may also be, at least in part, why there exists a culture of dealing only with problems when they reach “crisis point”. Work of a more holistic, preventative nature needs to be well-funded, and the reasons for undertaking it need to be well understood and recognized – which, in a culture of “crisis intervention” only, they are not. If services that undertake preventative work are being cut due to local authority “austerity measures” then it makes sense that we end up with little more than a “crisis intervention” service. This applies not only in Children & Family services, but in all areas of Social Work. Fortunately, if this is an issue that BASW recognizes, and gives voice to, then a move may be made to direct understanding, and resources, more towards preventative work. It is about ensuring that all involved (politicians included) understand the nature and value of preventative work, and understand why it is more beneficial in the long term for clients than mere “crisis intervention”. It is about ensuring that all involved comprehend that preventative work is about tackling the underlying problems that lead to crisis, as much as it is about preventing said crisis happening. It is work of a much more extensive nature, that focusses not just upon one particular issue, but upon all issues that relate to it. It is holistic work.

    Social Work really does need a voice – a strong voice that can communicate important messages to the government, and public, alike. A voice in the media, and in real life. A voice in research, in academia, in training. A voice to promote the rights and needs of Social Workers as a professional group of important people. A voice as strong as that representing Nurses, Doctors, the NHS. Because Social Care is just as important as any other public sector profession, and is vitally important to the continued thriving of the NHS.

    I’m just hoping that it finds it.