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  • Author or Editor: Terry Bamford x
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Learning from the past
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Drawing on lessons from the recent history of social work to identify how and why it has lost its privilege and influence, this book challenges social work students to understand why social work has failed to maintain its position as a driver of social reform. Bamford looks forward to a new model of practice that places a commitment to put social justice back at the heart of professional practice.

The book contributes to the topical debates about social work education and the identity of the profession, encouraging critical thinking about organisation models, practice content and meaning of professionalism in social work. Students are asked to consider questions such as ‘why has social work found it so hard to define its role? ‘, ‘is the neoliberal tide irreversible?’, and ‘do the jibes of political correctness have any substance?’.

The book provides students of social work, history of social work and social policy, with a greater understanding of how social work became an unloved profession, whilst simultaneously charting a more hopeful course for the future.

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Past, Present and Future

This collection charts the key developments in the social work field from 1970 to the present day and shows how by fully understanding social work’s past, we can make better progress for practitioners and service users in the future.

It brings together a broad collection of experts from across social work who trace how thinking and approaches to practice have changed over time, examine key legislative developments in the field, look at the impacts of major inquiries and consider the re-emergence of certain specialisms.

Providing students and practitioners of social work and social policy with a full picture of the evolution of social work, it also shares important insights for its future directions.

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Thirty-five years ago the polemic by Brewer and Lait (1980) posed the question, ‘Can social work survive?’. It has, and, despite a variety of assaults and criticism it has grown substantially, at least numerically, in the intervening period. But numbers tell only a partial story. The picture developed in the previous chapters is one of the progressive marginalisation of social work as a profession. The two case studies of mental health and probation in Chapter Seven show how swiftly social work can move from an established and recognised role to one on the margins of an occupational setting, or one redefined away from rehabilitation.

Although this move from a secure established position is at an earlier stage in other branches of social work than in probation, it would be rash to ignore the reality that there are a number of negative indicators. In both mental health and adult care, we have seen the development of a whole range of occupational groups taking on roles formerly fulfilled by social workers – support workers, social care workers, social work assistants and social service workers. While the designation varies, the aim is to use workers with a lower level of formal qualifications (or none) and thus at a lower pay grade to undertake some of the less complex work formerly undertaken by social workers.

Training, although now at degree level, is being challenged in two ways. First, there is a question mark over whether an integrated social work programme remains desirable in the light of the current specialist service model.

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Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy based on free markets, deregulation, privatisation and the rolling back of the frontiers of the state. It is a term often used to describe the policies of structural adjustment urged by the International Monetary Fund and applied most often in Africa and Latin America. In recent years, these policies have been used in Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Greece as conditions of a bail-out from the European Union in a financial ongoing crisis that has been affecting eurozone countries since 2009.

This economic philosophy may not seem of immediate relevance to social work, but it has had a significant impact on the development of a mixed economy of welfare and the sustained retreat of local authorities from direct provision of care. The Thatcher government was ideologically supportive of this approach. Margaret Thatcher herself was strongly influenced by Hayek (1944), whose hostility to the state was conditioned by his experience of socialism in Eastern Europe. Friedman (Economist, 2006) developed this thinking in economic terms, seeing any regulation by the state as the enemy of freedom. This approach in economic policy has been translated into hostility to public expenditure, which is regarded as inherently less efficient than private expenditure and more inclined to waste money on bureaucracy. This uncritical belief in the effectiveness of the market has led to the development of market mechanisms in the public sector. This was first seen in the decisions to privatise electricity, water and rail, which had previously been regarded as naturally lending themselves to national provision.

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It is a paradox that more social workers are being trained and trained to a higher standard than was true 40 years ago while the territory exclusively occupied by social workers has contracted. This chapter explores this paradox and how it has developed.

With the Seebohm report’s (1968) call for one central body responsible for promoting the training of staff in the personal social services, the days of the three training councils – the Central Training Council for Child Care, the Council for Training in Social Work and the Advisory Council for Probation and Aftercare – were numbered. A unified Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) was created in 1970 to develop a basic qualification with less emphasis on a particular setting.

The advent of CCETSW coincided with an unprecedented and never to be repeated period of expansion in personal social services. The remit of the CCETSW extended also to residential and day-care settings where the deficit of trained staff was even more acute. The pell-mell expansion of training places also posed issues of quality. The ready access to promotional opportunities in fieldwork settings meant that academic positions rarely attracted the highest calibre of applicant, leading to some training courses being of indifferent quality. There was much discussion about the nature of training required for residential work, regarded then and now as the poor relation of fieldwork. After a CCETSW working party report boldly asserted Residential Work is Part of Social Work (CCETSW, 1974), the debate focused on whether the skill set needed in residential settings was identical to that required in fieldwork or whether the training should be geared to competence in particular roles.

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Case Con was a radical magazine first produced in 1970 and published until 1977. Its clever title was a ‘deliberate attack on the term “case conference”, the con of all those earnest professionals sitting around discussing an endless stream of cases’ (Weinstein, 2011). It published a manifesto as its critique of aspirations for the professionalisation of social work. It argued that by claiming a particular knowledge and skill, the profession separated itself from the population at large. It led social workers to see themselves as part of a specialist group on a par with doctors and lawyers. It encouraged business-like career structures. Most fundamentally, Case Con criticised the pseudo-science of casework with its language of controlled emotional involvement as implying that clients needed to be changed to meet the demands of society. But community work, group work and welfare rights work were not exempt from this critique, as they, too, were seen as instruments of control for the ruling class (Case Con, 1975).

The remedy as viewed by Case Con was to oppose capitalism and its administrative tool – the state – by working through trade unions, by direct action with other militant tenant groups and squatters and by organising in defence of the working class. This prescription for action bears the hallmark of the time in its use of the class struggle and in its heroic assumptions about the trade union movement as the organised expression of the working class.

The arguments of Case Con were refined by Roy Bailey and Mike Brake in a hugely influential book (1975).

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This chapter is divided into two sections, which examine in detail the role of social work in probation and mental health respectively.

Thinking about social work’s role in adult care, I am struck by the similarities between two examples where social work has been relegated from a position of influence to the periphery. In probation, it is a deliberate act of public policy to reaffirm the government’s toughness on crime, an approach enjoying bipartisan support. In mental health, it is more paradoxical. Policy statements continue to stress the social factors in mental health problems and the importance of tackling these early including primary prevention. Social work, however, is no longer seen as a key player in the delivery of care despite its capacity to address both the individual and social context.

  • Probation: the impact of the IMPACT study

  • The shift from rehabilitation as a core value to punishment in the community

  • A national service or local services

  • Probation as junior partner in National Offender Management Service

  • Outsourcing and payment by results

Chapter One looked at the early days of probation. The roots of the service lay in the temperance movement and the Christian faith. They came together in the Church of England Temperance Society and the initial requirement that missionaries had to be communicant members of the Church of England. Redemption was the goal of much practice and this was to be achieved through a combination of practical assistance and befriending.

The court missionaries were replaced over time by a professional service that developed its training based on social work.

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Breaking down the barriers between health and social care is not a new idea. It was not the invention of Frank Dobson, who referred to the Berlin Wall between the two when he became Secretary of State for Health in 1997. Collaboration between the two agencies has been a statutory duty since the 1974 reorganisation of the National Health Service and a succession of joint planning mechanisms, joint consultations, joint committees and joint finance have tried to lubricate the wheels of the health and social care system. There remain, however, profound differences of history, culture and principle separating the two. The title of this chapter reflects the almost universally held view that integration would be a good thing but the impossibility thus far of addressing the deep-seated differences.

Money is arguably the most important obstacle to integration. The totemic belief in health care free at the point of access – the phrase used by Aneurin Bevan when introducing the NHS Act in 1948 – contrasts with social care where charges are levied for services, especially those required by older people in need of care after leaving hospital, one of the pinch points in the system. The roots of this distinction can be found in the Poor Law where the provision of free social care including residential care was thought likely to encourage pauperism and create a disincentive to thrift and self-reliance. The 1948 National Assistance Act transferred to local authorities the residual Poor Law functions including residential care.

After the introduction of local authority social services in the early 1970s, reliance was placed on collaboration between health service agencies and social services.

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The separate identities of the four countries of the United Kingdom have become more distinctive with devolution. Scotland has always has its own legislative framework. Northern Ireland, partly because of its size and partly because of its long period of direct rule, has developed a distinctive model of integrated health and social care. The Northern Ireland form of integration differs from any on offer in the current discussion of integrated care. Wales, since the creation of the Assembly, has begun to develop its own institutions. It is alone among the four countries in having an organisational model in which social care is the responsibility of a number of very small authorities.

It is important to understand the reasons for these separate structures and the degree to which social work has been affected by devolution.

Scotland owes its very different approach to children in trouble to the Kilbrandon report (1964) subsequently implemented in large measure in the 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act. The Committee on Children and Young Persons, Scotland, chaired by Lord Kilbrandon, took a broad view of the topic, covering not only delinquency but also those in need of care and protection, persistent truants and those beyond parental control. The solution proposed was to remove all those under 16 from criminal proceedings and institute a system of children’s hearings before a lay panel of three people. The hearings would be reasonably informal, would encourage the participation of young people and their families, and would look for a solution in the best interests of the young person.

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In 1970 social work was in a position of power and influence greater than at any time in its history. The passage of the Local Authority Social Services Act promised a new dawn in the creation of a large and powerful department in local government meeting the needs of vulnerable people in the community – children, those with disabilities, those with mental health problems and older people. The vision of the Beveridge report of care from the cradle to the grave was to be realised with social care services for all matching the national insurance-based scheme of financial support to those in need and the National Health Service. Social work was to be the lead profession running the new departments, having seen off a rearguard action by Medical Officers of Health backed by the British Medical Association to retain control of community services.

Parallel with this legislative development, the social work profession, previously fragmented between a number of separate professional bodies, came together in one single association – the British Association of Social Workers. The path to unity had not been untroubled. The National Association of Probation Officers decided not to join the new organisation after a ballot of its members.

The ambitions for the new department and the new association were huge but were never to be fully realised. The period since 1970 has seen a gradual decline in the reputation and the reach of public sector social welfare services. Understanding why this has happened and why the professional association failed to establish itself as the unchallenged voice of social work requires an examination of the period preceding 1970, for many of the issues that were to bedevil social work can be traced back to the genesis of social work itself.

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