Open Forum 16 November 2006

In 1980, Brewer and Lait asked whether social work could survive.(1) Today the answer is that perhaps it cannot. There are many things to be concerned about in children’s and families’ services.

Preventive work, through schemes such as Sure Start and the Children’s Fund, operates with minimal social work input. Currently all that remains for local authority social workers is child protection and safeguarding.

There is also the influence of managerialism, with its focus on procedures and routines entailing little more than repetitive paperwork. This is overseen by managers instead of the professional lead provided by senior social workers and team leaders.

Financially driven services are provided on the basis of narrowing eligibility criteria rather than relationship-based social work that emphasises empathy and respect.

We have also witnessed the passing of the National Institute for Social Work and the Central Council for Education and Training of Social Work.

We also have policy statements about tackling the most socially excluded that do not even mention social work. Indeed, the words “social work” have been replaced by “social care”, which now includes a plethora of semi or quasi-professionals such as outreach workers, development workers, family support workers, mentors and so on. Importantly, as they are not fully qualified, they are much cheaper to employ and easier to control.

Social work is no longer a profession aiming to confront problems at an individual and social level. Such a view, paralleling political and ideological changes, has been replaced by the notion of the risk society; social problems cannot be solved so all that can be done is to manage risk.

Surely the British Association of Social Workers, social services directors and progressive academics should have been more proactive and influential during these developments.

(1) C Brewer and J Lait, Can Social Work Survive?, Temple Smith, 1980

Steve Rogowski is a local authority social worker (children and families) in North West England

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