No funding, no independence – the real reason for the closure of the College of Social Work

The College of Social Work (TCSW) was set up to provide support, advice and be a voice for its members. However, that voice was muted when the college was forced to close its doors in July 2015, citing a lack of funds.

Sure, the failure to create a self-sufficient organisation had a big part to play in the closure, but it was much more than that.

From election to closure

I was elected on the children and families faculty of the college in January this year. Having progressed through the ranks from NQSW to quality assurance lead, this was a huge success for me. It was an honour to sit amongst senior colleagues with the aim to put together a coherent plan, detailing how we move forward as a voice of the profession.

I was able to attend three meetings, including the first joint meeting of all faculties in March 2015. It was the meeting that discussed the way forward; it was here where we decided to focus on membership to ensure the longevity of the organisation.

In February I approached Jo Cleary about ways to increase membership uptake. I was encouraged to meet with the staff member in charge of membership which I did on two occasions. Everything was moving in the right direction then TCSW announced that it was to close its doors. I was livid.

Here’s why it closed

I know that the leaking of emails stated that the organisation was badly led but I wasn’t privy to that level of leadership. However, what is clear is that:

  • Too few people knew TCSW existed
  • Too few people were clear on what TCSW did
  • TCSW was too reactive to be an independent voice
  • Government funding meant that TCSW was limited in scope

Too few people knew TCSW existed

It’s clear from the resulting press that many were in the dark about TCSW. This doesn’t just include the general public, but more importantly my peers.

I was a member from the time it was free and definitely felt there was a clear need for social work leaders to influence government and ensure those we serve are not further oppressed by a system enacting reactive legislation that inhibits their ability to have their basic needs met and have access to services.

There were many local authorities that had corporate memberships but if you spoke to social workers within those local authorities, many – at least those I have spoken to – were not aware the membership existed. Those that knew saw no need to join, which leads me to my next point.

Too few people were clear on what TCSW did

I was told that the majority of the members were there for the insurance. The insurance! You join an organisation that bills itself as the voice of the profession for the insurance?

TCSW boasted great services, many of which failed to realise their potential. The mentorship programme didn’t take off; neither did the trained policy champions; media spokespeople went unseen as communication only ever came from Jo Cleary and Annie Hudson. Successes included the university endorsement scheme, AYSE certification, Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) and online CPD log. TCSW also gave member’s access to Athens which held a number of social work resources that were invaluable to students, academics and professionals alike.

So, there are a few things that we did to contribute to practice.

TCSW was too reactive to be an independent voice

We didn’t proactively pursue change.

You may be thinking that’s not particularly fair, considering that I was only on the faculty for six months, and maybe you’re right. But in my tenure and from everything that I learned speaking to colleagues and members, not once did policy champions challenge a piece of government legislation or significantly change something that impacted practice.

We established the channels to motivate change. There are so many initiatives we should have been able to influence on behalf of the profession. This list is not exhaustive; development of Frontline, cutting social work bursaries, mandated reporting, criminalising neglect, changes to social work education, challenging assessment and accreditation schemes and more.

I do understand that you have to be aware of and sensitive to your stakeholders. I know that by being government funded, there was a bit of a muzzle on the college – effectively dulling the voice. But government funding should never have been anything other than a starting point; we needed to ensure sustainable membership.

Government funding meant that TCSW was limited in scope

I heard on a number of occasions that we need to be careful how we worded our responses to consultation and general government comment. Every time I heard this, sitting amongst those meant to be the voice of the profession, I felt that there was a message of “speak, but do it quietly as to not disturb.” For me this went against the entire ethos of the organisation.

I appreciate that the government funding helped to get us up and running, and here’s where we failed – self sufficiency.

I remember the back and forth with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) regarding the financing of the college. They were against the government funding. They were proud of their independence and any alliance with us could have compromised their stance. That said, their support would have been invaluable, significantly improving the social work profession. We seriously missed a trick.

There was so much we could not say. There is so much we could have done. There were so many challenges we could have taken up and moved on to improve social work practice. We were a quiet voice; in my opinion, a much too quiet voice.

Unrealised potential

Regardless of whatever else is said, I believe TCSW failed because it didn’t have a sustainable income. It had no way to maintain its activities – that’s the long and short of it.

In my idealist bubble, I don’t think I’ll be satisfied until we get another body that can stand for us with the connections and influence to impact great change – such as the college. We just need to make sure that when this time comes, we are ready and armed with the lessons learned from the failures of TCSW.

Do you agree with Tiffany? What do you think the college could have done better? Share your thoughts in the comments below

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