Transcript: Talking Social Work: Colin Turbett

An event held on 13 September 2018 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 – to celebrate, reflect on the journey so far and look to the future.

Podcast Episode: Talking Social Work: Colin Turbett

Category: Social work (general) 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

CT - Colin Turbett

CT Thanks very much folks and it’s a privilege to be here at the first of these talking social work sessions and I certainly hope it’s something that will continue, it’s fantastic to see such large numbers interested in something like this. The reason I’m here tonight is because a result of a commission from Iriss, I’ve written this, now it was a collaborative effort and in a sense the story of this publication which only came off the press yesterday is a bit like the history of community social work which is what I want to talk about tonight and that history over the last fifty years since the 68 Act. This is a story of great ideas, great collaboration and then at the end of the day it almost not appearing at all because we hit the buffers over a funding issue and that’s kind of writ large through the whole story of community social work but thanks to SASW, and thanks to Social Work Scotland, both of whom were involved in the advisory group and in drawing up this document, it wasn’t just me it was very much a collaborative effort we’ve got here and I’m pleased to be here because certainly when I was asked to do this I didn’t know whether this would in fact every appear at all and it has and it looks absolutely fantastic so thanks Iriss for making such a good production of it and I’m very much going to speak to this. I get kind of fed up within social work circles of hearing people use United States organisational change analogies bringing that into the lexicon of social work and talking about change and fresh ideas and new ways of thinking almost inferring that everything that happened in the past was in some way rubbish, demeaning the past, demeaning the experience that lots of you and lots of the people that you work with bring to the job and all the knowledge that goes along with that. When we look back to the 68 Act I believe that as we look forward, I hope to a history of community social work that was standing on the shoulders of giants, that that’s how fantastic that Act was and how significant it was for us not just now but in the future as well and if we can see a long way it’s because we stand on those shoulders and we shouldn’t forget that. Very quickly move through this, this document is thirty plus pages, it could have been three hundred plus, and it probably still wouldn’t have done it justice, so trying to do this in ten minutes is going to be a struggle. Community was fundamental to the Act and we can see that in Section twelve that Alan referred to earlier outside, talking about the promotion of social welfare and it didn’t say much more than that so it really gave social workers and social work managers and social work organisations the go ahead to think innovatively about how social work could be promoted, how community welfare could be promoted and we can see that in lots of ways, I’ll come to the social work services group guidance in a second but the, one of the ways, I think not quite as important but certainly significant was the whole children’s hearing system which replaced a centralised Court like system with a body that brought volunteers from communities into making important decisions about children. Now that wasn’t all good by the way I can remember back in the day when children’s hearings did nothing much more than put children away in listed schools. Let’s not kid ourselves it wasn’t all good but it certainly changed for the better and that whole idea of members of the community being involved in decisions about children is an important principle that stood the test of time and has moved forward and been changed. Now in terms of Section twelve the social work services group was, it doesn’t exist anymore, it was a pre-1996 body that, a Government body that put out guidance to social work departments. Very often their guidance didn’t get much further than the Director but I can certainly remember in the offices I worked in we had huge box files full of SWSG guidance … and amongst all that, and it was Liz Timms from SASW on our advisory body who was an academic in the 70s and 80s, she taught me at Moray House in the 70s and she was very much involved in the community social work movement and she kept all this stuff which might otherwise have been lost so it included very important, I think, statements like that. The extent to which they’ve filtered down we’ll see. Now the zenith of community social work in Scotland was really this period here, the 1975-96, there were lots of drivers for that, the community development projects weren’t really about social work they were more about regeneration of economic activity and to provide for communities but there were certainly lots of other things going on that were about innovative, community based practice. Now that didn’t always express itself in the form of special projects but where it did happen that was very much driven from the front line, it was driven from social workers networking with other agencies in the community be it local teachers, community workers, folk in the police or other agencies that were working alongside on a day to day level, collaborating with people in the community and coming up with brilliant ideas about new ways of delivering social work in neighbourhoods and I stress the work neighbourhood because back in the 1970s and 80s when we talked about communities, we were very much talking about neighbourhoods, now I think we have redefined the term community since then and I’ll come back to that later, but when you look at communities, there’s a picture there of the miner’s strike, very significant and I’ll explain why but mining communities were absolutely classic, most people worked for the same employer, families relied on the same source of income, they had shared values, shared aspirations, shared hopes and dreams and some of you may come from mining communities so you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It would be rare today to find a community that matched that of a mining community up until the days all the pits closed, and it’s quite significant in a way that the miner’s strike in 1984-85 saw social work, some say and I think I’d probably agree with them, very much siding with the community, siding with the miners against the Government and siding with a workforce who were trying to fight to defend their jobs in communities and in Strathclyde where I worked then massive sums of money were handed over to single miners who weren’t entitled to any benefits to keep them alive and keep them going. Now that sounds great, it’s not quite as radical as it sounds because I worked alongside somebody who after the strike was sent out by Strathclyde with a team to get that money back off the miners so I’m not sure quite how successful she was but certainly the fact that Fred Edwards the then Director in Strathclyde, Fred Edwards was taken to court over this, where prepared to make that stand was significant at the time and according to some, some academics have written about this, Brodie and Co, that probably was one of the nails in the coffin of social work as a significant and powerful body that it was through until local Government reorganisation in 1996 because what happened then, and this was a Tory idea, to reduce the power of big Labour controlled authorities that did things like side with the miners, it was to break it down into single, much smaller, single tier authorities that wouldn’t have that same influence and resources to do the things that the big regional councils did. And alongside that Directors of social work who’d been powerful people until that point were reduced in terms of role. Now Directors of social work are no longer appointed by councils through the Secretary of State as they were then, there is no obligation to have a Director of social work now. You can run your social work services by any kind of management, so long as you’ve got a chief social work officer who must be social work qualified, but that doesn’t have to be somebody at the top of the tree and often in a lot of local authorities, particularly now where you’ve got managers from health backgrounds it might be somebody much lower down. So, we’ve changed in that respect. So,1996 marked, I think a big turning point, it also came about the same time as social work was under attack as result of a number of child protection enquiries that threw social work into a bad light. Social work took the wrap, far more of a wrap for child deaths, like Jasmine Beckford then, did other agencies who were equally culpable if that’s the kind of language you want to use. Alongside that the Clyde report into events in Orkney, small community, clearly defined community up there but within that community, other communities who apparently didn’t fit in and came under the cosh through social work and through the children’s hearing with children probably, probably because we will never know, unjustly removed from their families and subsequently returned and there was a huge furore about that and the Clyde report significantly changed the way Children’s panels were run and maintained and again social work under attack. So what we got through then until, put 2007, 2005 we had the changing lives report where you can see by then that what’s happened is that social work, you can see through the diagram there, you can see in front of you that’s taken directly from changing lives, that the emphasis on social work is at tier four of this four tier approach to helping people with issues within the community. Tier one includes some social work input but how many social workers do you know who operate outside tier four because I certainly don’t know many and when I last practiced as a social worker where all our activity within the children’s family team was at tier four, very little time or opportunity to operate further down but thankfully changing lives did incorporate that and state that as at least an aspiration if not a reality and then I think the reason I said 2007 was because that was the year 2000-2008 the bankers crisis and since then social policy has been driven by austerity, it’s been characterised by cuts and welfare reform. Alongside that we’ve had a devolved Government in Scotland which under, which under which ever administration has tried to do things differently here and tried to do things in a good way for the people of Scotland. We’ve saw that through the Christie Commission with all its language about community empowerment and resilience building. A big emphasis back on that which has driven a lot of social policy since then and off course there were huge debates around the Independence Referendum about what kind of a country we wanted and what kind of services we wanted and that leaflet that’s reproduced there, I’m not exactly sure where that came from, but that was certainly, probably an idea I would have shared about the vision that some of us saw for, as a possibility for an Independent Scotland. Back within the world of social work the emphasis over the last few years, at a time when, of lack of resources and trying to do more for less, has been on performance indicators, on getting workers to do what’s been important for the agencies and important for the way they report to Government and I’ve given a few examples there about completions of assessments within time, about unblocking beds which has off course has driven the whole drive towards integration of health and social care which has been around a long time but we’re back on that path now, very much so, about producing child protection assessments within timescales. So the integration with health, I’m not, I know it seems to be a consensus across the board that that’s a good thing, I’m not convinced it is, I’m not convinced that social work has a place alongside such a huge organisation as health and when I look around at what’s actually happening on the ground, it seems more like a takeover than an integration of service and I don’t think that’s been good for social work and I don’t think that’s been good for the voice of social work. Iriss over the last year has been looking at this whole field of community social work and looked around for examples of it which was show cased and you can find that online on the Iriss website or the examples of that. I want particularly to the asylum and roma team anti-poverty initiative and the unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people both of which are linked to a community-based team in the south side of Glasgow because that for me very much sums up what I believe community social work should be about, should be about for the future. We are talking here not about a neighbourhood, and all the community social work projects back in the 70s and 80s, they’re mostly quite short lived and you’ll see some of them summed up in this booklet, were around neighbourhoods. This is not, this is around a community within a community, plenty of people live in the Govanhill area of Glasgow have no connection with the roma community at all although it’s all around them but this is a project run by the city council where workers do statutory cases, they do child protection and all the other things about, that a children and family team would do but with the roma community. They would like to do more community social work but find that they haven’t got the resources to do it and that is certainly something that I hope we can help them look at with the Scottish Government over the next, over the coming period. So, these are, these are just key points, I’m not going to go through them all because you can find them in the booklet which I certainly hope you’ll all read. The main thing that I want you to take away from this is that community social work’s not just a peripheral, changing lives described it as a discrete activity on the margins, it’s not. It should be absolutely central to our practice that we don’t just work within communities but that we work alongside them, and alongside them in identifying common problems that require common strategies to resolve them and I think we can do that if we set about doing that in a systematic way and we get some support to release the resources that would enable us to do and I know that’s a hard task. I’m leaving you there with a quote from poverty safari, since I did this slide show it’s become very popular, I think the author won the Orwell prize and suddenly his book’s everywhere. He talks in there about the way services would parachute into the Pollok area of Glasgow from outside, very much from outside, that’s not what community social work’s about. Community social work would be about practitioners in Pollok, from across the board, including social work, getting together with people from the community to look at what could be done to make things better in this area, that’s what Keith Moore Milne in Govanhill has tried to do with his project down there, wonderful example of where I think statutory teams should be going and one, a message that I hope you’ll take away, so that’s all I’ve got to say, so thank you very much.

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