by Ruth Allen
I took up post as chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) in April with many ideas about change and one simple thought at the forefront; society needs great social work, and social work needs an excellent professional body if it is to make the greatest difference in people’s lives.
Recently children’s minister Edward Timpson has posed the question of what post-qualifying and developmental body is needed for social work in England, to complement the work of a new regulator. He is correct to do so – and BASW is key to getting the right answer.
Since qualifying as a social worker in 1994 I have most often worked within integrated settings with health colleagues. I have seen those colleagues often benefit from and be proud of their membership of well-established associations, societies and colleges.
I have personally wanted a large, unified body that could speak for and about social work and provide a platform for us to lead on the issues that matter most to us and to those we work with. One that promotes our collective identity and challenges us to come up with the best ideas from within the profession, not have them imposed from without.
Lessons from elsewhere
The lesson from other professions is that the bodies that have been most successful in the long term have often been developed from the grassroots over a long period of time. They have frequently changed and developed in their form, status and functions. This is the case for the medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Association of Occupational Therapists.
BASW is such a grassroots organisation, having been in existence since 1970, driven by and responsive to its members. We have an excellent position to build from.
We have organisational strength, financial sustainability, an ambitious development programme and a clear vision laid out in our 2020 Vision statement – to be the strong, independent voice of social work and social workers across the four nations of the UK. Our membership is nearing 22,000, with record growth of 14% last year. We have had success in influencing national policies, such as our powerful and thoughtful influence on amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill.
BASW needs to keep changing and growing if we are to ensure we are the organisation that all social workers in the UK want to join, stay with, shape and rely upon. We will grow and adapt while remaining, at core, the reliable and steady voice of ethical, excellent practice.
Close to my heart is the vital importance of further developing a wide array of partnerships and alliances with others across the social work sector, and also, crucially, with people who use and experience social work services, and who may be denied them in this time of public service austerity.
We also have an increasingly diverse and empowered membership and part of my role and commitment is to provide the infrastructure to support their talents, knowledge and skills. I want BASW to be the ‘engine room’ where members can get involved, work with each other and, in formal and informal groups, lead and produce resources and guidance to the sector.
Through this we will have increasing impact on matters of ethics, social justice, human rights and practice quality, nationally and internationally. And we will make tangible our belief that social workers must lead their own profession, its standards and claims to knowledge.
Like many professional bodies we want to be, as far as possible, a ‘one stop shop’ for what people need for their successful professional life. This will change over time with the demands of job roles, expectations upon practice and policy changes. We need to be able to respond as well as provide continuity. We have many of the building blocks in place having come through various stages of development over 40 years. We are poised for the next phase.
Investing in CPD
We are investing in the expansion of our professional development and education functions. This is alongside our increasing activities to commission and produce high quality research, practice guidance and expert advice.
We will offer a framework for continuing professional development for England and are keen to work with all parts of the sector to determine how that profession-led framework should look. We now host the professional capabilities framework and will ensure that it will be refreshed, relevant and alive to the demands of the social workers in all settings.
While social workers will develop specialist skills and make choices about their professional focus, the PCF will continue to embody the unity of the profession, providing common defining domains and guidance on levels of common capability and maturity of practice.
To take our vision forward, we will need our partners to help shape and deliver this. What we develop needs to be felt and understood across the social work sector. I look forward to reaching out widely and having these discussions with colleagues. And I invite anyone from any social work, social care, service user, carer or other organisation with a stake in a strong professional body for social workers to get in touch. We need to talk!
Ruth Allen is chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers firstname.lastname@example.org