Our resident voice of the social worker, Tiffany Green discusses what it means to be a social worker and her frustration at those who are running the profession.

I believe Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan’s speech on “Delivering a revolution in children’s social care” continues to perpetuate this misunderstanding of what social work is.

Social work is not a vocation. It is an internationally recognised profession. It has its own definition despite the Education Secretary’s insistence that “thanks to this government, social workers now have clarity for the first time ever”. It’s as though we’ve all been running around confused as to whom we are and what it is we are meant to do for the populations we serve.

Definition of social work

As an international social worker, I came to this country with a very clear understanding of what a social worker does although I may not have understood the context of social work in the UK. The IFSW (International Federation of Social Workers) have a global definition of social work:

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.”

This focus on social work and the need to correct social work in order to improve the service provided to vulnerable children and families without correcting the systems in which they work or the management is futile.

You’re sending the best graduates into management systems that are ineffectual. I can attest to the fact that training generalist or generic social workers works since I was brought here/sponsored to do social work. It is exactly my generalist education that provided a foundation and the confidence to work with vulnerable people not just children and families.

Supporting the profession

Nicky Morgan states close to the beginning and close to the end of her speech that she supports social workers but I’d like to get a clear definition of support from her. As a social worker I see support as:

  • Children’s centres and youth clubs as they provide vital community services and support to children’s social care but these are all being closed
  • Standard of education across all programmes traditional and otherwise
  • Having social work recognised and treated as a profession/career choice rather than a vocation as it keeps us from being subjected to the whims of political agendas without fair representation
  • Ensuring our professional body is engaged in and part of any and all work groups/task forces/task and finish groups regarding issues that affect the work social workers do
  • Confidently making the distinction between social care and social work; social care employs social workers but is not social work
  • Having educational programmes that train social workers not social care workers which include social work history, social policy , interventions with individuals/families and groups as standard
  • Removing the blame on social workers. You may not say “blame” but when most changes focus on individual social workers rather than the systems that govern the work we do, it seems like you’re saying we are the problem
  • Realistic admission criteria for social worker programmes and an expectation of employers to provide job specific training

Does anybody understand?

The discussions about social care and the issues within those systems are reducing the social work profession to a vocation, but it isn’t. It is an internationally recognised profession. Social workers who are trained to be competitive on the global market, come with a greater variety of skills to assist in supporting vulnerable children and families. It doesn’t seem like anyone actually understands this.

Do you agree with Tiffany? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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