Common causes: the origins of the Child Poverty Action Group and its relations with social work

Caroline NorrieCaroline Norrie is Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. (1,049 words)

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is 50 this year. As part of the celebrations, last month the Social Care Workforce Research Unit jointly hosted a seminar with the Social Work History Network to highlight the history of CPAG and its links with the social work profession.

CPAG is the leading national pressure group working to end poverty among children, young people and families. It campaigns to influence policy; produces information about access to benefits; and provides training for professionals across the UK about welfare rights (including tax credits, and universal credit). Continue reading

Beyond measurable outputs: What matters in social work practice with older people?

Valerie D'AstousVal D’Astous is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Gerontology, King’s College London. (969 words)

As I walked past a small group of men for the second time, in search of the location, a cheery, ‘Can we help you luv?’ was offered. Paper in hand with the address, I knew I was close, but gladly accepted their offer. Two gentlemen ended up walking me around the corner to the place I was seeking, the Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic. ‘Hope all goes well for you,’ one gentleman wished me, as I thanked them and said goodbye. I laughed as I entered the building, the site for the Making Research Count Conference: Rethinking Social Work Practice with Older People: Threats and Opportunities. I knew I was in for a great day! Continue reading

Social work and the ill body

Liz Price Liz WalkerLiz Price (left) and Liz Walker both work at the University of Hull. (401 words)

Social work is remarkably silent when it comes to the physical body. By definition, the profession is similarly unnoticed within the experience, and practice, of illness. This book addresses these silences through an exploration of chronic (autoimmune) illnesses engaging in wider debates around vulnerability, resistance and the lived experience of ongoing ill-health.

We demonstrate the role that social work has to play in actively engaging the (ill) physical body, rather than working around and through it. We focus on autoimmune conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma. Conditions like these allow for an exploration of the everyday lived experience of illnesses which can exacerbate social and economic vulnerability and may precipitate personal and social crises, requiring a variety of interventions and support. Continue reading

Assessing practice: the OSCE adapted for social work

photo of Imogen Taylor

Professor Imogen Taylor, University of Sussex, reports on the first seminar in a new series hosted by the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at which she was discussant. (332 words)

Professor Marion Bogo from the University of Toronto Faculty of Social Work gave the first of the new Social Work Seminar Series at King’s College London on Tuesday 5 May on the topic of the use of the OSCE, an Objective Structured Clinical Exam, in social work.

The invited audience for this virtual seminar [these are Prof Bogo’s presentation slides] came from social work policy, education, research and practice, including key members of stakeholder groups, to hear about the use of the OSCE in North America and debate its application to social work in England.  We learned that the OSCE was initially developed in medical education in the 1970s in Scotland and has been adopted by other health related professions. In North America, it is now being piloted and researched in social work. The essence of the social work OSCE is two-fold: first, practice competence is directly observed and assessed in 15-minute simulated interviews with standardised clients/users played by actors trained to enact the role of a client scenario; second, immediately post-interview, ‘meta-competences’ are assessed  in a rating of the students’ critical reflection on their practice, how they linked theory to practice and what they planned to take forward from the experience. Continue reading

New directions in child welfare: good news from the Canadian province of New Brunswick

Geraldine Poirier BaianiDr Joan RapaportGeraldine Poirier Baiani (left) and Joan Rapaport report from New Brunswick. (931 words)

These days, high profile reports of child care tragedies, rising numbers of children being taken into care and social workers struggling with high caseloads are commonplace. Stories of positive developments in children and family services are rare. However, a chance meeting whilst on holiday led to a remarkable discovery: the caseloads of child welfare social workers in the Canadian province of New Brunswick now stand at an incredible seven. Continue reading

An insight into Behavioural Insight – or the evolution of a grudge about nudge

Dr Mary BaginskyMary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. (830 words)

When the Department for Education published the Behaviour Insight Team’s (BIT) report on decision-making in intake teams in children’s services earlier this year the sharp intake of breath from many social work academics could be heard across the land, followed by a Twitter tirade. What had led to this?

In another place I have railed against the trend for think tanks and the like to label a shallow dip into a subject as ‘research’ and then to go on to make huge claims that are intended to, and sometimes do, influence policy. But in the past I have also been seduced by the ideas that have emerged from BIT, also known as the ‘nudge unit’. Its stated aim is to apply insights from academic research in behavioural economics and psychology to public policy and services. So when the unit advised the HMRC to change the wording on some of their letters, the result was an extra £200 million collected on time; and when it found that it was clearing the rubbish out of lofts that stood in the way of people insulating them they suggested providing a subsidised loft clearance and the rate at which insulation was happening soared. However, my admiration did not stretch to the findings of the report on social workers’ decision-making. Continue reading

The opportunities and challenges in managing non-UK-qualified social workers in London social work practice

Dr Allen Bartley

Dr Allen Bartley

Are you a registered social worker who has supervised or managed a social work team and who has worked closely for at least 3 months with a non-UK-qualified social worker? If so, Dr Allen Bartley of the University of Auckland would like to hear from you. Dr Bartley, Visiting Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, is conducting a new study, Crossing Borders: Social work employers’ and managers’ perspectives of migrant social workers. In this call for participants he explains the rationale for the study and how you may be able to help. Interviews are in July.

Background to the study

Social work is a global profession practised in over 140 countries. Its spread and development have been accompanied by a drive to attain professional status and a coherent international identity through the work of a number of international organisations concerned with social work practice and education, such as the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW). The global nature of the profession is reflected in the large number of international professional and academic social work publications and, in Europe, the imperatives of various EU directives and initiatives such as the Bologna Declaration have motivated social work educators and registering authorities to move towards a closer alignment of practice standards to a European norm (Walsh, Wilson & O’Connor, 2009).

That social work as a profession aspires to such a globalized outlook is premised on an assertion that the profession adheres to a central set of values and ethics that transcends national boundaries (Welbourne et al., 2007). Similarly, higher educational programmes in social work across a number of countries now stress ‘universal social work professional values’ such as self-determination, confidentiality, being non-judgemental, acceptance and the respect for diversity (Welbourne et al., 2007; Calderwood, Harper, Ball & Liang, 2009).

As a result, social workers in many countries may feel that they belong to a transnational profession. This perception is reinforced by both government immigration policies and by the global recruitment activities of social work employers. Social work agencies have been actively recruiting and marketing to migrants the benefits of living and practising in the UK, in an effort to fill gaps in its social care system (Hussein, 2014; Christie & Campbell, 2009; Simpson, 2009;). In the UK, between 2003 and 2004 there was an 82 percent increase in the number of overseas qualified social workers entering the country, with the greatest numbers coming from Australia, South Africa and the US (Welbourne et al., 2007), though changes to UK immigration policies more recently have seen a shift towards recruitment from across the European Economic Area (Hussein, 2014). This internationalization of practice has led us to conceptualise social work as inhabiting a transnational professional space (Bartley et al., 2012).

That transnational professional space is not without its challenges. However universal they may be, social work values and ethical codes are always interpreted through the lens of national or regionally-specific historical, social, political and cultural norms (Welbourne et al., 2007; Simpson, 2009). These norms are manifest in a range of challenges that confront transnational social workers: in employment practices and workplace cultures; in negotiating new sets of legislative imperatives and political tensions; and in gaining recognition and acceptance of the validity and transportability of their educational qualifications, skills and practice expertise gained overseas; and in navigating the particular forms of ethnic and cultural diversity and the attendant politics that manifest in local sites and impact on social work practice.

Taking part in the study

As part of the Research On Workforce Mobility network (ROWM) at King’s College London, the Crossing Borders team has partnered with Dr Shereen Hussein, Principal Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, to replicate in London a study currently underway in Auckland. We plan to interview social work employers and managers in London about their experiences of supervising non-UK-qualified social workers practising in the local context. We will conduct the interviews in London throughout July 2014, or if you are not in London during this time we can arrange for a video or telephone interview.

We would like to hear from you if you are:

  • a registered social worker who has supervised or managed a social work team; and
  • have worked closely for at least 3 months with a non-UK-qualified social worker; and
  • willing to talk about your experiences and reflections.

Please contact: Dr Shereen Hussein to arrange an interview on 020 7848 1669 or

We invite participation from professionals in both statutory, for-profit and voluntary (not for profit) organisations of varying sizes (from very small to very large), and across a range of fields of practice. This study is part of a larger comparative study involving professionals in New Zealand and Australia.

More information: on the Crossing Borders project web page and in the Information Sheet for Study Participants (pdf, 2pp).

Dr Allen Bartley is a New Zealand-trained sociologist who migrated to New Zealand from the United States in 1992. Based in the social work programme in the School of Counselling, Human Services & Social Work at the University of Auckland, he is part of a research team investigating the transnational dynamics of the social work workforce in New Zealand. Additionally Allen is involved in a project exploring the use of social media by migrants in Auckland, and its impact on their sense of identity and belonging. He is Visiting Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London (from July 2014).

Social workers speak out: Remembering our beginnings

Katie Graham, Research Associate at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, on why we should listen to the recordings of a group of interviews with social workers from the early 1980s.

The Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s recently hosted the launch of The WISEArchive Cohen Interviews, a fascinating collection of conversations with 26 social workers reflecting on the early days of the profession. We heard how Alan Cohen during the 1980s had sought out social workers he felt to be pioneers of the profession charting social work activity as early as the 1930s including well-known members of the profession, such as Clare Britton (later Winnicott), Eileen Younghusband, Rose Mary Braithwaite, Enid Warren and Margaret Simey amongst others. These tapes have thankfully been revived, transcribed by volunteers at WISEArchive and edited by Tim Cook and Harry Marsh after 30 years in storage.

Maggie Cohen, herself a social worker, Alan’s partner, shared Alan’s journey through social work, Family Service Units, Social Work lecturing and returning to full-time social work before retiring in 1996. Alan Cohen undertook the interviews with the intention of developing a book, but this did not materialise. Tim Cook described how he and Harry Marsh were invited by WISEArchive to edit, annotate and add context to the interviews with the aim of beginning to realise Alan Cohen’s vision. This work, along with all of the interviews, have now been archived by the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick and published online together with the original tapes.

Speakers at the launch of the Cohen Interviews

Participants at the launch on 28 November at King’s (left to right): Olwen Gotts (volunteer transcriber), Harry Marsh (editor), Maggie Cohen, Tim Cook (editor), Barbara Prynn, Helen Ford (Modern Records Centre), Pauline Weinstein (WISEArchive), Professor Jill Manthorpe (King’s College London)

One of the first questions Alan Cohen asked of his interviewees was how and why they chose social work. At the launch event, Pauline Weinstein, the director of WISEArchive, posed the same question to Barbara Prynn. The answer given by Barbara, as I suspect to be the case for many social workers both now and then, is not entirely straightforward and prompted many questions and comments from the audience. Remembrances of social work’s foundation as a negotiation between common sense, practical social work and the ‘psychoanalytical fringe’ and the cycles of policy making and changes in perceptions of ‘good’ and ‘oppressive’ practice. These interviews narrate the forming of ‘Social Work’ as a profession from the formative social sciences course at the London School of Economics (amongst others) and disparate professions of Psychiatric Social Work and Almoners. The coming, going and perhaps coming again (in Scotland at least) of community work, genericism versus specialism in practice as well as more foundational perspectives of the social work role and analysis of the individual and of structural inequalities were also areas of discussion and comment.

Listening to some of these interviews whilst writing this blog I would urge social workers and anyone interested in social work to play the tapes (very easy to do).  When Alan Cohen asked Enid Warren why she became a social worker she described it as, not an active choice, but the result of a ‘process of elimination’.  Geraldine Aves said ‘I had no intention of being a social worker’, but became a social worker ‘very much by the backdoor’ and Clare Winnicott took a long pause before she cited her family’s influence. Although the route into social work may not have been clear, there seemed to be a common thread amongst the interviewees of a determination to do something that could be useful.

Entry into social work is probably rarely uneventful and neither is the career. For myself, the daughter of two social workers, my choice may have been unimaginative. As a social worker I have experienced ambivalence about statutory social work practice this event and these archives offered the opportunity to look back, hear social workers talk about their experiences and dilemmas, and reflect on them in our current situation. The history of social work is a history of change, within, outside and hopefully because of the profession. Drawing on this history during the introduction to the launch of the archives Professor Jill Manthorpe of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, the host of the launch, positioned this as its strength, adding her personal view that ‘all social workers are pioneers’, members of an evolving and hopefully responsive profession. I left this event in a reflective mood, keen to listen more and would like to thank all involved in making these archives accessible to us all.

Katie Graham is Research Associate at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. The launch event took place at King’s on 28 November 2013. Those with an interest in social work history may also like to join the Social Work History Network.

@scwru | @wisearchive | #cohenint