Who are we waiting for?
It is time to speak your truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. Do not look outside yourself for the leader. There is a river so great and swift that some will fear they are being torn apart, and suffer greatly. The river has its destination. Let go from the shore, push into the middle. See who is in there with you and celebrate. We are to take nothing personally, the time for the lone wolf is over, gather yourselves! Banish struggle from your attitude and vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Unnamed Hopi nation elder, Oraibi, Arizona
When we first started planning this in March, one of the things we wondered was how we would encourage busy people, perhaps unused to writing articles to send in entries. As we now come to our final edition, we have a ‘bumper’ collection, receiving submissions up to and possibly beyond the publishing date. This edition again has contributions from a range of people involved in social work; people who use services, students, practitioners, and academics, highlighting for us the importance of listening to people’s stories. We continue the themes of looking back on the lessons of the last few months and then forwards to emerging from the lockdown and aim to leave you with some hope and aspiration for the future.
This isn’t to say that we hold a nostalgia for an imagined time where social work was completely without bureaucracy and marketisation and that residential settings were wonderful places, but perhaps a time where there was more focus on relationships rather than risk averse procedure and that some learning has come from seeing the ‘cracks in our society’ highlighted while different ways of working and relating have been found.
We must start by stating our gratitude to people, with more than a round of applause, often on low pay, working on the front line. The health and social care workers, volunteers and informal carers as well as those that have become part of the many supportive networks that have grown, to maintain services for the most vulnerable in society. Those carrying out essential public services in care homes, hospitals, shops, collecting our rubbish and continuing to teach our children, often without protection and without whom society would certainly have collapsed.
Across the five editions since the idea was first conceived in March, we have so far published over 100 articles from across all four UK countries and five others internationally. As the world around us changed beyond what many of us could comprehend we came together to share our experiences, fears and hopes. The magazine created a space where live issues could be brought to the fore, allowing contributors to explore them as they unfolded around them without the boundaries and confines of traditional academic publishing. This does not mean that the quality of writing has been compromised, indeed all articles have been peer reviewed by two of the editorial team and feedback has been responded to rapidly and incorporated into the final piece. What it has meant is that contemporary issues have reached the public domain much more quickly allowing conversations and debates to take place and connections to be forged beyond the life of the magazine. Perhaps one of the things we are most proud of is the range of different contributors who have shared their thoughts and experiences with us. As well as contributions from academics, this has been a space where those with lived experience, social workers, practice educators and students have come together to share ideas. We have learned such a lot from our contributors. They have shared with us the challenges they have faced as well as stories that promote optimism and hope for the future. We have heard from groups and individuals who have often found themselves marginalised and excluded from academic debate and this has been vital in providing unique insight and has to some degree, we hope, redressed power differentials around access to knowledge and contributed to a growing evidence base for social work practice. Across the issues we have heard how Covid has affected the deaf community, people with autism, older adults, people with learning disabilities, birth parents, young adoptees, cared experienced young people, refugees and asylum seekers and those with experience of gender based violence. We have heard how Covid has changed the working practices of social workers, affecting their ability to engage and interact with the people they work with. This has raised concerns about the ability to assess, observe and build relationships but we have also heard stories of innovative and creative practice to overcome some of these barriers. Across the five editions there have been differences of opinion and divergent views on a range of contemporary practice issues. We have paid close attention to these divergences and have aimed to facilitate as wide a range of perspectives as possible. We are proud to have played a part in encouraging debate and providing a critical analysis of policy and practice.
At times, the pace of change has felt overwhelming. When we first started out our concern was to facilitate discussion around how social work as a profession could navigate its way through a global pandemic. This pandemic, we were told, was “the great equaliser”. We were all in this together. Very quickly however the structural inequality with which social workers are all too familiar became apparent even more starkly than before. From discourses reassuring the general public that it was “only” older people and those with underlying conditions who were dying of Covid-19 to the devastating swathe of deaths in care homes as a result of the pandemic, to the recognition of racial discrimination and violence across the globe triggered by the killing of George Floyd in the United States the misuse of power and privilege against those defined as “other” has never been more apparent. This makes us worry for the future. As those in power choose to look the other way and put the economy before lives it can be difficult to see how change can happen. Yet we see cause for optimism. The contributors to our magazine seem to be fundamentally driven by a concern to promote the inherent value of human life and have eloquently challenged changes to law, policy and practice where they feel this is a threat to human rights. In addition, we have heard powerful accounts that promote a return to traditional social work practice with a central focus on social justice and community work. We do not look to the social work of the past with rose coloured glasses and acknowledge the challenges faced by social work as a profession over the years, however this re-emergence of community work described in many of the contributions over the five issues of the magazine give us some cautious hope for the future of social work.
As we look to this issue of the journal, we have been able to re-evaluate what is essential work and who carries this out, there also seems a flattening of hierarchies in that while there might be more rules around Covid 19, we are also learning how to connect with people outside of our normal world, to do with Covid but also movements such as Black Lives Matter which have brought people together virtually and physically.
The pandemic has highlighted inequalities and the ‘fractures in our society’ and articles in this edition continue looking at inequality, with people being further marginalised, facing unequal access to services such as education and people with disabilities losing services that worked to reduce their isolation and as a reminder to address racism. Together with this we explore the dangers of changes exacerbating this being snuck in by the back door under cover of emergency measures. The debate on the continuing marketisation of social work education and involving organisations that might be based on principles that go against social work values is addressed in questioning how social work can maintain a focus on fighting injustice in that partnership.
But, we also draw out some positives from the changes during this time, such as how social work and social work education has worked through this crisis and developed new ways to supervise and assess practice. We look at some ideas on the importance of creating and holding on to the new normal, with compassion and listening being central and ensuring people feel listened to, for example using family group conferences and the use of art. Within this there is also the recognition of what cannot be carried out properly in a remote manner and a reminder that for some, not seeing family is more permanent than this current lockdown has caused. There is also a focus on workers’ self-care and the need to develop poverty aware practice as well as a consideration of management structures and lines of command where helpful and where less so, but also of collaborations creating new and useful resources. Perhaps there is a remembering of what is good and central to good social work emerging and some examples of innovative work are explored from the UK and from other countries. We finish by inviting you to maintain a focus on hope as a tool for practice.
And what about us? During the last five months we have forged, as an editorial collective, new working relationships that have been truly refreshing. We have found support, humour and collaboration and a willingness to share ideas and empower one another. We have learned important lessons about teamwork and flexibility that will shape our practice going forward and we hope that we have also found a friendship that will last beyond the life of this magazine.
It has been an honour to work in this collaboration and a privilege to enable people to put their thoughts to paper and to publish these for a wider audience, seeing the power of the collective. To return to the opening quote (which also captures the message from The Conference of the Birds, suggesting we look into ourselves for leadership) that we (that is all of us) are the ones we have been waiting for and that together we can hold on to the learning from these last few months, where we have seen what does not work for the many and also how there are different ways of developing relationships and care to build a better ‘new normal’.
To end this part of the journey, rather than outlining our individual professional profiles, we present snapshots of each of us, with a little bit of us, a playlist (links included) and a quotation from each of us, we are the editorial collective!
 Farid-ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds, originally written in 1177
Dr Gillian MacIntyre, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Strathclyde
Abyd Quinn Aziz, Programme Director of Cardiff University MA social work
Quote: “Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.” Rebecca Solnit
“The task is clear: to create a culture of caretaking in which no one and nowhere is thrown away, in which the inherent value of people and all life is foundational.” Naomi Klein
In the Basement by Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto No Condition Is Permanent’ by Marijata You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart by The Eurythmics Lam Tung Wai by Chaweewan Dumnern Private Life by Grace Jones
“The more we learn, the less we know.’”
“If not now then when? If not you then who?”
“Any fool can turn a blind eye but who knows what the ostrich sees in the sand.” Samuel Beckett