SWAN - The Social Work Action Network

Welcome to SWAN's website. Please check out features such as the SWAN regional webpages and previous conference resources. You can join SWAN here. Don't forget to sign up to our newsletter and keep abreast of developments for the 2015 SWAN Conference.

SWAN is a network of social work practitioners, academics, students and social welfare service users united in their concern that social work activity is being undermined by managerialism and marketisation, by the stigmatisation of service users and by welfare cuts and restrictions.

SWAN promotes a model of social work and social care practice which is rooted in the value of social justice. This model seeks to advocate alongside, and on behalf of, service users and carers. It values both individual relationship-based practice and collective approaches.

It works towards these objectives through regular conferences and campaigning activities, and to strengthen the radical voice within social work practice, education and wider social policy debates.

SWAN works alongside existing social care, service user and carer organisations, including UNISON and Unite, to promote strong collective organisation and, wherever possible, to campaign jointly.

SWAN is a membership organisation - please join us by following the instructions here.

Last week the Review of Multi-agency Responses to the Sexual Exploitation of Children was released by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board into the sexual exploitation of children in the local authority which dated back over several years. 9 men were jailed in May for grooming girls as young as 13. This story was accompanied by much national media coverage. Below Iain Ferguson, Social Work Action Network member and social work educator at the University of the West of Scotland, gives his analysis.

The main recommendations of the Report from the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB) focus on the need to raise awareness of sexual exploitation and grooming amongst young people, more training and clearer procedures for professionals working with children and young people at risk, closer links with communities and improved multi-agency working.

These proposals are fine as far as they go. In important respects, however, they dodge the real issues.  Awareness-raising work in schools, for example, like youth work in general, has in the past usually been carried out by voluntary organisations which are funded by local authorities.  Voluntary organisations, however, have been amongst the main victims of the Coalitions’ cuts. Where they do continue to receive funding, it is likely to be only for direct work with service users, not for the kind of preventative work which reaches young people more widely.

Similarly, more training and clearer procedures sound good but in the absence of additional resources, these can simply become a means of shifting the responsibility – and the blame – onto already hard-pressed front-line workers (‘she’d had the training – she should have known’ or ‘he failed to follow procedures’).  

It’s ironic that the report should call for closer links between professionals and the community. Back in the 1980s, community social work was precisely about trying to build these kinds of links.  Since the introduction of the market into social work and social care in the early 1990s, however, the trend has been towards locating social workers in huge call centres, often run by private companies like BT or SERCO and very far from the communities they are supposed to serve. One of the saddest parts of this report is where it discusses the fear and isolation these young girls felt.   For them, with a couple of exceptions, none of the major agencies involved – and especially the Police and the Children’s Social Care Service – were interested in listening to them.  

That underlines what is perhaps the main point of the report. Very few professionals – and least of all the police and the Crown Prosecution Service – were really prepared to listen to what these girls were saying, let alone act on it. Astonishingly, children in their early teens, several of whom were in residential care, were seen by these agencies not as victims of abuse but as ‘perpetrators’, making sexual choices.  That reflects the reality of life for many young people who end up in care due to neglect, abuse or family problems and are then seen not as kids in need of help and support but as ‘problems’. And a combination of cuts and a contract culture which requires voluntary and private organisations to cut staffing levels even further means there is even less support for them than previously.  It’s perhaps not so surprising then that in 2009, two 14-year olds walked out of the residential care home they were staying in near Glasgow and threw themselves from the nearby Erskine Bridge. If there’s one lesson to emerge from this experience – it’s the need to listen to – and act on –  what young people in need are saying, not the alleged ‘political correctness’ of hard-pressed frontline workers.



SWAN is a democratic, grassroots organisation – policy making and elections take place at the AGM during the annual conference’

Social Work Manifesto.

Social work in Britain today has lost direction. We need to find more effective ways of resisting the dominant trends within social work and map ways forward for a new engaged practice…

Get involved.


SWAN developed from the Social Work Manifesto written in 2004. It launched a popular defence of social work in the aftermath of the Baby Peter tragedy in 2008. It continues to hold successful conferences and campaigns; the 9th national SWAN conference will be held in Durham in April 2014.

SWAN is a membership organisation and we are dependent on the funds of members, plus what monies we take from our annual conference to run the organisation. You can find out about membership here.

Follow us and interact on Twitter

Meet and network with SWAN members on Facebook.

Change the course of social work


The next SWAN national conference is the eighth. It takes place at Durham University on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th April 2014. We will regularly update the SWAN website with information about speakers and booking. You can find these pages in the Conference 2014 section. Please email SWAN North East at ioakimides [at] googlemail.com if you have questions about the conference.

The title of the 2014 SWAN Conference is yet to be confirmed. This is the first time that a national SWAN conference has been held in the North East of England and we hope it will be the biggest ever SWAN event. It will link up social workers (in practice, education, research and training), service users and carers, trade unions, user-led groups, anti-cuts organisations, pressure groups, the disabled people and women's movements to unite to defeat the Coalition Government's social policy direction. Just as importantly we will debate, promote and celebrate alternative models and visions of social care.

Latest Tweets

"Could Not Retrieve any Tweets"

Who's Online

We have 118 guests and one member online

SWAN address & email

Social Work Action Network (SWAN)
c/o Iain Ferguson
School of Social Science
University of the West of Scotland

Contact us by email

Connect with Us


Spread the word

You can share every article on this website easily by clicking the icons for Twitter or Facebook at the top of each article.

Join our mailing list to keep up to date with SWAN news and activities here.