Five things the social work profession should do in the face of public criticism

Social workers must speak up and continue to believe in people, not systems, says Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point

Lord Victor Adebowale
Lord Adebowale (Credit: Andy Sidders Photography

“It saddens me sometimes, sitting in the House of Lords, listening to the denigration of your profession,” said Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Turning Point, at The College of Social Work’s first annual general meeting and members’ conference yesterday.

As well as leading Turning Point, Adebowale is a cross bench member of the House of Lords and a non-executive director of NHS England, among other roles. He has never been a social worker, but over years of working in housing, health and social care, he has formed a strong – and broadly supportive – view of the profession. He says it infuriates him that social work is so often pilloried.

Yesterday, he offered the following advice to social workers in the room:

  1. You need to speak up and speak out. If you don’t, I don’t know who is going to. You know more than anyone else what’s happening.”
  2. You have to learn and develop. That’s a no brainer. There was a time, certainly in the not-for-profit sector, when being kind and having a passion was enough. B****cks. Passion and practice are required. You need to be sharpening your sword every day. It’s the only way you can provide safe, supportive care.”
  3. Continue to believe in people. One of the problems of professionalisation is you start to believe in the systems and bureaucracy, not the people. I’m not talking about blind belief, but relationships should come first.”
  4. You need to deliver change. The big challenge for social work is integration with health. Change is really difficult. You will meet with resistance and discomfort, but you must take those credible first steps towards change.”
  5. The thing about leadership is, if you’re doing it well, it’s not easy. I’m always surprised by people in leadership roles who complain about it being hard. Of course it is. Leaders shouldn’t be pessimistic; the people outside, who’re at the mercy of their circumstances, they can be pessimistic.”

Do you agree with Adebowale? Let us know in the comments section below.


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2 Responses to Five things the social work profession should do in the face of public criticism

  1. Jenni Randall January 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    I agree totally but would add that the 5 points should apply to everyone in the system not just social workers. We have to work with or within the system as it is so managers at all tiers need to sign up this as do politicians otherwise the social workers become marginalized.

  2. Philip Measures February 3, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    And these high ideals need to be cascaded down from the top – Government, Elected Members, CEO’s of Local Authorities, senior managers and, indeed, managers at all levels. No-one should be exempt.