It is time to celebrate great social workers

The tougher it gets to be a social worker, the more important it is to celebrate their successes, writes Ray Jones

Bianka Lang (middle) receiving her trophy for Overall Social Worker of the Year in 2016. Photo: Matt Grayson

by Ray Jones

It is a tough time to be a social worker in England.

There is more demand for help from children, families and from disabled and older people. Poverty and deprivation is increasing, and the work to do continues to grow.

All of this is happening in the midst of big cuts in the government’s funding to local councils, which has a knock-on impact of less money for social work services and for voluntary organisations and other service providers.

In the middle of this over-heated melting pot are social workers who are working hard with tremendous commitment to assist those who are in difficulty or distressed and those who may need care and protection.

Recently in The Guardian Harry Ferguson, who is professor of social work at Nottingham University, asked ‘why are social workers so reluctant to celebrate their achievements’ and David Brindle noted that “good social workers are invaluable, so let’s give them proper support”.


Well, there is an opportunity to give recognition to those social workers who are a role model for us all and to celebrate what social workers can and do contribute across our communities.

I chair the charity which runs the Social Worker of the Year Awards in England. The Awards were started eleven years ago by Beverley Williams, who is a practising front-line social worker. Every year they have grown with more nominations, more sponsors and more profile.

The event includes a marvellous dinner and awards evening attended by 400 people in London in November and a Parliamentary reception for all winners in the spring.


The eighteen award categories range from student social worker of the year, adults’ and children’s social workers, teams and managers of the year, to championing the values of social work and promoting social work.

The 2016 overall social worker of the year was Bianka Lang, a children’s services team manager with Essex County Council, and Suzy Croft, until recently a palliative care social worker at St John’s Hospice, received the lifetime achievement award.

The SWOTY Awards (not be to be confused with the BBC’s SPOTY Awards!) are a great opportunity to recognise individual social workers, teams and organisations who are champions for social work.

Have a look at the website to see the full range of awards. And then do nominate those who deserve recognition for their great care and contribution. The deadline for nominations is 21 July.

In the midst of difficult times, taking the time to say well done and thank you becomes even more important.

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7 Responses to It is time to celebrate great social workers

  1. Social Worker June 6, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

    Great article. I agree fully. Social work usually has to be discreet and is best when it goes unnoticed so to ensure confidentiality and help maintain dignity and reduce stigma. However for just one night a year it’s great that we can get together and celebrate what we do well. I hope the Awards go from strength to strength.

  2. Liz Davies June 8, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

    I do not support these awards because it is partly sponsored by the private sector and also because of the extravagant way in which the event takes place. I would far prefer to see BASW host a more humble award scheme as they do in other parts of the UK. Or perhaps we could see social workers and others put forward service users and service user organisations for awards – this would fit far better for me with our social work standards. Whatever I may have achieved in 40 years of paid employment as a social worker – the service users I’ve been privileged to meet have achieved just so much more.

    I know many will disagree with me and think I’m spoiling the fun but I’m reflecting on our basic principles. I’m not saying good practice should not be recognised – of course it should – but there are other less flamboyant ways to do this.

    • Clare June 9, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

      Interesting to read your reply Liz and good of you to think of service users and their organisations as being the best people to make such nominations! There’s certainly some truth in it and hopefully there is some co-production with users in choosing the prize winning social workers in this award. However, with the best will in the world I don’t think it is a priority for people who use services to plan and publicise such an award because of all their other priorities so it just wouldn’t get done. As a social worker and practice teacher as well as someone who uses services, I do think there is very little recognition of the complexity of social work around and in the media and therefore what makes a good social worker. Yet the media takes note of such occasions and it’s one time to show ‘good social work’ and for others to learn about it. This will lead to the recognition of social work among other professions (think of how easy it is for example for people to see the value of nursing) and give the profession the self esteem they are entitled to.

  3. Joanna Nicolas June 9, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

    With the greatest of respect, LIz, I could not disagree more. In our profession we are so used to being lambasted, controlled and criticised by everyone from government to the media to the courts and we just seem to take everything lying down. I spend so much of my time saying to social workers we need to stand up to those who have completely unrealistic expectations of us, and just to be clear, in no way am I justifying poor practice but what is wrong with once a year celebrating in, yes, an over the top way, and recognising the brilliant work that is done and giving those fantastic social workers a night they, hopefully, will never forget?
    We should celebrate brilliant practice and it just would not have the same feel if it was a cheese sandwich in a social club. Life is so tough for frontline workers and if a night of dressing up and being spoiled rotten spreads good cheer and and makes the best social workers feel good about what they do, I’m all for it.

  4. jane June 9, 2017 at 7:36 pm #

    I have nominationed 2 social workers in different catogories..It was very hard work and i had to go though many hoops to get the LA to verify them.Both S/Ws were outstanding.They got no where and had nothing not even a nice letter saying it had been done. it and well done to them ? I showed them what i had done but I felt so disappointed
    .I would like a little less spent on the evening and more about EACH nomination. eg a letter and cerificate That would be fairer.
    Also may I ask why I as a service user had to go though so many hoops to get them nominated? I am an educated woman and it was a time consuming task to get nothing back.I wanted something special for them, one who has given 39 years as a social worker? Could it please be widened to inculde more

  5. Jenni Randall June 10, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    Oh dear Liz, what a shame that you cannot see that for so long we have been reluctant to celebrate , to show off, to be proud of our amazing work. In 2013 I received a Lifetime Achievement Award and I would have been so disappointed if I had been invited to a austere council sports hall for tea and biscuits with some disinterested local Councillor giving me the award. It is a very hard profession as you know and after nearly 50 yrs in the work I was delighted to be invited to such a splendid evening out, for me the more glitz and glamour the better! I have some reservations about the fact that private companies are sponsors of the awards but they are our partners in the current climate and very valued partners so their involvement simply reflects the social work world of today. Lets make a lot of noise and celebrate as loudly as possible our wonderful achievements and so as many people as possible learn about our work, These awards are a great contribution, a great celebration and long may they continue. Of course Liz if you win one of the awards you could always do as John Lennon did!

  6. Ray Jones June 13, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    Many thanks Jane for your comments and advice about sending a recognition to all who are nominated for the awards. I will see if this can be taken on board. Thank you also for making the nominations. With regard to the information requested which supports each nomination we have this year shortened what is asked for.