The British Association of Social Workers has defended its decision to ballot members over launching a breakaway college of social work, arguing it is urgently needed on behalf of practitioners and service users.
Unions have joined the government in criticising BASW’s stance, which led to them being asked to step down from the official college development group chaired by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
But Fran Fuller, acting chair of BASW, said the association, which has 12,500 members – around 12% of the workforce – felt “patronised” and “ignored” during the college development talks and had no choice but to take firm action.
In an announcement last week, BASW pledged to launch “an effective, independent college of social work across the UK to transform the status and standing of the profession and to deliver improved services to the millions of children and adults that rely on social work support every day”.
“The situation for social work and particularly the users of social work is urgent and we must have a real effective college led by and accountable to social workers,” Fuller told Community Care.
“The current view of the college is neither potent nor compelling enough to make a difference. As the professional association in all humility we have a responsibility to act.”
Fuller said she was not aware of being asked to reconsider BASW’s position on the college development group, formed under the Social Work Reform Programme, until being contacted by Community Care.
BASW’s council had planned to remain on the group until the results of the members’ ballot were available “out of professionalism and politeness”, but added: “I’m sure that they will be willing to review this decision if other colleagues think our attendance would be inappropriate.”
Critics have claimed that the leadership style of BASW’s chief executive, Hilton Dawson, has been confrontational and unhelpful – as demonstrated by his public row with children’s secretary Ed Balls at the National Children’s and Adult Services conference in November last year.
But Fuller said: “The Harrogate conference was media froth. Hilton has met Ed Balls once last July for a serious discussion and reported publicly on how constructive and helpful it had been.”
She added: “Personalising this to Hilton is actually an insult to the members of BASW council who are very experienced and able people who have worked closely and intensively on this issue for a long time. This resolution was passed by members after a long debate and a democratic vote – for some of the time Hilton wasn’t even in the room. Nor is he the strongest voice within BASW on this issue.”
The Social Work Task Force concluded that a national college of social work was needed after finding a lack of a clear and coherent voice of social work to influence policy making and service design at national and local levels.
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