It has been announced that the College of Social Work (TCSW) will close. TCSW has been in operation for less than four years. TCSW was established following the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force. The Task Force was part of the government response to the high profile death of Peter Connelly -- "Baby P" in 2008. The College is being closed for financial reasons. Community Care magazine reports that TCSW faced an annual deficit of £240,000. A government decision was taken to stop providing financial support. TCSW has always struggled to attract sufficient income. This was partly due to the failure to attract enough members. The final blow for TCSW was the failure to win a contract -- potentially worth £2 million -- to deliver the new accreditation and assessment scheme for the advanced child and family practitioner award. This is one of the initiatives to raise the standards of practice in work with children and families. The contract has been awarded to a joint bid from the management consultants KPMG and Morning Lane Associates. Morning Lane Associates is a company that was set up by the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler.
TCSW was established at a time when the reputation of social work as a profession had taken one of its seemingly regular hammerings. Following the death of Baby P, there followed a sustained media campaign against social work staff. These events are explored in some depth by Roy Jones. The overall effect was to demoralize the profession even further. It is important to remember that child protection work is one, obviously very important, aspect of social work practice. However, it is often, particularly when failings, a prism through which the whole profession is viewed. TCSW was given a clear mandate to represent social work. One of the problems that the profession has consistently faced is a failure to explain to the wider public its role in providing support to vulnerable people and families. This has left it open to a series of lazy stereotypes such as the radical PC social worker who is detached from the reality of the day to day lives of service-users. It may come as a shock to readers to know that in my 30 years as a probation officer, social worker and academic, I have worked with colleagues who hold a broad range of political, social and religious views. The one thing that they had in common was a commitment to working with vulnerable people to tackle the difficulties they face. Unfortunately, the profession still struggles to get this basic message across. It was hoped that TCSW would be the public voice of the profession able to contribute to debate but also give a much clearer picture of the complexity of social work.
There were clearly difficulties with the establishment and operation of TCSW. Not enough of my fellow social workers were prepared to join the College. There was confusion about the role of TCSW and other organizations which regulate social work. Some of the issues would have been resolved over time. As far as I am aware, all professions have an equivalent body that acts as an independent voice and sets ethical and professional standards. I am at a loss to understand why social work does not need one. The reasons for setting up the College still apply. There is an ongoing need to social work as a profession to be represented but also to contribute to a range of debates on many important social policy issues, for example, new Government proposals on adoption. The closure of TCSW has to be seen in a broader context. Social workers like many other colleagues in the public sector are under increasing pressure to do with less -- or "work smarter" as it is occasionally euphemistically termed. In social work, there is a pincer effect as the wider retrenchment in public services increases the demand on services. Austerity has its greatest impact on the poor and the most vulnerable.
In a statement Jo Cleary, chair of The College, said "I'm devastated with the government's decision about the future of The College of Social Work. This is a very dark day for social work and for the people that social workers support.There has never been a more critical time for social work to be a well-regarded and well-respected profession."The demise of TCSW makes this challenging task all the more difficult.
Ian Cummins is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Salford. He writes here in a personal capacity.