Why a professional college for social work matters to me

It’s World Social Work Day so a good time to reflect on why social work is important and what helps it to thrive. I’ve just become the chair of the Adults faculty of The College of Social Work so want to share my thoughts about what a professional college can and should do for social work.

Firstly, why is it important to have good social work?

Good social work matters because it helps people, who would otherwise lack the resources to manage, maintain or restore their lives. Social workers are able to do something useful for people who need support because: we can build relationships; apply a wide set of knowledge and skills to help people overcome difficulties and build on their strengths; and work in ways that promote rights, choice and control.

So how can a college help social work thrive?

A college can help us to do three important things:

  • It provides a collective voice for who we are - social workers get to decide what our professional identity is and the values we will work to; we need to work together to agree on these and to be clear about who we are.
  • It provides a collective influence on what we should do - most social workers are employed to carry out particular roles that are based on laws and policy that government decides, depending on what the electorate votes for; we need to work together to influence these laws and policies and to help inform the public about the capabilities and limits of social work, using evidence and our experience.
  • It provides collective leadership about the standards to which we work - many of the ways in which we work are led by policy and standards that we don’t set; we need to work together to lead on how we work, using our skills and knowledge.

The Social Work Task Force that reported in 2010 looked extensively at what was happening in social work. It identified major issues because of high workloads, poor tools, and limited support and opportunities for learning. It found that social workers felt misunderstood, blamed and undervalued, and were being asked to follow process rather than pursue outcomes. Social workers who responded to the Task Force’s call for evidence agreed with the statement ‘the social work profession does not have a strong national voice and is not well supported at the national level.’ Examples of this included the response to the murder of Baby P and the lack of social work input to the Mental Health Act.

The Task Force recommended a national college to articulate and promote social work interests, and to provide strong independent leadership, a clear voice, and ownership of standards. This is about social workers deciding and conveying who we are, influencing what we do, and leading on how we do it. All for the benefit of people who need social work. The increasing pressure on social workers from high demand and from cuts, and the difficulties that people who need social work face show that the national college proposed in the Task Force is needed.

So what should The College of Social Work do?

I joined the college and have become increasingly involved in it because I think it is doing the right things. The college aims to be the:

  • First voice for social work – raising the profile of social work
  • First for policy – highlighting the importance of the profession
  • First for practice – supporting social workers to meet high standards.

I accept that there is a lot more to do and many more social workers to reach. The college also needs to work closely with other organisations who support and strengthen social work. I want all social workers to see the college as an integral part of our professional identity, seeking what we need to support people well, and upholding high standards in how we work.

Real Social Work manifesto

The college has just published a 5-point plan for whoever is in power after the general election. This says that in order for social work to thrive, the government should:

  • Increase investment for social work
  • Put social work at the heart of integrated care for adults
  • Revisit the current inspection regime for children’s services
  • Ensure that all services are properly regulated and accountable
  • Commit to post-qualifying Continuing Professional Development.

These are the priorities that members asked the college to pursue. In the same manifesto the college committed to working for social workers so that:

  • Working conditions are improved
  • Social work has a strong public voice
  • Best practice is collated and shared.

The Adults faculty works alongside the Children and Families, and Mental Health faculties. Our aims are to engage more social workers, adults and carers in our work, to keep working on initiatives like strengthening social work with older people, and to stand up for what all adults need from social work.

I would love to hear from adults, carers, families and social workers about what you want us to do so that social work can thrive for the people who need it.


Social Work Task Force final report 2010 Building a safe, confident future

The College of Social Work Real Social Work 5-point plan