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
    people.

    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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