Thursday, 3 November 2011

The College of Social Work

I have always believed that in Britain we need a college of social work, if for no other reason than that all the other caring professions have their colleges and royal colleges which take a leading role in professional standards and development. If surgeons have a royal college, why not social workers?

A college of social work would, I am sure, be good for child protection social work. Having a national membership body with a remit for developing practice and practitioners would surely result in a better standard of service to abused and neglected children and their families. And the college could form a focal point for independent research and the development of new ways of working. Not only that, it would be supportive to practitioners and enhance their professional self-esteem. In short it is a good idea.

Why then is the present project to establish the College of Social Work running into such serious difficulties? Accusations of various sorts are flying back and forth between the Interim Board of the College and the British Association of Social Workers. A trades union, Unison, appears to have become party to the proceedings (for reasons which I do not understand) and the Government seems to be sitting on the sidelines just waiting for the next dramatic impasse. Not a pretty sight.

Without being privy to the contents of late night discussions in what used to be called 'smoke-filled rooms', it seems to me that it is impossible to say who is right and who is wrong. But it is possible to say that the whole spat is a complete disgrace which is doing the profession and the cause of higher practice standards no good at all. So some-one needs to bang some heads together quickly.

The Interim Board of the College appears to have acted in ways which to me seem strange. Rather than concentrating on what needs to be done in the short-term to create a suitable governance structure and to attract the maximum number of members, they seem to have broadened their activities into all sorts of consultation and policy areas. 

And I personally felt patronised to receive an email asking me to participate in a key word exercise about the nature of social work.  This is the kind of thing I used to get my students to do on day one of their courses when I taught in a university - and which they used to complain about as being infantilising! I would have much preferred to have been treated as a grown-up and simply asked to give my opinions about what the college should do, how it should be governed and how it should develop.