Back to my roots

“I hear you’re giving up politics and going back to social work,”
people say to me with an air of bemused surprise.

It is true. I am not standing in the next general election, partly
because I could not bear to feel peripheral to the vast changes
that are about to come to children’s services and children’s lives.

I believe that the green paper Every Child Matters is our
great opportunity to take part in what would be a fundamental
transformation of our society if we really began to put children
first, building our services around their needs.

I enjoy parliament. I have been able to bring my social work
experience to bear on some excellent laws. I am looking forward to
new legislation and to working for the children’s commissioner for

However, the big challenges to institutions, to professions, to
organisations, to all the established ways of doing things will be
much closer to the ground.

Discussing this with social workers and members of the General
Social Care Council I was astounded to hear the suggestion that the
green paper could be a threat to social work, that it could undo
progress on standards, training and recognition.

Some seemed to believe that the integration of services and the
introduction of core training heralds the end of a profession,
albeit a profession, they claim, that is demoralised and

I completely disagree. In fact, I believe that the green paper
requires that the standing of social work is raised enormously and
the true value of social work properly recognised. An integrated
children’s service would be founded upon social work values,
permeated by the knowledge of social workers and dependent upon
their skills.

Social work will be a vital function of integrated children’s
services. Indeed the new style and structure of children’s work
will require social work’s regard for individuals and understanding
of systems if it is to work at all.

I don’t care where social work is carried out, although it seems
better to do it close to communities and in partnership with other

Change will be difficult and challenging to comfortable assumptions
and established ways of working. The establishment of a children’s
commissioner is not some afterthought. Their key role will be to
ensure real rigour in the way that services centre themselves on
the needs and participation of children.

Real partnership and integration will require everyone to listen
more carefully, respect individuals and communities more, make
personal efforts to break down barriers and challenge each other
and ourselves about the way that we do the work.

This is the prospect of change that excites and enthrals me. It
requires active participation and commitment. Social workers will
need to raise their heads.

Some of the people I spoke to last week and ex-colleagues tell me
that social workers are demoralised and disempowered. I certainly
do not accept that this applies to everyone and nor do I believe
that anyone has a right to allow this to get in the way of making
the future a great deal better.

Perhaps it is a sign of how far we have fallen that Every Child
sounds like a radical statement. It plainly needs a
radical profession to take it forward and social work needs to
rediscover its radicalism if it is to make it work.

Most MPs only bother themselves about fox hunting because their
constituents demand it. Every single social worker in the country
should be contacting their MP to ask how they are responding to the
green paper and to explain the significance of social work with
children. There is no excuse for not doing so.

Every social worker, every trade union, professional organisation
and anyone else should be coming together to build a campaign for
social work.

In this piece I have concentrated on work with children but the
message is no different for social work with adults. One focus for
campaigning could be to urge that the Department of Health becomes
the Department of Health and Social Care.

This is a great time to improve services to transform the lives of
the people that social work serves. It must also be a great time
for social workers to remind the world of the significance of our
profession and the opportunities available to those entering and
indeed returning to the work. CC

Hilton Dawson is the Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre
North West.

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