I’ve been trying to be positive about some of the changes taking place at work recently. Being ‘in flux’ is nothing new and I have been working in the sector (and in local government) long enough to be no stranger to reconfigurations.
Being of a mind that criticism is easy but needs to be couched in ways that things can work better, I’ve been thinking about ways that my job could be better and how I could be more effective in it.
Of course, this will go nowhere, but it’s an interesting thought experiment for me and helps me to retain hope.
There are a few themes I want to consider. It’s a bit of a fantastical ‘dream list’ of where I’d like to see social work in the future.
‘Personalisation’ has been a massive driver but the increased workloads and paperwork have not led to better outcomes for most of the people I work with because the focus of the agenda has been on smaller specific groups of people who have fitted the model of wanting and managing well with direct payments.
There is nothing more morale sapping that completing a review for a service under so-called ‘personalisation’ agendas which have been forced onto people who don’t want them and telling them that they now have a ‘personal budget’ – not to do whatever they want with, but to have the same service provider, providing the same service at a higher cost.
It feels like a con because it is a con. This is not ‘personalisation’. This is language which has been distorted by government and policy and mashed into the conveyor belt which is the only way that local government commissioning is able to operate.
The word and the process of ‘personalisation’ has been hijacked and contaminated by providing a front for more cuts and attempts to disperse responsibilities from the state to the individual.
So how to make things better?
Let us aspire towards excellence. I said to someone earlier in the week, I don’t want to do ‘ok’ work, I want to do excellent work. I want to go home and be proud of what I have accomplished with someone and their family.
How can this happen? By moving the personal budgets beyond direct payments or managed LA budgets. By bringing people with experience of using services and social workers who are asked to implement the systems, into discussions with commissioning teams. By breaking down block commissioning – which may be more costly. Real, true ‘co-production’ which involves discussion with all groups of users not just those who always come to the meetings. Using Individual Service Funds, using Trust Funds, using small providers, providing genuine choice and different options not just ‘choice’ within the context of what the local authority approves of – for all user groups not just the ‘easy’ ones.
Choices will need to be made in terms of funding but the cost of leaving work feeling that I could have done much better, is not something that I want to aspire to.
I mean by advocacy, being given – and taking where necessary – the role of speaking up more cogently for people who use the services we provide on one hand – and of our own profession on the other hand.
Social Workers have a unique position in seeing the effects of social policy experiments taken at national and local levels. We shouldn’t need to be constrained by managerial approaches which have driven us into the ground because actually, our employers are scared of some of the values we have.
I wonder sometimes if local authorities WANT social workers who are anything other than automatons. Then I think it is a necessary part of my role to be a proverbial ‘fly in the ointment’. Fortunately, I have a manager who thinks in a similar way, but we need to push this upwards to a policy-making and commissioning level.
Rather than waiting for social workers to be given a voice, we need to seize the voice. Newspapers and media companies may want personal stories but I genuinely believe there are stories we can comment on without needing to draw on the lives of those who use our services.
We have to use our voices politically and waiting around for BASW or the College of Social Work is all well and good but we need to do more.
I see a future of social work as pushing it’s own voice out whether people want to listen or not. People ARE interested in social work and what we do, they just don’t actually know what we do.
We are well placed to have a strong voice in political and social developments and must use that. I think it would give the profession as a whole more credence. We must remain clear about the goals of ‘social work’ and why social work is necessary.
‘Social Work’ is more than statutory social work however having social work in local government is essential too. As skilled professionals who work on the ‘frontline’ we can’t allow our voice to be co-opted by those who claim to speak for us.
However I’d like to see a more cohesive social work voice that isn’t limited to local authority workers and embraces the voluntary sector. I see more social work taking place outside the local authority bounds but we have to use and build our professional knowledge and take responsibility for our collective professional growth and influence.
New ‘Social Work’ ways of working
We can embrace both technology and social media to promote and present different ways to provide ‘social care’ and social services. We can incorporate our professional skills in terms of active learning and reflection to use new forms of communication and collate and innovate in the field to look at the ways we build communities and relationships more broadly and what that can mean to social work as a whole.
We are able to build links more easily both across the sector, nationally and internationally, across different professions but most valuably with users of the services we provide. Perhaps ‘virtual’ space and communities of interest rather than just location should be considered as places in which some of our expertise could gravitate. We have to take new opportunities and learn in non-linear ways.
Research into Practice
We have to build positive links with universities and organisations committed to research and encourage more practice-based research. We can’t allow the repository of knowledge of the profession to lie solely in academic institutions. Links between practice and academia have to flourish in order for the profession to flourish. Maybe there needs to be more systems of secondment. This may exist in some places already but I haven’t seen it locally.
We talk about using evidence-based and evidence-informed practice but when discussions are raised about changing things locally, we are presented with policy decisions already made. I’d like to have more autonomy personally and as a team to pursue both original research and change models of practice accordingly.
I have to think that things will get better for and in social work. We have some excellent skills that are not necessarily lauded. We are able to draw in the ways that society impacts on the individual and the ways through some of the difficulties faced. We have to shout out this unique expertise and the values that underpin it so both it is recognised as a skill and that we recognise it ourselves as skills we use.
Sometimes we get caught up in the day to day work or caught in the mire of negativity about social work to forget what a fantastic job this actually is. I desperately want it to get better. I believe it will, otherwise, I don’t think I could continue.