When you look at these pictures – what do you see? What do you think goes on inside of them? Would it surprise you to know that these buildings host social work – or would that be no surprise at all?
It is hard to envisage community social work, working cooperatively in partnership with people, when social work is often detached from people based in corporate settings such as those above. So much of how we understand ourselves and our roles is defined by the people we spend time with. Who do people in these buildings spend their time with? Who do they chat to in the lift? Who do they have a coffee with or chat to over lunch? Who do they share their hopes and worries and dreams for a different future with? How does that shape what they imagine their future could be?
Is there another way? Bob Holman and his wife Annette believed so – http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/12/01/social-workers-praised-40-years-outstanding-support-in-poorest-communities/
Social enterprises such as the one that they set up cooperatively, in genuine partnership with people are able to provide creative solutions to local social problems. As the New Local Government Network has argued – rising demand for adult social care can be tackled 1 of 3 ways:
1 – a wasteland approach – where services cut back to the bone
2 – the wild meadow – where Councils withdraw core services by binding into tighter and tighter partnerships with health, using thresholds to deny access to services – hoping that voluntary sector prevention, self help and navigation services bloom around them to fill the gap
3 – the common – where the Council moves from primary responsibility for maintaining the public offer and estate to one of cooperative approaches shared with communities
The report is here if you want to read more about these options – http://www.nlgn.org.uk/public/2014/the-council-and-the-common-local-government-in-2020/
Although it may not be possible for all social workers and OTs to form their own social enterprise, the very act of influencing the policy and practice of the agencies we work for to ensure that social justice is on the agenda should speak to our core values and training.
And this is happening. There are social workers across the Country who are working differently. Developing cooperative approaches with people who have experience of accessing support from social work and occupational therapy services where they stop being “users” of services and become the people who lead it, who practice becomes accountable to. One such example being People to People in Shropshire who inspired the National Development Team for Inclusion Community Led Social Work programme – https://www.ndti.org.uk/blog/community-led-social-work-devolving-choice-control-and-power
This isn’t about trying to convince you that you want your practice to be accountable to people, or that signing up to a mutual or cooperative approach is the right thing to do. To really work in partnership with people, you first have to really believe that you want to change the way you think about your practice, be genuinely person-centred and be ready to talk openly and honestly about the fact that everyone makes unwise decisions. The celebration of not being perfect all the time (and not needing to be so) is the start of a new way of thinking and feeling about the future.