Are social workers becoming extinct?

Despite the fact that social workers are soon to have their title
protected, I think that we are seeing the intentional gradual
demise of social work as a profession.

Those who trained in social work in the 1960s, 70s and 80s believed
they were entering a profession – or at least a semi-profession –
where they would be able to influence the policies and practices of
the different agencies to better meet the needs of vulnerable

However, such a view has been sidelined. The welfare state has been
and continues to be dismantled, market forces are seen as the way
forward, and further privatisations continue at every opportunity.
And not least, individuals are increasingly expected to accept
responsibility for their own predicament. As a result social work
has changed for the worse.

Social workers used to have some autonomy and room to work in a
genuine manner alongside clients on their problems and
difficulties. But social work’s role is now different.
Practitioners have been distanced from their clients and are now
inundated with form-filling and paperwork. These days, little
direct work with individuals takes place.

Not much advocacy happens either, and clients are essentially left
to their own devices. Any hands-on work is left to less qualified,
or at least differently qualified, staff such as those in family
support and outreach services, Sure Start, Connexions, and the
Children’s Fund. As for youth offending teams, the integral role of
social work with young offenders has given way to a more diluted
role shared with health, education, and the police.

In the past, radical social workers argued against the
establishment of a General Social Work Council. They saw such a
body as being more about increasing the power and influence of
social work than about meeting the needs of clients. But now we
have such a council subsumed under the guise of social care. This
is another example where the very words “social work” are on the
wane – recall the National Institute of Social Work and the Central
Council for Education and Training in Social Work? For those who
genuinely see themselves as social workers this is, surely, a sad
state of affairs?

Steve Rogowski is a children and families social worker for
a local authority in north west England.

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