What is Professional Social Work?

Malcolm Payne,
BASW and Policy Press
ISBN 1861347049,


It is obvious that Malcolm Payne is knowledgeable and passionate about the profession and his book contains a wealth of knowledge and thought-provoking discussion to stimulate a timely rekindling of debate about the nature and standing of social work, writes Lynn Baxter.

He identifies three perspectives of social work and their value bases for practice – “therapeutic, social order and  transformational” – and describes the history, complexities and tensions between them in a clear and accessible manner. The
writing is informed and enlivened by a wealth of experience and Payne is not afraid to reveal the origins and development of his own views and possible biases, although I would have welcomed more comparisons of international social work perspectives.

Payne offers simple exercises to the reader for reflection and interesting examples of his own practice to illustrate the connections and interplay between the three perspectives of social work. I was disappointed to discover that my personal “social work territory” had strayed away from the “transformational” perspective and I am keen to introduce this exercise to students.

With the demise of children and families’ social services departments and the propensity for government documentation to
refer to social care workers rather than social workers, let’s hope that we are not too late to reclaim, with the author, our unique position “to combine in a professional role both social transformation and also individual improvement through interpersonal relationships”.

Lynn Baxter is a senior social work lecturer at Greenwich University

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