‘The College of Social Work wasn’t perfect. But here’s why I’m petitioning to save it’

Social worker Sally-ann Rodbourne tells Community Care how she's responding to moves to shut the college

As a child protection social worker, part of my job is to think the unthinkable and ask difficult questions. So here’s one: how many social workers care that we are about to lose our profession’s first ever professional college? I’ve started a petition to find out.

My only involvement in The College of Social Work is as a member. I signed up when I was a student social worker. I really wanted to get behind it. I firmly believe we need a strong, professional body. I believed The College could provide it.

This week’s news that it will close due to a lack of funding and members was a total shock. As a member, I’d heard nothing to suggest The College’s future was at all in doubt. If things were bad I wish someone could have said ‘look, this is your college and if you don’t support by joining it might be lost’.

Look, I’m realistic about this. I’m just a social worker. I don’t know whether there’s any chance of The College being saved. I also know The College as it was, was far from perfect. Its model didn’t work. It didn’t get enough members. But I want to see if there are other social workers who, like me, are really worried about the prospect of this organisation being closed down after being given such a short lifespan to try and establish itself.

Last night I was thinking about how to respond to the news. One way would be to join all the ‘RIP The College’ talk going on. But then I found myself thinking, is The College – or at least the idea of a member-led professional college for social work – totally dead in the water? Shouldn’t we at least have a conversation and check how many social workers feel this kind of professional body needs to be saved?

That’s why I started the petition. The aim is to get signatures from 15,000 social workers who are not current members of The College of Social Work. That’s roughly the number of members The College was short of its target.

If there is enough support then maybe we can bring pressure to reverse the decision to close The College. And even if The College of Social Work cannot be saved, having that groundswell of social workers could actually help us to start talking about how to develop something that is well and truly member-led and different to what has gone before.

At the end of the day my petition might get 500 signatures. It may get the 15,000 I’m hoping for. Either way it’s going to tell us something about how much social workers care about what has happened to their first, and possibly last, professional college.

Let’s at least have the conversation because a crucial decision has been made about our profession’s future.

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