‘Don’t accept this narrative of failure – the college achieved a lot’

By Ruth Allen, Brigid Featherstone and Gerry Nosowska - chairs of the mental health, children’s and adults’ faculties of the College of Social Work

Now that some weeks have elapsed since the shock announcement that the College of Social Work (TCSW) is to close, as chairs of the three faculties we think it timely to offer our reflections on its achievements and legacy.

We feel a degree of urgency about this task for two reasons. Firstly, a narrative is emerging in some quarters that is focused on the “failure” of TCSW.  We think it is vital, for the future of our profession and its morale and effectiveness, that we don’t accept a story of failure when much has been achieved. Secondly, our faculties are continuing their work and we want to maintain that momentum – and let members and others know what we are doing.

 

Let’s remind ourselves of some of TCSW’s achievements, some of which are well known, but others less so. The recent review of the Professional Capabilities Framework showed that it is widely used and making a real difference to practice and professional identity.  TCSW developed, promoted and supported its implementation across the country. It is increasingly recognised the PCF provided a really helpful framework for the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment in particular. The chief social worker for adults’ knowledge and skills statement links to it, and new statements for practice supervisors and leaders clearly reflect its domains and levels, even if it is not explicitly acknowledged.

We gave social work a new profile in policy-making. TCSW members were in key national policy-making forums and contributed effectively to many consultations on behalf of the profession. In the Care Act, we now have a law for adult care and support that specifies social workers in its guidance, in part because of the work of TCSW. The new Code of Practice for the Mental Health Act includes many TCSW contributions particularly greater emphasis on family and carer involvement.

TCSW was unique in that students, practitioners (new and experienced), service users, carers, managers and academics (over fifty volunteers in all) worked together regularly in faculties and the Professional Assembly to pool evidence from research and practice to reach considered judgments on a range of matters. This included taking a clear position on the importance of generic social work education and opposing the outsourcing of child protection services, the mandatory reporting of child abuse and the criminalisation of social workers.

Volunteer members acted as media spokespeople, wrote blogs and tweeted, and contributed to important, national news stories, such as the approved mental health practitioner (AMHP) leads network contribution on the state of mental health services.

The vast majority of social work qualifying programmes committed to the process of endorsement, a process which was entirely voluntary, in order to further develop excellent social work education. Still more universities, companies and individuals took up the College’s CPD quality endorsement scheme.

Overall, our experience of TCSW has been of extremely committed and able people, working hard and making a difference – employed staff, people who have used services and their carers, trustees, elected and other members alike.

 

So does this mean we got everything right? Of course not!  TCSW was a very young organisation – just four years old—and the current faculties had only existed in elected form since January 2014. It was a steep learning curve for us all and, of course, there are regrets. Perhaps we didn’t capture the imagination of enough social workers. We could have done more to promote practical change in day-to-day practice, such as manageable caseloads, excellent supervision and dealing with ethical dilemmas of working within austerity. We needed to work ever more closely with service users, carers and families to promote excellence through co-production. And we needed to develop a more truly independent, empowered and valued membership.

We feel we were just getting into our stride in a period of policy churn and scrutiny. TCSW in this form ran out of time. But proof that it was, and is needed, remains.

 

The faculties are continuing to take professional work forward. We are developing a conference for children’s social work that offers an alternative to current policy directions, co-producing a resource to improve social work with younger adults and launching new resources to take forward the Role of the Social Worker in Adult Mental Health Service guidance with the chief social worker for adults.

The response from social workers at the loss of the college was to call for a new body to represent the profession and to lead practice – the continued mission of the college. Active groups like the Social Workers Assembly have grown up and other social work organisations are joining their voices.  There is real optimism for a strong future for the profession.

The college played an important part in all this, much has been learnt and its members will continue to build better social work for a better society.

 

This blog appeared in Community Care on 10 August 2015