Peter Beresford writes about having the voice of the service user and public heard, in debates about the future privatisation of social work education and services.

Swan raised significant concerns with Morning Lane Associates back in April/May, namely the connections between Chief Social Worker for Children and Families (England) Isabelle Trowler, MLA and the allocation of contracts worth millions of pounds of public money. 

Morning Lane Associates, Social Work and Barriers to Public Debate

Some weeks back Steve Goodman co-founder and director of controversial Morning Lane Associates criticised me personally on twitter for raising my concerns that unproven government restructuring of social work might one day be linked with a child protection tragedy.

I hadn’t as he suggested singled out Frontline for criticism. Instead I said I'd be delighted to take part (alongside others) with him and Morning Lane Associates in a public debate to explore the consequences of the new matrix of developments linked with Morning Lane for social work and social work education. 

I asked him if he’d be up for such a debate. I was pleased to see he seemed to be saying yes, asking me how I’d like to proceed. I raised the issue of resources (which I don’t have, but clearly Morning Lane do) and although there was an edge – him saying in an email to me – ‘I don’t play games – not with adults anyway’ (the last thing on my mind and where did that come from?), he mentioned that ML have a room where the debate could take place – for up to 60 people - which seemed really encouraging.

But this is where things seemed to get difficult. As a service user, coming from a user led organization, resources and the difficulty raising them is always at the front of my mind. So I raised with Steve issues I was familiar with organising events which equally include service users/carers and people unwaged or on low income – which of course are that this creates costs - to get there, maybe for support etc. I asked him if he could provide refreshments?

Is your training room fully accessible? what about contributors/speakers and their expenses?? These are the kind of resources that I am thinking of, I said

Steve though said he was thinking of having a debate ‘within’ the profession and maybe involving service users could come after.

You won’t be surprised that my view of this was that:

a debate about the profession can hardly leave out service users especially as a key achievement of social work education (and requirement) has been to include them in every stage and every aspect of learning. That's why I've raised the resource issue. Helpful to get this clear at this stage rather than taking time meeting.

And that sadly so far is pretty much the end of the story. Steve replied that he respected my work on including users of services but that what he had in mind, he didn’t think should include service users and added that this was a pity as he felt a debate would have been of interest to many.

So there you go, that’s it, as far as this force in progressive social work is concerned. So much for ‘public debate’.

We don’t include or involve service users in discussions; we don’t make such discussions accessible to service users. And when the issue of supporting a public debate about the role of organisations like Morning Lane in the new government proposed arrangements for social work, gets serious, ‘the public’ apparently doesn’t include people as service users, or carers . Now that’s a nice way of saying you want to encourage public debate about the radical restructuring of social work, while making it pretty difficult for that ever to happen.

But we are talking about public money here. Are discussions behind closed doors increasingly overlaid with the rhetoric of ‘commercial confidentiality’ really a helpful way forward? Is this really the road to safe social work that truly improves the protection of children and young people and the safeguarding of adults? I’ll leave that one to you, but coming in the wake of the appalling cock-ups government proponents of these new arrangements for social work and social work education are coming to be seen to have made over Kids Company and its funding and operation, it seems to me there are some big concerns out here.

2015-11-09

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