1st Edition April 9th, 2020

First Edition Editorial

Coronavirus has thrown up many challenges – most obviously the horrific deaths, severe illness, and fear of those things, but also the restrictions that have been imposed as a result of them, and their impacts and consequences on nearly every area of daily life.  The necessity of doing things differently, though, also provides a point of opportunity to think about what is going on, to try and make sense of what is happening now, but also what was happening before. It gives us a point from which to consider what needs to change about our current situation, and what we will cherish the return of, as well as a point from which to reflect on those parts of our pre-Covid lives we may resist returning to once the crisis is over.

This magazine is one manifestation of the opportunity of sense making that, with all its terrible difficulties, the current period has provided us with. It falls squarely within the tradition of citizenship journalism and is intended as a supplement to, rather than competition to, some of the good professional publications which are already produced in the social work and social care field. The first edition comes less than three weeks after the initial idea was floated by email, and two weeks after the idea was firmed up and publicised on Twitter. For me, a natural procrastinator, this has been exhilarating, as well as a little nerve-wracking. At first the articles came slowly, but then more quickly, to the extent that we’ve held a number back for consideration for a second edition to come out later in April. 

The first thing to say about the articles in the first edition is the wonderful diversity of contributors – from people with experiences of different types of social work services to frontline practitioners, Practice Teachers, campaigners, social work educators and researchers, at different career stages. The articles in this first edition are linked by a sense of hope. Some raise more questions than others about social work practice, the experience of such practice, policy, legislation and leadership in current times, but they do so in the spirit of prompting action and change for the better. Some raise insights about the multi-faceted positive and negative impacts of the current crisis on social work. Some praise, or call for praise, of the actions of social workers or some of their organisations. And, one of the articles shines a spotlight on an important issue that might be being overlooked in the current context. We were delighted with not only the number, but the quality, range and diversity of external submissions.

We also had a number of people contacting us wanting to submit, but who could not make the first deadline, so we hope those people, and others, might submit for the second edition. We’ve set a deadline of Tuesday April 21st for submissions for the second edition (deliberately choosing a Tuesday, this time, for those of you who don’t like Mondays, even in these more unstructured weeks!). We’re keen to continue the diversity of contributors, issues and also formats – for example creative writing, personal reflections and book reviews with some connections to the current crisis or social work and social care are all welcome. 

Full submission guidelines can be found on the site here.

Before I leave you to read on at your leisure – a few thank yous: firstly to all our outside contributors; secondly to my fellow editors for working late into several nights on top of work and caring responsibilities; to Daniel Villalba Algas, whose technical skills meant this project didn’t get stuck at interesting concept stage; and to Bianca Palazzi for our fantastic logo designs.

Fare thee well all,

Robin Sen on behalf of the Editorial Collective. 

1st Edition April 9th, 2020

First Edition Contents List

April 9th, 2020

Editorial – Robin Sen

  1. A social worker in the middle of the country – Safe social work in the time of Corona
  2. Dr. Cara Jaradine – Why we need social workers to avert a prisons crisis: beginning a critical conversation
  3. Carolyne Willow – Social protection and the Coronavirus Act
  4. Christian Kerr – The good fight: Reflections on social work and solidarity in the time of Covid-19 and beyond
  5. Deborah Hadwin – “We are human too”- Local authority responses to unaccompanied young people leaving care and the Covid 19 pandemic
  6. Jacqui Bond  The Deaf community in the UK and Covid-19
  7. Jo Warner – The politics of proximity in the age of social distancing
  8. Joe – Becoming another screen in a time of Covid-19
  9. Joe Smeeton – A call to arms
  10. Lucia Marquez Leaman and Tim Fisher – The Friday Story
  11. Mark Monaghan – Do Children’s Social Care Staff Need to Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
  12. Michael Clarke – Ignorance is bliss
  13. Nick Burke – The failure of social work to respond to Covid-19 
  14. Robin Sen – Politics, social work and Covid-19 : March 2020 the month the music died or the month it revived
  15. Sarah-Jane Waters – A new Spring 
  16. Shabnam Ahmed – Remembering a new way  
  17. Simon Cardy – Is it time to wind up the National Accreditation & Assessment System?
  18. Ross Gibson – Unequal lives, unequal deaths

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 A social worker in the middle of the country

Safe social work in the time of Corona

I don’t suppose anyone can start a sentence about the current circumstances without saying these are strange times. As a social worker in a critical role (child protection) it is very strange indeed to hold meetings with parents via a conference call and to be socially distant from families with whom I am developing a relationship. I am sure social workers are being creative about communication, because creativity is a daily need in our role, but we will also be worrying about children who are currently not seen in school/nursery, some of whom were fairly socially isolated before any of us were locked down. 

It is a privilege being a social worker, people let us into their lives often at a time of crisis, and they talk to us. Whilst we can limit our news consumption, it is hard to avoid COVID-19 in any real sense, even listening to a completely unrelated radio programme, I was conscious of the reason why all the contributors were dialling in. I am acutely aware that the omnipresence of COVID-19 information feels overwhelming at times, and I am not in crisis, subject to a child protection plan, or in the midst of care proceedings. 

All of this would have been a lot harder to manage without the clear guidance and support I have received from our managers, right through from my line manager, to the Director of Children’s Services. As it became apparent that COVID-19 would be a national crisis, we were informed about the multi-agency meetings taking place at senior levels, the outcomes from those, and given really clear guidance on an ongoing basis. This began with bi-weekly updates, which increased as the situation changed, and we currently receive daily updates. I’ve taken myself away from Twitter now, but if my feed was representative, this was not the case for all social workers in local authorities. I did of course offer to share information with anyone who raised the issue and that kind of collaboration, which is always impressive within social work, was also reflected in the way that resources aimed at supporting children were quickly shared. 

The guidance I received not only reflects the directives which we are familiar with from central government briefings, but has also included information about the practical ways the LA is addressing the needs of staff.  There has been a lag in the provision of technology, but you’d expect that given the needs for additional funds for this, in the context of years of cuts (but I won’t get into that now). Even without that background, having enough laptops for everyone to work remotely was always going to be an issue, and the pressure on the LA network means remote working is incredibly frustrating at times. Primarily though, the most helpful communication has been the very clear directions about how to keep ourselves and those we are working with safe, whilst continuing to support them. 

I wouldn’t be a social worker if I wasn’t busy reflecting on this, particularly because some workers are in receipt of a tangle of information, which is not only unsafe, but discombobulating. I’m not someone who is often uncritical of senior managers, but I know that I feel (relatively) safe, supported and well informed, because I have been in receipt of impressive and comprehensive information sharing from mine. This means that, whilst I am in role which  could present some risks for myself, and the families I work with, I have felt ‘held’ and can continue to support them. There are outstanding issues, it is clear that PPE is being (quite rightly) prioritised for the NHS, there is a shortage of hand sanitiser, and I feel the loss of some face to face contact which is intrinsic to our work (my work phone is clunky enough to only be able to make calls!). 

I am writing this article anonymously, because as all LA social workers will know, we’d need our comms department to approve copy otherwise. My comms team are a little tied up now, which is a shame, because it means the shout out I would like to give to other agencies may not reach the ears of those it is aimed at. Being the agency with responsibility for taking the lead on safeguarding can feel isolating at times, and whilst I value multi-agency working, I don’t think I have ever felt so keenly that there is a concerted effort from all agencies to ensure our most vulnerable families are supported as in the time of COVID-19. In the same way that most of us will be reflecting on ‘normal’ life post COVID-19, I will be thinking about how this can be more effectively continued when normal service is resumed, and particularly my part in that. 

A social worker in the middle of the country. 

“In the rush to return to ‘normal,’ use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” David Hollis.

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Dr. Cara Jaradine

Why we need social workers to avert a prisons crisis: beginning a critical conversation

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only led to dramatic changes in our daily lives, it has also brought deeply ingrained inequalities into sharp relief. For instance, recent research by a team of academics at Imperial College London found that while willingness to adopt social distancing measures was high across all UK socio-economic groups, the ability to socially isolate by working from home is positively associated with higher levels of education, higher incomes, greater amounts of personal savings, and home ownership. Indeed, those with the lowest household income (less than £20,000) were six times less likely to be able to work from home compared to those with household incomes of £50,000 and above. Further, writing in the Financial Times, author Arundhati Roy has evocatively captured how, while social class does not provide absolute protection from the virus, the lived experiences of the measures introduced to combat it are dramatically different for rich and poor across the globe. 

It is therefore essential to place social justice concerns at the centre of our analysis of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly important with regard to groups who might be socially marginalised, stigmatised, or overlooked in public debates, such as those living and working in our prisons. As many criminal justice activists have argued, prisons provide almost perfect conditions for the virus to spread. On the 17th of March SPARC (the Scottish Prisoner Advocacy and Research Collective), described the situation in Scottish prisons as a ‘disaster waiting to happen’, pointing to persistent overcrowding, high levels of staff sickness absence, the existing poor health of many people living in prison, and the risks to mental health and wellbeing inherent in self-isolating in a restricted environment. These concerns were echoed by the Howard League Scotland, who argued that overcrowding not only makes social distancing “almost impossible”, but that the pandemic risks escalating tensions within prisons, putting the safety of those living and working within them in jeopardy.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Prison Service (SPS) are now in a race against time to deal with these unprecedented circumstances. On Monday 23rd March the SPS suspended all family visits in an attempt to protect against the spread of the virus. The following week, the Scottish Government passed emergency legislation allowing for the early release of certain groups of prisoners, should this measure be necessary to ensure public safety. Many activist groups have been calling for the urgent introduction of early release for some time, and in England and Wales the Ministry of Justice announced on 4th April that up to 4,000 people with less than two months left to serve would be released early on licence. In Scotland, further secondary legislation is required before any prisoners can be released under these new powers, and Parliament is in recess until 20th of April. Provisions already exist to allow eligible individuals to serve a portion of their sentence in the community on licence, whilst being monitored under Home Detention Curfew (sometimes referred to as HDC or ‘tagging’). However, changes in the Guidance for Agencies in 2018 has led to an 80% decrease in the number of people released on HDC; with the Justice Secretary tweeting on April 4th that efforts are ongoing to reverse this decline. 

Thus, while some initial steps have been taken, the crisis facing our prisons has not been averted. As these debates continue at pace, there are three key areas where social work and social care professionals have a vital contribution to make. Firstly, and most urgently, social workers must have a voice in the ongoing debates surrounding early release.  These have been largely framed in terms of risk, with the Justice Secretary noting that the Bill explicitly “excludes categories of high-risk prisoners” emphasising that any such release will be “subject to an appropriate level of risk assessment” The details of such risk assessment processes are not yet clear, and it will be imperative that these are designed in consultation with the social work profession to ensure these processes are workable and to avoid excessive risk averseness, which both the Howard League Scotland and the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf have argued have contributed to the decline in use of HDC. 

Involving social work and social care professionals in these debates may also lead to the interrogation of issues which have, so far, been largely neglected. For instance, social care professionals will have insights into issues such as: how will people who are released early be supported in the community to access housing, benefits and medical care? How do we guard against those with high levels of need, which often overlaps with poverty, being seen as ineligible, and therefore doubly disadvantaged? And are there particular groups of people who should be automatically considered for early release, such as pregnant women (who the Ministry of Justice recently announced would be released from prisons in England and Wales), or men in the Open Estate who already successfully undertake home leaves? If social care professionals become actively involved in these discussions, there may be scope to shift their focus from a narrow view of risk, to wider questions of health and social justice. 

Secondly, as key workers, social care professionals may have important insights into the current situation within our prisons. On the 31st of March, the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, relaying concerns expressed by prison officers about the provision of PPE, and availability and distribution of other protective measures such as hand sanitiser, and the practicalities of achieving social distancing. Social work and social care professionals who are able to continue working with both prison officers and those living in our prisons will have first-hand knowledge of what is working well, and where further improvements are required. Furthermore, they will also be able to bring the expertise to assess how these measures are impacting on daily life within the prison. Given that measures to reduce isolation have been identified as essential for limiting the damage imprisonment can cause to mental health and lowering the risk of suicide, it is essential that the impact of social distancing within prisons is closely monitored. 

Finally, social work and social care professionals are well-placed to support and advocate for new measures to support family relationships in the absence of face-to-face visits. Prisons in England and Wales are developing a range of innovative approaches here; while plans were already in place to increase the number of prisons with in-cell phones from 20 to 50, a further 55 prisons are being provided with non-internet enabled mobile phones to allow those in custody to stay in touch with their families. Individual establishments are also taking radical steps to support family contact, with HMP Bronzfield reducing the cost of prison phone calls by approximately 44%. Others are taking to Twitter to reach out to families, with HMP Parc and HMP Altcoursecreating radio request shows, where families can email a song choice and message for their loved one to be played on prison radio, while HMP Ranby is “taking Twitter to the men” by allowing families to use the direct messaging function to write short messages that can then be passed on. This is by no means an exhaustive list of innovative practice across prisons, but is illustrative of what can be achieved when criminal justice professionals work together creatively and collaboratively. 

However, while positive initiatives have been introduced in response to the pandemic, we must not lose sight of the urgent need for further action. Visits were suspended a fortnight ago, and while updates on a proposed technical solution have been promised this week, measures to support family contact remain limited. As almost a quarter of prison officers are now absent from work, individual prisons and their staff teams are under increasing pressure, with many of the activities which make prisons more survivable, such as work, education and gym sessions, cancelled to promote social distancing. While Scotland has currently 60 people in prisons who are self-isolating, and has fortunately yet to report any fatalities, in England two members of prison staffand three prisoners have died from the virus. Epidemiologists have warned that failure to take steps to maximise social distancing in prisons could lead to up to 800 preventable deaths in prisons in England and Wales alone. 

Thus, this is not a time for complacency, or for sequestered debates and decisions as who might be categorised as high or low risk. Rather, we must begin an open conversation about the competing demands felt by justice system, and how fundamental needs such as physical health, mental wellbeing, feelings of safety, access to services, and support for relationships can be met for those living and working within our prisons (both in the prison, and in the community). This will not only support efforts to tackle the spread of the virus, but may also produce transformative insights as to how our justice institutions can and should work in the future.   

Dr. Cara Jardine, University of Strathclyde, Monday 6 April.


1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Carolyne Willow

Social protection and the Coronavirus Act

It’s difficult to critique the Coronavirus Act without appearing impervious to the tremendous personal and professional challenges those working in public services face right now. But the legislation has the potential to seriously diminish social protection way beyond the demands of the health crisis we are currently in.

Just a week after the Prime Minister and his chief scientists told us we were adopting a ‘herd immunity’ strategy to fight covid-19, with a target infection rate of 60% of the population (the strongest among us), emergency legislation was published dismantling adult social care rights and duties. 

The Coronavirus Act has removed local authority duties to assess and meet the care and support needs of disabled adults unless this would breach the person’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights / The Human Rights Act (Schedule 12). The human rights backstop provides little comfort, as the disability rights organisation Inclusion London explains: “We know from experience that in order for human rights to be breached in [the] social care context the situation has to be very critical or severe” . 

The explanatory notes to the Act describe the intention as: “reduc[ing] operational burden so local authorities can prioritise the service they offer in order to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met”. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, with local authorities under extreme pressure, though ‘operational burden’ still sticks in the throat. 

In children’s social care, local authority duties to provide welfare services to disabled children who are moving to adult services (requirements under both the Children Act 1989 and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970) are disapplied (Schedule 12). The Act also removes assessment duties relating to children in need and young carers approaching adulthood. Like the suspension of Care Act duties towards adults, these changes took effect from 31st March.

Other provisions in the Act which have not yet come into force include a watering down of the duty in the Children and Families Act 2014 to secure special educational provision and health care provision, with authorities only having to make ‘reasonable endeavours’ (Schedule 17). Mental health detention will be possible on the recommendation of a single doctor, and the time limit for compulsory detention of people who would otherwise be in hospital voluntarily extends from 72 hours to 120 hours (Schedule 8). 

Department of Health and Social Care guidance quaintly describes the suspension of social care duties as ‘easements’, as if something favourable is taking place. To be fair, the guidance appears to have been drafted with the intention of scaring off local authorities from implementing the Act. It sets conditions which don’t appear in the statute which means they are not directly enforceable:

A Local Authority should only take a decision to begin exercising the Care Act easements when the workforce is significantly depleted, or demand on social care increased, to an extent that it is no longer reasonably practicable for it to comply with its Care Act duties (as they stand prior to amendment by the Coronavirus Act) and where to continue to try to do so is likely to result in urgent or acute needs not being met, potentially risking life. Any change resulting from such a decision should be proportionate to the circumstances in a particular Local Authority.

Guidance issued last Friday by the Department for Education in respect of children’s social care risks legal challenge for entirely opposite reasons. It wrongly suggests that local authorities no longer need meet their statutory duties to all care leavers. Under a section titled ‘Principles’, relating to children’s social care generally, the guidance appears to actively encourage councils to dispense with their legal obligations:

We know that local authorities and local safeguarding partners will want to continue to meet their statutory duties as far as they can, but there will be times in the current circumstances when this is not possible.

The guidance goes on to suggest that it is lawful to deviate from statutory requirements in children’s social care so long as detailed records are kept:

Where authorities need to deviate from standard practice and statutory requirements, we expect that they will keep clear records to capture the rationale and risk assessment for that.

Unless statutory duties have been removed, they remain the law and this coronavirus guidance does not change that. As with the children’s social care ‘myth-busting’ guide removed last year after my charity’s legal action, the risk is that local authorities and social workers will follow inaccurate parts of the guidance assuming they correctly apply the law. 

There is recent form on trying to destabilise the legislative basis of children’s social care. Exemption clauses in the 2016 Children and Social Work Bill, had they been passed, would have allowed local authorities to opt-out of their statutory duties in children’s social care for up to six years. Ministers were to be empowered to exempt struggling local authorities from the very legal obligations they were failing to meet – whether the local authority wanted this or not. The then Shadow Children’s Minister, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, herself a former social worker, asked the House of Commons Library for a list of the legislation which councils could opt out of; it ran to more than 11 pages. There was no crisis facing the country when these wholesale opt-outs from children’s social care statutory duties were imagined.

The latest state of local government finance report, published by the Local Government Information Unit in February, found that 10 per cent of councils fear being unable to meet their statutory duties this year, and one in seven anticipate an increase in legal challenges. Children’s services and education was the top immediate pressure for local authorities, with “councils [un]able to shield children from the worst of the budgetary pressures”, and adult social care was the primary long-term pressure. A decade of welfare retrenchment has wreaked havoc on social protection and the Coronavirus Act makes it a whole lot easier for the rights of the most vulnerable to be further denied. Described as emergency legislation, it lasts for two years (with six-monthly reviews) though ministers have the power to extend it beyond that – for six months at a time for however long they determine (Section 90). 

Carolyne Willow is a social worker and founder Director of Article 39 children’s rights charity

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Christian Kerr

The good fight: Reflections on social work and solidarity in the time of Covid-19 and beyond

International solidarity is not an act of charity: It is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objective. The foremost of these objectives is to aid the development of humanity to the highest level possible.

– Samora Machel, President of Mozambique 1975-1986

Militaristic metaphors have always been a feature of the helping professions so it’s no surprise they currently abound in the midst of the current global health crisis, epitomised by calls to ‘rally the troops’ for ‘the war on coronavirus’ and so on. I have often argued against invoking the language of warfare in relation to social work’s struggles against oppression and injustice but have more recently come to appreciate the value of such language. It can unite us under a common cause while underscoring our shared experiences and concerns.

Social work and the military already share much common language: strategy, campaign, target, withdraw, engage, leadership, alliance, frontline and such like. This probably says a lot about how statutory social work has come to be conceived by those who do it and those who influence its form and function and it behoves us to think very carefully about how such unconscious reinforcement of militaristic language and concepts may shape perceptions of social work and influence our professional relationships. Is it possible to use such language while claiming to be a profession foundationally concerned with human rights and the advancement of higher ideals?

The above quote by military commander, politician and revolutionary, Samora Machel, shows the possibility of another, more hopeful, and therefore arguably more useful, function of military metaphors in social work. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Machel invokes the language of armed struggle, given his experiences in the armed Mozambican resistance. Here he alloys it to the language of unity and common purpose in pursuit of higher ideals to make a point about solidarity: that it is founded not in charity but in what we would nowadays call mutual aid. 

I’ve been thinking about these things in relation to calls from within the social work profession for the provision of adequate personal protection equipment (PPE) for social workers during the current health crisis. There have been calls for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and other practice leaders to do more to advocate for social work and social workers, particularly in relation to the understandably emotive topic of PPE. As a (sometimes critical) member of BASW I am grateful for its tireless campaigning on this matter and for its work in providing up-to-date practical and ethical guidance for practitioners – members or otherwise – currently dealing with, and supporting others to deal with, the myriad challenges arising from Covid-19. BASW has been a visible and vocal advocate for social work in the most difficult of times and deserves recognition for its decisive work in standing up for social work and for social workers in the current crisis. It’s difficult to see what BASW and other social work leaders could do in that particular regard and in calling for them to do more, for example in relation to PPE, we may actually be guilty of ascribing to them powers and responsibilities they don’t actually have. Public facing workers everywhere are dealing with the very same issue, despite the best efforts of their respective associations and unions.

Social work is a profession built on the promotion of social cohesion and collective responsibility in the service of all people, as set out in the International Federation of Social Workers ‘Global Definition of Social Work’, so I’ve always conceived of standing up for social work as standing up for the rights of interests of those we hope to support. In the era of Covid-19 and the many challenges the pandemic brings in relation to health, welfare and the ongoing, potentially lasting, erosion of legal protections, I’d take this further: we best stand up for social work by standing up for the rights of all people – public, professional, worker – during this crisis and beyond. 

The concept of mutual aid has really come to the fore during this crisis, though it is as old as human culture. In order to survive and live together, humans have exchanged goods, services, skills. As communities and societies developed, mutual aid saw people self-organising into craft guilds, trade unions, friendly societies, cooperatives and other civil groups and movements. The history of human progress is, arguably, the history of mutual aid. 

Mutual aid arises in response to perceived need, and very often in response to perceived threat. We are in the midst of a crisis of unprecedented scale and scope and mutual aid is on the map like never before, with citizen-led groups springing up locally, regionally and nationally, here and throughout the world. 

It has been said that mutual aid is built on the dialectical synthesis of autonomous individualism and and corporate collectivism. Another way of putting this might be to say joining with others to express and amplify our individual power while recognising and working with the tensions within the relationship between individual and group concerns. Every day as practitioners in our teams and organisations we stand up for the rights and interests of oppressed and marginalised people. Social workers often decry a lack of a strong collective voice. We’re not, according to this narrative, very good at standing up for ourselves. I wonder if that’s because it’s not in our nature, it’s not part of the deal. We fight for others, not ourselves. Perhaps we should stick to what we’re good at and stand up collectively, through association, first and foremost for the rights and interests of those we support and also those we work in partnership with every day. In doing so, we may find that others step forward to stand up and advocate for us too. That seems to me the essence of mutual aid. 

Solidarity and mutual aid are crucial to any crisis response. Once this storm has passed, the social work profession will no doubt enter a period of reflection and, from there, planning and preparation will be a key priority, for it’s highly likely this or something like it will happen again. We need to be better prepared to respond not only on behalf of social workers but on behalf of all those we stand with and for – public, professional, worker, citizen – from all disciplines and spheres, and from all walks of life.

I have previously called for a British Association for Social Work and for membership to be open to all citizens, because they have the major stake. There is unprecedented demand on health services in major population centres due to Covid-19. As the weeks go on, there will be increasing pressure on social care too. This may bring social care the recognition long called for by the sector, albeit in the worst possible circumstances. Whatever happens, I wonder if BASW may be even better placed to effectively advocate for the profession if it broadens its mission to advocate for the wider social care sector, or rather expands on the work it already does in that regard. How this could be done while preserving, in a non-exclusionary way, a space for professional social work to continue to develop and thrive? 

How about this: an association for social care, built on social work values and principles?  (Which, by the way, when you look at them aren’t so exclusive to social work but are shared by partner professions, disciplines and workforces which also have a public service ethos, often coalescing round a vision of individual and community wellbeing within a more just and equal society. It’s just that we social workers espouse a more foundational commitment to such values.) 

Such an organisation could make membership free to all citizens and, in doing so, make available and accessible the knowledge and resources used in social care and social work to anyone with a personal or professional interest. 

Such an association could provide, within that wider open membership structure, tiered subscriptions for social care workers and professional social workers, priced and tailored to the specific needs of each group. It could provide learning and development resources and opportunities for unqualified-yet-skilled social care workers – who may or may not wish to become qualified social workers – while preserving and building on the existing remit to develop and advance professional social work. 

Such an association could effectively be a shared, inclusive space to promote knowledge, transparency, accountability and understanding in social care and social work. Imagine the learning for all concerned. Imagine the possibilities for mutual aid. 

Such an association could also reach out and forge alliances with other unions and associations representing professionals involved in other sectors, such as health, education, therapy services, the legal profession and other academic disciplines, for, as I said, we share many common purposes, values and missions. Part of the unique contribution of social work within a social care association of the sort described would be experience and expertise in engaging communities and connecting their concerns, rights and interests to the concerns of professionals, workers and thinkers in the various disciplines and areas of work. Such a coalition could amplify the voices of those professionals and members of the public who play a vital role in holding government and other powerful actors to account.

In essence, a union of concerned citizens forming part of a coalition of the concerned, advocating for hope and positive change in a complex, quickly changing world. 

Imagine that.

Christian Kerr, Social Worker.

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Deborah Hadwin

“We are human too”- Local authority responses to unaccompanied young people leaving care and the Covid 19 pandemic


 “We are human too” was overwhelmingly the key message from a group of young people who took part in my PhD research looking at local authority practice with unaccompanied young people leaving care.  Emerging from a period when government policies towards migrants have seen the enactment of the “hostile environment”(Jolly, 2018), contemporary negative attitudes toward asylum seeking young people have been not simply an expression of callousness or xenophobia but have become much more entrenched.  They became part of a ‘common sense’ discourse of competitive individualism, where people who require state support were often described as people ‘wanting something for nothing’.  People seeking asylum viewed through this lens are presented as a drain on British society and rarely as people with whom we should identify or sympathise, let alone to whom we owe an obligation (Hadwin, Singh and Cowden, 2020).

The young people I am specifically referring to are those who arrived in the UK under the age of 18, without a parent or guardian and made a claim for asylum in their own right, often known within local authorities and by central government as unaccompanied asylum seeking children (Department for Education November, 2017).  My motivation for the research stemmed first and foremost from the exclusionary policies these young people faced, particularly as they approached and during their early adulthood; but also, from my practice experience in navigating at times conflicting legislation, Immigration vs Children’s, (Gupta 2019) and what appeared to be wide variation in terms of practice within and across different local authorities.  

Covid-19 is teaching us that we are inter-connected like never-before.   Political ideology which has pushed people to the margins, and sometimes beyond, now seems futile.  In order to counter the pandemic, it has become absolutely, crucial that no-one is left out regardless of ethnicity, nationality or immigration status or anything else.  Whilst there is now some government guidance about how Children’s Social Care should respond to the pandemic (Department for Education, 3rd April 2020), this still requires interpretation and navigation.  As Lipsky noted in the early 80s, the intentions of government policy do not always translate into practice due to the demands of workload pressures and resources which street-level bureaucrats, including social workers, navigate.  How workers respond to these pressures means that they, “effectively become the public policies they carry out” (Lipsky, 2010: pxiii).The choices local authority practitioners (managers, social workers and personal advisors) make, in working with unaccompanied young people will determine whether young people feel valued and a sense of belonging.  The young people who took part in the research identified that a lack of support and compassion was one of the reasons young people took increased risks, including going ‘missing’ and they all knew either directly or indirectly young people who had done this.  As one young person put it,

if there’s somebody there and I know I can get help, there’s no harm for me.  Nobody can harm me, nobody could try to hurt me, nobody give me mistrust, why would I disappear? I know the fear ’cause, I tried the same myself.  So that’s why people disappear. He only people disappear when they fear, when they’re scared. When they say my life is at risk, my life is in danger” (Afghan male, care experienced).

It is therefore essential that local authorities do everything they can to maintain positive, supportive relationships which reduce the ‘fear’. By doing so they will be ensuring that young people can access help and support; are less tempted to disappear and as a result will not be putting their own lives, and in these times, the lives of others at risk from their increased chances of contracting and spreading the Covid 19 virus, because their sense of security and wellbeing are compromised (Chase, 2013).

Practical steps to be considered by local authorities supporting unaccompanied young people.

  1. As soon as a child who is unaccompanied and likely to be seeking asylum, comes to the attention of a local authority, they must be recorded as a looked after child straight away, as opposed to the 24 hour period of assessment afforded to other children who may then become looked after children (Department for Education, 2018). 
  • During the period of the pandemic, local authorities should consider suspending the undertaking of age assessments.  Where age assessments are viewed as essential and if the young person is assessed as an adult, any transition to adult asylum support should be planned and coordinated. This would allow the young person time (at least two weeks) to seek initial legal advice on whether they have grounds to challenge the age assessment, but also enabling them to properly prepare for the next steps and reducing the risk of them going missing (which is good practice at any time). 

Assessing age without authenticated documentation to prove otherwise, is highly subjective, and any age assessment however thoroughly conducted, is at best an approximation of a young person’s age.  At the same time, age is at the heart of a person’s identity and when a young person has lost everything else, holding on to what they can and who they are, is crucial.  Dorling (Dorling, May 2013)states that a pervading “culture of disbelief” exists with young people often being assumed to be older than they are presenting; and there is also evidence to suggest that many children end up in adult detention (BBC, 2019).

Whilst there is often the worry amongst practitioners that adults will end up being in foster placements with children, it is not the issue of age in itself, which is the risk factor.  A 14 or 15year old, may pose more of a risk than an 18 or 19 year, because they are motivated to offend.  It is essential that therefore that foster carers and support staff in other settings, adhere closely to safe caring policies.  

  • Local authority workers need to be particularly mindful of the young person’s mental wellbeing, which may mean delaying some conversations about possible future trajectories until a later date. Research (Wade et al., 2012) found that it is a mixed blessing for unaccompanied young people who come to the UK. Whilst they might carry the hopes and dreams of their families, including a potential return on any investment; they are chosen to travel far way, while others in their family may not be.  The worry that many of the young people will be experiencing, at the moment, is likely to be heightened.  Many come from countries already experiencing poverty or war, and so how their relatives will manage during the pandemic, is likely to be at the forefront of their minds.  Whilst pathway planning with unaccompanied young people should include planning for all eventualities, including a possible return to country of origin (Department for Education, November 2017), I would argue that these conversations should not take place at this time.  In my research sample, a very small minority of young people (less than 1%) were known by their worker to have returned to their country of origin.  The most likely outcome for those without settled immigration was a protracted period of limbo (Chase, 2013). In addition, planning for the future of young people with unsettled status, was almost impossible (Devenney, 2017). 
  • Local authorities could continue to support all care leavers regardless of their immigration status.  My research identified that different local authorities take different approaches to who they support, dependent on their immigration status. This is an area of practice where Children’s Legislation and the Immigration legislation conflict, in that leaving care legislation suggests that local authorities should support care leavers up to the age of 25 (Children and Social Work Act, 2017) whereas immigration legislation prohibits continued support for those who are Appeal Rights Exhausted (Schedule 3, Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, 2002), unless local authorities undertake Human Rights Assessments to determine whether there are grounds for continued support (Department for Education, November 2017).  There is an argument that local authority support should not be withdrawn at any time to these young people whilst they are care leavers.  During this pandemic, local authority practitioners should argue for continued support as a minimum, and as argued by Prabhat and others, there should be a special ‘youth’ category to bring provision for these young people in line with their British counterparts (Prabhat, Singleton and Eyles, 2019). 

Whilst the pandemic poses real day to day challenges for the workers and young people, it also allows scope for some flexibility in continuing to support some young people previously marginalised, and potentially changing the shape of future practice. 

Deborah Hadwin, 04.04.20.


BBC (2019) Newsnight. Asylum Seekers: They didn’t believe I was a child.  (Jake Morris and James Clayton)  [Accessed 05/08/19]

Chase, E. (2013) ‘Security and Subjective Wellbeing: The Experiences of Unaccompanied Young People Seeking Asylum in the UK’. Sociology of Health & Illness 35 (6), 858-872 

Department for Education (November 2017) Care of Unaccompanied Migration Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Crown Copyrights 

Department for Education (3rd April 2020) Coronavirus (Covid-19): Guidance for Local Authorities on Children’s Social Care. London: Crown Copyrights 

Department for Education (2018) Applying Corporate Parenting Responsibilities to Looked After Children and Care Leavers. London: Crown Copyright 

Devenney, K. (2017) ‘Pathway Planning with Unaccompanied Young People Leaving Care: Biographical Narratives of Past, Present, and Future’. Child & Family Social Work 22 (3), 1313-1321 

Dorling, K. (May 2013) Happy Birthday? Disputing the Age of Children in the Immigration System. London: Coram Children’s Legal Centre 

Gupta, A. (2019) ‘Asylum Seeking Children in and Leaving Care’. in Social Work with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants. ed. by Wroe, L., Larkin, R., and Maglajlic, R. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 143–162 

Hadwin, D., Singh, G., and Cowden, S. (2020) ‘Working with Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Young People Seeking Asylum’. in Human Growth and Development in Children and Young People. Theoretical and Practical Perspectives. ed. by Parker, J. and Ashencaen-Crabtree, S. Bristol: Policy Press, 309 –329 

Jolly, A. (2018) ‘No Recourse to Social Work? Statutory Neglect, Social Exclusion and Undocumented Migrant Families in the UK. ‘. Social Inclusion, 6(3), 190-200

Lipsky, M. (2010) Street Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. 30th Anniversary edn. New York: Russell Sage Foundation 

Prabhat, D., Singleton, A., and Eyles, R. (2019) ‘Age is just a Number? Supporting Migrant Young People with Precarious Legal Status in the UK’. The International Journal of Children’s Rights 27 (2), 228-250 

Wade, J., Sirriyeh, A., Kohli, R., and Simmonds, J. (2012) ‘Fostering Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Young People’. Creating a Family Life Across a ‘World of Difference’. London: BAAF Adoption & Fostering

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Jacqui Bond

The Deaf community in the UK and Covid-19

It’s noticeable that the UK Government is not reaching the Deaf community in its Press briefing. The World Federation of Deaf People (WFD) and Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) have released statements with regard to the lack of interpreters at live announcements by the UK Government or Public Health spokespeople. Sign Health and Deaf individuals are producing signed videos of the advice available on social media and YouTube. 

This is in stark contrast to other countries that have ensured sign language interpretation at press conferences for natural disasters and the current Coronavirus COVID-19. What it shows to me, is that having regard for the accessibility needs of Deaf people is an afterthought. 10 years of the Equality Act and it is not in the forefront of leading officials to ensure that communication is accessible. Lots of people, Deaf and hearing, do not use social media. The News is a broader platform which has the potential to reach more people. @Limping chicken commented that Deaf people in China have been travelling to socialise unaware of the restrictions because of the lack of information.

Government guidance is providing links to WhatsApp, and simple English with pictures. Yet we shouldn’t rely on volunteers in the Deaf community to provide access to the information. I understand that Dawn Butler has raised the issue with the Government over the lack of interpretation. I don’t have high hopes of this improving imminently. I do hope that people at all levels of Government, central, national and local realise that they cannot continue to ignore accessibility needs in times of emergency or otherwise.  I wrote this on the 14th March and press briefings still do not include an interpreter present, unlike the leaders of Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament.

So who enforces the Equality Act if the Government cannot or will not book interpreters? Deaf organisations have stepped up, as have Deaf individuals to convey the information in BSL across social media. In addition, they have a #WhereIsTheInterpreter? Campaign with accompanying letter to the Prime Minister’s office and MPs. 

Jacqui Bond, Dip SW, MA in Social Work with Deaf People

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Jo Warner

The politics of proximity in the age of social distancing

It seems as if the value system of our social and political world has been inverted overnight by Covid-19. The value system that now dominates all of our concerns is based on the currency of proximity to others. 

On the one hand, the other that comes too close is a threat; their unwitting weapon being that most intimate of things; a particle of bodily fluid. All of us have already learned the sad social art of swerving two metres around every other human being we meet. 

At the same time, the people who would help us the most need to come close to us out of necessity. Health and social care workers are at the frontline of proximity, their wash-worn hands touching and caring for sick bodies. The van drivers who hand-deliver food that we buy out in remote cyberspace, must exchange it on the doorstep with that awkward distancing ritual: “I’ll just leave it down here for you”. If we are lucky, we contract out our risk to them, while the less lucky queue. 

For the most vulnerable though, we have already learned that the most important and valuable form of closeness is to be local and to be known to others. Once again, as in the past, our social and perhaps physical survival depends on the neighbour, the street, the local area known as the Parish. Facebook and other social media are no longer about making virtual connections; the connections now are visceral and the media merely tools by which we make embodied contact to help each other.

What might the implications of this be for social work? We have our roots in two broad traditions, one defined by distance and one by closeness. 

The tradition that has dominated over recent years is characterised by the promotion of professionalism and technical competence. Along this path, we have detached ourselves from communities, locating ourselves outside them both physically and symbolically. We visit people in their homes and neighbourhoods, sometimes knowing little of the networks with which they are intertwined. 

The other, now largely latent, social work tradition seeks to shape a social work that is with, of and for the communities it serves. Close cooperation between social workers and others forges the relations through which ‘working the social’ is achieved. Social work then becomes a mutual endeavour, immutably connected to the structural forces that impinge on people’s everyday lives. Poverty is not the ‘wallpaper of practice’ that can be ignored, but the sharp focus of efforts to improve people’s lives. Social work as relational, humanising practice is defined by speaking up for others with whom we are standing side-by-side. 

Social work has been socially distancing itself for years. Now is the moment for us to realise that our value to society is best judged by our proximity to communities – however messy this return to the local might be. 

Jo Warner, 6th April 2020

1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Joe

Becoming another screen in a time of Covid-19

Last week I completed my first ‘virtual visit’ to a family home, and it is likely to have been my first of many more to come.

Over the second half of March the escalation in government guidance in relation to Covid-19 shaped the work I did with families. There was a period of time when we were told to reconsider visits if there were older or immunosuppressed people in the home. We were then told to only do visits that had already been booked in and to keep ‘socially-distant’ from all those we visited (a hard task for anyone who works with toddlers!). Finally, following the Prime Minister’s declaration of a ‘lockdown’ we were informed that, from hereon in, only a very small number of visits would be going ahead in person. Our day to day visits with families would continue over video call. 

The experience of these virtual family visits raised some fascinating questions that, although pertinent to the situation we find ourselves in right now, also have resonance for social work practice in general. I want to consider both the practical concerns that need to be navigated at present, and also some of the broader questions that this pivot to technology provokes.

My initial video call was with a family I had not yet met in person. The young person I spent a while talking to was a teenager who held ‘me’ out at a distance from him. I was keenly aware that whilst talking with him he was looking in an entirely different direction. It took me right until the end of the call to realise that he was also watching TV during our call. I have no issue with a TV being on during a home visit. If this is something that makes a family feel more comfortable whilst a social worker enters their space, then I’m more than happy to roll alongside it. However, there was something in this encounter that bothered me. I had become yet another screen for the young person. 

More so, I became ‘a symbol’ of the social worker. I was present in a very flat way, still entering the family space, but unable to be my full self and unable to dispel lots of the assumptions and fears that come with meeting a social worker, particularly for the first time. Although the call was fairly long, I did not feel I got a real sense of the family home. The screen was mainly taken up with faces, and this brought into focus the central practical problem of the video call, that I will only know what is being shown to me. 

As with any innovation, the video call will necessitate a change in our practice and a sharpening of our skills. Just as we seek to take our entire environment in when entering a family home, we will now seek to take in that same environment by considering how those in it react to us in the call. We will build up our ability to interpret the subtle non-verbal, relational cues like when the phone is passed from one family member to another. We will build up different languages with each family, as each will have their own relationship with the technology. Ultimately, as ever, we will do our best to build a sense of what is going on for the young person, and consider how best we can keep them safe. However, we may feel that something is lacking in these interactions, and we may be right. 

The 20th Century French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote about the idea of the ‘face-to-face’. His existentialist view of ethics was that morality and human responsibility can only be forged in the face-to-face interactions in which we see one another fully. My encounter with this family over video call was anything but full. Yet I wonder if there is something else that this new technology may offer us about the face-to-face interactions, namely, a consideration of our own faces. 

As part of the video call, alongside seeing the larger image of the person one is talking to, you also have a smaller image of yourself on screen. Prior to my first call I considered how I looked, perhaps tired? Stressed? Fed-up? I sat up against a door in my home with a somewhat clinical (perhaps overly clinical) white background behind my face. Although I had thought about these distinctly cosmetic issues the thing that shocked me throughout the call was that same presence of my own face. I finally saw how I look when I talk to a young person. Did my eyes really make that shape when he told me that? Could I have picked a better time to smile like I did just then? I had a face to face encounter with myself.

As well as all the challenges that this unimaginable Covid-19 crisis has brought up for us I wonder if, in a small way, it can offer a moment of reflection on our own practice too. As well as a tool of communication with others, my phone is also to become a mirror. It is an uncomfortable and fairly rare thing to be faced with one’s own face during these professional interactions, but one that I am going to do my best to sit with. Instead of being frustrated by the limited view I get into any family home, I will seek to consider the full and honest view that I will get of myself. 

Joe – a recently qualified social worker in a Child Protection team within a Local Authority in South East England.