Today is World Social Work Day as deigned by the International Federation of Social Workers. It falls on the third Tuesday in March and is a day of recognition of the profession and particularly the international tint of social work.
The thought of having a day particularly for social work and social workers is something that I have reflected on for a while as well as the place and position of British Social Work – particularly English Social Work – amid the work done internationally.
Defining Social Work
The IFSW definition of Social Work is helpful as a starting point, explaining that
The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.
It’s really important to reflect fully on this definition in our own corner of the world and remember that we are not just puppets of the statutory system but we have a professional responsibility to stand up and fight for social justice and to promote human rights.
Social Work ‘intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments’ and that happens in the political as well as social spheres. We cannot be apolitical or apathetic as social workers. We have to care.
For me, social work is about knowledge, compassion, competence, responsibility and advocacy. All those elements are necessary but the work cannot take place in a vacuum – it is about environments, remember.
So the process of embedding not only our profession but our sector into decisions made in health settings is crucial.
I see World Social Work Day 2012 as an opportunity not only to look back at how we have done things but a great chance to look forward to the future and purpose how we can do things better, differently, with more co-production, alongside those who need services and not for those who need services.
When social work is less obsessed by professional status and more in tune with behaving in responsible and professional ways, we will go some way to achieving the respect which seems to be so hard to find at times.
As for me, I don’t particularly crave respect as a social worker. I crave respect as a human being but I understand that to receive respect you have to be willing to dish it out double fold. I want no one to respect me solely on the basis of my title or my qualification but on the basis of my actions and my practice. That, I think, is something to truly strive for.
We are firmly embedded in an era where the certainties of the welfare state and the structures of the NHS are being eroded and fractured by government policies and a right-wing drift of attitudes and agendas as well as developing models of localism and post-modern fragmentation of the structures we had imagined were solid.
Some of the certainties we relied on are fast disappearing but in some areas new opportunities are growing. I have seen the shattering and deterioration of quality in adult social care in England as services have been carved up and contracted out. Not all private is bad and not all public is good but the focus on profit above quality is a theme that has driven the social care market predominantly in the last decade.
We have to shout out about this and there is a greater role for individual social workers to advocate for the services we provide and the services that are needed. We are well placed to take on this task and to feed back the impact of the cuts on those who desperately need services. We need to feed back the lack of opportunity for choice of those for whom the government drives forward in its agenda of choice at all costs.
We are able to grant ourselves a louder and more dynamic voice through different media and technology. We are able to build bridges more easily with user groups and carer groups and ally ourselves to those who are being victimised and targeted by the government and the press.
We can also build these communities of resistance internationally and promote that ideal of social justice that the government seems to have forgotten.
My final thought for World Social Work Day 2012, which falls as the NHS and Social Care Bill limps through Parliament, unloved, unwanted and ready to break the foundations of the principles of our National Health Service, are that we have to be ready to fight, to shout and to promote our profession, ourselves and those who knowingly or unknowingly may need good, strong competent social work support in the future.
Social Work is important. It is vital and it does promote positive changes. We just have to believe in it a bit more ourselves and help others believe it to.
Happy World Social Work Day!