BASW Reacts to the Education Select Committee’s Report on Social Work Reform

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United Kingdom – The report published by the Commons Education Select Committee welcomes the government’s focus on social work, but is openly critical of the government’s proposals to reform the profession. The report challenges key clauses contained within the Children and Social Work Bill, currently being debated in Grand Committee in the House of Lords, and warns that proposed changes could have a negative impact on services.

British Association of Social Workers’ (BASW) evidence to the Committee is used within the report to highlight member of parliament (MP) concerns that: “The Government’s new reforms do not focus enough on tackling the endemic retention problems. Poor working conditions, caused by high caseloads, negative media coverage and a dysfunctional ‘blame culture’, are driving experienced social workers from the profession. Limits should be placed on caseloads, and a national workforce planning system created to forecast supply and demand … A survey in 2012 by BASW found that 77% of respondents thought their caseloads were at an unmanageable level.”

Furthermore, the report reflects a consensus that the lack of dialogue between social workers and politicians has led to the current negative language and media representation of the profession, exacerbating poor morale and retention rates.

BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen speaking with Community Care stated the report raised: “important concerns about the nature and pace of change” from the Department for Education, and went onto say: “We appreciate the report’s recognition that social workers need specialisation but also need to work across the lifespan and crucially with whole families.

“We need to ensure the great work that is going on – and which will be needed in the future – in adults, criminal justice and mental health social work is not undermined by the DfE’s unilateral focus on child protection priorities, for instance, [by] radically changing university training and education.

“BASW is pleased to see the recommendation that the current proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill for a new regulator under direct government control are not acceptable. There is recognition that regulation of social work should have equal status with other professions and should be primarily about public protection, with a separate, independent professional body promoting excellence for the long term. “The description of a professional body within the report is from our written submission to the committee. That is the role we see the association fulfilling in the future – enabling social workers to practice excellently through CPD and professional development support.”

The recommendations from MP’s include:

  • There should be one Chief Social Worker as recommended by the Munro Review to unify the profession at a national level
  • A call for Government to change its plans as the Committee does not agree with the need for a new regulator, and goes on to define that the regulator’s role should concentrate on public protection by upholding practice standards, not defining standards for post-qualifying training
  • The acknowledgement that a professional body is needed to deliver CPD and professional development, working in partnership with the British Association of Social Workers
  • That specialism should be part of post-qualifying training (as there is a concern that there is too much focus on children and families social work)
  • That quality assurance is put in place for ASYE and for this to be mandatory, with consistently high standards across the country and protected caseloads
  • There needs to be an extended study of fast track training providers, such as Frontline to assess long-term outcomes, with the further recommendation that providers deliver training with a social work education university partner
  • The emphasis needs to be placed on keeping experienced social workers in the profession, rather than the over reliance on fast track recruits from Frontline and Step Up.
  • The establishment of a workforce planning system to tackle vacancy rates and retention problems
  • The report urges ‘caution’ in regard to the Government’s focus on innovation and recommends an assessment of the effectiveness of the current independent trusts before the model is expanded.

According to The Guardian, a Department for Education spokesperson said, “We agree with the education select committee that social work is one of our most important public services and that work is needed to improve its quality.

“Excellent social work transforms lives – that’s why the government has invested over £700m in training and recruitment; why we have committed a further £200m to innovation projects intended to increase the quality of social care practice, and why we intend to accredit every children and family social worker in the country to a high standard.”

Social Workers Must Speak Against Austerity Says BASW UK Chair

BASW APM via Twitter @SimonHadelyPix
BASW AGM via Twitter @SimonHadelyPix

Today, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is holding a members conference in order to set the vision and aims for the Association for the next 5 years. Highlights and thoughts from the conference are being shared on twitter using the hashtag #BASWAGM15.

Guy Shennan, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers, said social workers were better placed than any profession to report the consequences of policies that were likely to continue being implemented after the General Election.

Social workers must collectively speak out as a profession against the damage being done by austerity to society’s most vulnerable citizens, says Shennan to association members.

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Guy Shennan Chair of the British Association of Social Workers

“After five years of cuts to public services, what we can be certain of is that cuts will continue, as every major party remains committed to austerity,” said Mr Shennan.

“So we need to ensure that the social work voice is added to all those other voices demanding an alternative to austerity policies.

“Through a clinical psychology friend I have recently come across a group called Psychologists Against Austerity, who are drawing attention to the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health.

“I believe we need to have Social Workers Against Austerity too, as, more importantly, our service users need this. Because, I would suggest, social workers more than any other profession know about the damage that neoliberalism is doing.

“We see it day-in and day-out – damage to the nation’s mental health, to the welfare of our children, to family relationships, to the wellbeing of disabled people and older people.”

Mr Shennan said joining organisations like BASW and other social work groups was a “political act” that helped strengthen the profession’s voice.

“It is a political act to organise locally in branch activity. To meet at work as a group, to stop working and have lunch together, even if only once a week, to talk about your experiences at work that day, that week.

“To write a joint letter to a local paper, as a group of BASW members. And there will be many other routes to acting and working collectively.”

Doing “real” relationship-based practice was also a way of “reclaiming” social work’s ability to make positive change by “getting alongside service users”.

Mr Shennan said: “It is our profession, our practices, doing what we have been trained to do, and following the great, real social work traditions, that should constitute social work.”

Not an Average Day in the Office: Social Workers from the US to Madrid Come to UK Workplaces for a Day of Unique Learning

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Social workers from across the world will be turning up at workplaces in the UK for a series of seminars on the final day of the International Federation of Social Workers’ (IFSW) European Conference and Social Services Expo in September.

The event hosted by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) aims to give practitioners a chance to learn about an area of practice in a real-life setting while also building links with colleagues in other countries to further their learning and development.

Ruth Stark, President of IFSW, said: “There will be presentations, workshops, meeting people who use services and colleagues from across the globe. These will look at new ways of working but also establish ongoing networks which will be supported by BASW and IFSW for future exchange and mutual learning.

“We do not want just a one-off talking shop. We are investing in new ways to stimulate the thinking that will be needed in the years to come of how we can co-construct with the people we work with to find better ways of achieving the outcomes that enable people to lead better lives.”

The seminars will include work with Roma families. A number of local authorities and NGOs recognise that with the discrimination experienced by families in parts of Europe, many have been moving north to escape.

“Listening to families tell of their experiences of housing, health and school systems that discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity, and bullying and intimidation from those in authority, speak to the feelings of exclusion that many of us joined social work to combat,” said Ms Stark.

“But in reality, how do we work with people who have been displaced from their homeland and find themselves in countries where they can live together inclusively?”

There are also new issues of language, culture and religion for generations that are subsequently born in a new country. Different generations have different languages that could cause tension among families. How are social workers equipped to deal with it?

Ms Stark added, “Sharing knowledge not only within our own teams but from across Europe and beyond will enable us to understand these cross-border issues more intelligently and therefore improve the quality of our work.”

The seminars will include how social workers in France or Sweden work with mental health issues – what laws cover deprivation of liberty and how social workers are involved in protecting human rights. And do the people who use the services experience the same frustrations as those in the UK?

In the Nordic countries, the criminal justice systems are held up as more progressive than those in the UK, but there are still horrific crimes of violence. A joint presentation from Scotland and Sweden will show how partnership working can help boost knowledge in key areas and how reduction of violence programmes in many countries are learning from each other.

In child protection, the seminars will cover how countries in the post-soviet era are developing models of intervention. Are they evolving new methods that would help in this complex area of work? Some countries treat child abuse investigation as solely the remit of law enforcement agencies like the police, while in the UK it is a joint responsibility between police and social work.

Other subject areas include children in public care – how are countries across the world responding to growing calls from victims of institutional abuse for social justice? Some have given compensation and some have held public inquiries but none have really tackled the behaviour of those with power and control who commit offences against children.

Good practice in public care will be the focus of a seminar organised by the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration. This will take in the principles of the Kilbrandon Report – needs not deeds – which underpin the children’s hearings system that has been operating in Scotland since 1970.

A seminar in Renfrewshire will focus on some of the work in the Netherlands and Denmark to create dementia-friendly living environments, enabling people to have a more “normalised” life in their later years. This could revolutionise how joint health and social care budgets are used more effectively.

South Lanarkshire will host a seminar on social work education. The authority has a renowned reputation for the quality of its student social workers – some winning Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) awards – and is keen to share its knowledge of good quality training. Its particular problem is a large geographical area where it has to “grow its own” – a challenge faced by many parts of Europe from Finland and Sweden to Spain, Greece and Portugal.

Ruth Stark said, “These seminars will lead to international networks that will continue to support social workers’ learning and development. There is much to learn from our European colleagues – come and join us!”

IFSW

How to Reduce Risks to Employment When Using Social Media

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A recent decision sanctioning a social worker for a comment on Facebook by the Health Care Professionals Council (HCPC), a United Kingdom regulatory body, sparked an international social work debate on the use of social media in the workplace. Since the decision, I have engaged in multiple conversations via social media with social workers around the globe on this very topic, and I will admit that I have often found myself in the minority arguing against the HCPC’s decision.

Despite the social worker’s comment failing to meet the test for breach of confidentiality, the majority of social workers favoring the HCPC’s decision believe that any comments related to work or a case posted on social media are grounds for termination or discipline even in the absence of identifiers.

The social worker was not disciplined for Breach of Confidentiality, but it was found that her Facebook post “could lead to a Breach of Confidentiality” despite not giving any personal information or descriptors about the client.

I am concerned the HCPC decision will set a dangerous precedent by expanding the scope of breaching confidentiality. The term “could lead to a Breach of Confidentiality” is so broad it could open up liability for social workers outside of the internet sphere.

From the HCPC’s press release on the social worker’s disciplinary action, we actually learn more about the client than we learned from the social worker’s actual comment. The HCPC press release states, “Mrs A, the mother of the children in the case, made a complaint after she searched for the social worker on Google and found the posts, which the complainant stated she was “disgusted” by.” This tells us the complaint was a married woman and biological parent of the children in question. Now, these identifiers within itself  “could lead to a breach of confidentiality”.

The social worker’s comments only described that she was working on a “domestic violence case among other things”. The client assumed the social worker was referring to her case because it was a domestic violence case on the same day as the social workers check-in on Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had three to five cases go to court on the same day and all of them had a domestic violence element. In the absence of identifiers and a decision from HCPC, the client had no real evidence to prove the social worker’s comment was about her case. Sanctions and disciplinary actions in your employment should be based on evidence and not assumptions.

In retrospect, I do believe the social worker’s comments were ill-advised, but it’s not for the reasons you may think. I am definitely against and don’t recommend anyone to commingle your professional life with your personal Facebook account no matter your profession. As a matter of fact, some of the comments I see from social workers on Facebook make me afraid for the client’s they are serving. I do and must believe that social workers have the ability to separate their personal beliefs from practice, but you may not be able to “unring that bell” with clients or potential clients after review of your online persona.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) have provided me with one of the best social media policy guidelines to help social workers be aware of the pitfalls when using social media personally as well as using social media to obtain information on clients. However, I have yet to see any real solutions that equally address social workers safety with client centered policies. Also, it’s important for us to acknowledge that clients can’t breach confidentiality in their own case. If a client wants to publish online every document you send them, it’s their prerogative, and you should keep this in mind when providing written documents as well as having oral communications with your clients.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter are the three primary areas that cause the greatest concerns for professionals and students. Here are a few recommendations that may help you move one step closer to having some peace of mind and keeping your job out of jeopardy.

Tips for Using Facebook

10434000_311155715719496_3315011175902307129_nFacebook is a double-edged sword. When used correctly, Facebook can expand your reach as an expert, increase traffic to your website, and allow you to provide support to others on their professional development journey. Where people get into trouble is when they try to occupy their professional and personal life in the same virtual space. This is not limited to commenting, but it also includes likes, shares, who your friends are, photos, and etc.

I recommend changing your personal Facebook page to a nickname/middle name with an avatar or baby picture for your profile and cover photos. True friends and family members will know who you are, and Facebook will automatically update your post search history with your middle, nickname, or alternate spelling. But, be careful because it’s possible for Facebook to flag your name change. You should also take precautions to enhance the security of your Facebook account.

This will help protect you when clients are actively seeking out content generated by your social media accounts. Secondly, don’t post case related items on your personal Facebook account. If you need advice or an opinion related to a case, message the Social Work Helper Fan Page. I frequently post #SWHelper Team Questions as case study questions to minimize risks to you, and I hope other social work entities will offer similar support for social workers.

If you chose to anonymize your personal Facebook account, I recommend creating a Facebook Fan Page in your professional name which can also help with establishing your professional identity.

  • You can post information and resources for your clients
  • You will no longer need to have embarrassing conversations with clients or coworkers about why you can’t friend them
  • Clients can follow your Fan Page without exposing client’s to each other
  • You can like other Fan Pages your clients may find useful while organizing resources in a central location
  • FB feature allows you to seamlessly switch between your FB account and Fan Page without having to log out
  • You can also make comments, like, share photos, and share posts choosing from either profile

To prevent Facebook from locking your account due to the name change, you should use a shortened or variation of your real and last name, a common name with a long search results history, your maiden name, or your middle name. These are just some of the possibilities you can choose to prevent Facebook from blocking your account. So, if you don’t want to explain to a client or an ethics committee about how your personal beliefs did not affect your decision-making due to memes and content found on your social media account, please take my advice above.

Making the Most of Twitter

Twitter is one of the best social media platforms for making connections and expanding your professional network while enhancing your ability to advocate for the causes you care about. However, there are times when you do need anonymity to protect your employment especially if actively engaging in conversations you don’t want public. Due to my personal philosophy, I don’t post comments or materials that require me to distinguish between my professional and personal identity with the exception of the occasional tweet when I am watching Scandal.

If you are using your professional name, potential networkers and possible opportunities are not going to sort out your professional tweets from your personal tweets. They will all be considered a reflection of you as an individual. “RT does not = endorsement” is not going to cut it. It’s safer to not tweet and/or not retweet something you don’t want to defend, but you could always phrase it as a question to ask other’s opinions. Also, I recommend adding the disclaimer “my opinions are my own not my employers” on accounts using your professional name. As a rule of thumb, if your account is going to be opinion filled, use an avatar with a pseudonym for anonymity. It’s better to be safe than sorry later.

When using your professional name, it should consist of useful information, advice, inspirational quotes, resources, and/or projects that make you look good professionally. If you are only on twitter anonymously, you are missing opportunities to enhance your professional development. If you are using twitter with your professional name and it’s a private account, you are still doing yourself a disservice. What’s the point of being on Twitter with a private account because it’s difficult for someone to connect with you and no one can retweet your profound 140 characters?

To Google or Not To Google

As practitioners, we should not be asking whether to Google or Not Google instead we should be giving you the information on how to Google clients and potential clients ethically. According to a recent study by American Psychological Association, 98 percent of clinical, counseling, and school doctoral students reported Googling their clients. It’s time for this profession to readjust our reality for the digital world we are living in. When Googling a client or anyone for that matter, one must keep in mind that everything on the internet is not true, and it should not be used to penalize without giving the individual a chance to respond.

However, for potential clients at a private practice or when making home visits to new clients, a Google search may be a vital tool in assessing social worker safety. Dr. Ofur Zur provides one of the most comprehensive resources on whether to “Google or not”, and its complete with scenarios and varying categories to help practitioners decide which category is best for your practice and needs. It also covers how to use informed consent for conducting Google searches at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship.

How Do We Move Forward?

Unfortunately, many people have been introduced to social media and online technology as entertainment or to be used as a personal diary. Even if your account is marked private, using instant messaging, email, online technology and/or social media should never be used with an expectation of privacy. You should always assume any information you post online can be privy to public consumption via screen capturing or other measures from anyone who is intent on hurting or exposing you.

In my opinion, the social worker in the above case was condemned because her comment was posted on Facebook. I argue that if said social worker made the same comment in a restaurant, classroom, or another public place would the disciplinary action have been the same? The counter-argument was that Facebook is public and archived by Google which makes it different. I assert we all need to be more careful and aware because we live in a digital age where you can be video tapped or audio recorder via camera phone, vined, viddyed, snapchat, etc. The individual in possession of such digital data can make your actions and comments public without your consent. The medium in which words and actions are transported is irrelevant, and it stifles our ability to move the conversation forward instead of focusing on best practices.

Most importantly, one of the biggest issues in the above case not being addressed is that fact the client went onto Google searching for the social worker in question. Community Care UK reported that 85% of social workers reported being harassed or verbally abused on the job. Whether the client was acting with nefarious intent or in preparation for a pending court case, we simply don’t know. However, social worker safety should be just as important as client confidentiality. The biggest mistake made by the disciplined social worker was her checking in on Facebook thereby giving the time and location for when she would be in court. Why are we not being programmed to think about social worker safety as much as client confidentiality is drilled in our heads?

As a profession, we can not begin the journey of leveraging online technology and social media to advance social work because we are stuck having conversations about account creation, security, and ethical use. These things should always be ongoing conversations, but we have got to start making advances in tech education and training. Agencies, associations, and social work faculty can not adequately answer or provide solutions because most don’t use social media or they utilize outside firms to meet their social media needs. There is nothing wrong with contracting out to meet the needs of your organization, but we must also have mechanisms in place to address social workers’ technological IQ at the micro and mezzo levels.

We must develop continuing education credits, foundational course work, and in-service trainings to properly prepare current and future social workers for practice in the digital age. Social Work education is expensive and students should be demanding that they get the best resources and training during their education especially when they can be fired or disciplined for it later.

Most importantly, we have a duty to our students and professionals to assist them in harnessing all the advantages that social media and technology can provide.

*Since this was a UK regulatory body disciplinary action, I primarily used UK resources for this article, but they are applicable globally.

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