BASW social work and social perception article

I was Chair of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) from 1995 – 1997 and in 1995 in Brighton BASW was holding a conference, subsequently I wrote an article in BASW’s Professional Social Work magazine about BASW-Logoissues surrounding social work and social perception. At the time the trigger issues for the article concerned the new criminal justice legislation regarding young offenders, but the underlying agenda was a reflection on social work in general.

Nearly 20 years later I alternate between fascination and despair when re-reading it as so much is the same and the struggles go on – so I thought I’d reproduce it to see if others feel the same.

“Revenge” Measures Fail Future Generations – Contrary to public perceptions, social workers are tough on crime.

As this issue of Professional Social Work is published, delegates and speakers are gathering in Brighton where the BASW conference will be examining the reality of violence and offending. In the conference hall, workshops and tea breaks, social workers will be buzzing with their impression of how the Government’s latest proposal for young offenders and the probation service relate to reality.

Social workers are among the first line of attack and the last line of defence against the problems facing society. They are easy targets because they work at the sharp end, dealing with problems society would rather not acknowledge. Some politicians identify us with the issues we address, blaming us for their existence rather than listening to our experiences of solving them.

Every decade since the 1920′s there have been waves of criminal justice legislation pledged to dealing with the problems of young offenders. Many of us will remember the more recent initiatives – young offender institutions, Borstals, ‘short sharp shocks’, mini-prisons and now American style ‘Boot Camps’.

Time and evidence from inside and outside this country has proved that all these measures – some would call them revenge measures – have achieved is to create environments in which young offenders learn more about offending. We lock up more people in this country than anywhere else in Europe, and our rates of recidivism are shockingly high.

Long-term planning has become an integral part of our society in so many fields – pensions, savings, mortgages, health promotion, dietary planning, vaccination programmes. Somehow, however, those who have the power to dictate building for the future have ignored properly resourced long-term plans to confront young offenders and divert them from crime. When the fact is put alongside insidious poverty and the lack of hopes on jobs which pervades the country, is it any surprise that so many of us despair at another doomed punishment-led initiative?

Where are the people of vision who learn from history? Who is casting the world for initiatives dedicated to the regeneration of home? The ideological robots, those dedicated to short-term political gain, are patently failing to invest in the future. A whole generation of young people, many sleeping in shop doorways unsupported by the state, is being marginalised by an embarrassed public.

With the media telescope enlarging and exaggerating our anxieties, the fact that the helping professions have helped reduce juvenile crime significantly in the last ten years tends to be ignored.

Contrary to public perceptions, social workers are tough on crime. This is not only because many of our colleagues work with the victims of crime. We are citizens too, who want to live in peace and security. More than most, social workers are tough on the causes of crime. There are few people better placed to assess the world we work in every day, to see how crime comes about and to know some of the ways it can be tackled at source.

The misery around us is not our doing, but scapegoats are needed when policy fails. Events will continue to prove us right, and in that lies the key to our continued survival.

BASW’s hand goes out to all social work colleagues and probation officers who are under appalling pressure to change and turn their backs on all they know to be right. In Brighton I believe we will find further strength and determination to assert our values in the devastation caused by knee-jerk policy.

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