Social Work 2020-21 under Covid 19 has the privilege of publishing here 28 thought provoking submissions for this special edition as well as David Grimm’s fantastic illustration below. We note our individual and collective partiality but also want to say that we think it’s a special, special edition too! It is one that is related to the announcement of the Government Review of children’s social care in England, but not defined or constrained by it. Its contents consider the review process and have some unflinching critical commentary on it, as well as alternative ways in which the Review could have been designed and run. But the edition also includes a far wider set of concerns – from analysis of elements of the children’s social care system which need reform, suggestions for practice and system changes, the wider politics of undertaking this Review or similar reviews elsewhere, and examples of hopes, challenges and realities from other jurisdictions from which England might learn. We carry articles focussing on aspects of social work reform in Aotearoa New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as England. We also failed miserably in one of our initial aims of restricting all of our submissions to the initial word count restriction of 2,000 words! Some contributors had a lot to say and we felt we should allow them space to do so. Still, we have aimed to keep contributions short and accessible enough that they retain the accessibility and digestibility that characterised SW2020 submissions. We hope we have managed to strike that balance.
The Editorial Collective would want to go no further without us noting thanks to our wonderful peer review team of Taliah Drayak, Lys Eden, Denisha Killoh, Jimmy Paul and John Radoux for giving of their time, selves and expertise. We invited them to help us peer review because we knew their knowledge and expertise of, among many other things, direct personal experience of social care services would provide an insightful editorial dimension that the existing editorial collective simply could not. We want to thank Taliah, Lys, Denisha, Jimmy and John for their contributions and service to the magazine and to the communities they enrich and enhance through this and their various other endeavours and contributions. It really was a pleasure and a privilege to work with you on this edition and we hope our various paths cross again.
We also want to thank Dave Grimm, a care experienced student social worker, for providing us with the illustration that adorns this editorial below.
Finally we would like to pay our respects, alongside the many other heartfelt tributes that have been given, to one of the contributors to SW2020 who tragically died from Covid-19 in January this year: the amazing care experienced activist, artist, father, foster carer, and partner who was Yusuf McCormack. Rest In Power Yusuf. You will always be the difference, and we continue to learn from the lessons you left us.
We encouraged each of our peer reviewers to themselves submit pieces to the special edition. John was persuaded by our persistent entreaties (read ‘pleas’!) to submit. We are grateful that he was. As John suggests at the start of his piece anger is a natural, powerful, emotion that humans cannot, and should not, seek to avoid. It should be appropriately channelled and John here channels his anger about a review, for which he had such earnestly high hopes, into a tour de force of analysis, humour and dignity.
This brings us to why we decided to re-open the magazine for another edition. In all honesty we were reluctant to do so. The previous five editions had seemed to us successful and valuable. They were enjoyable to produce as well. But they were also tiring and we were sure it was the right time to wind the magazine up in July 2020 as we emerged from (what would turn out to be) the first UK Covid lockdown. Several people asked us about re-opening the magazine at different points after this and we were not persuaded. However, shortly after the Chair of the Care Review was announced in January 2021, a previous contributor to SW2020 proposed that we re-open for the duration of the Care Review. We were still reluctant. The workload was one concern. However, most of all we feared a long goodbye and outstaying our utility and welcome. In the end we became persuaded by what we perceived as the lack of an alternative space for critical discussion and debate of issues relating to – and indeed beyond – the Care Review. We think this is an important point going forward and we want to therefore spend a little time exploring it here.
Firstly, we noted how reasonable critiques of the Care Review and its surrounding politics by social workers and others with a stake in the Review’s outcomes have been cast as unwarranted and unreasonable attacks. Passions run deep and feelings run high, leading to painful conflict and divisions between people and groups. Short-form platforms tend not to allow for deeper, reasoned excavation and exploration of important, emotive issues. Recognising that clipped, crossed and cross conversations occur too often on certain platforms and recognising also that at times it has, frankly, gotten a bit out of hand, we believed there was need to promote and preserve accessible spaces for critical but civil debate in social work.
We also believe that it is vital to harness the positive aspects of the platforms citizens access and use in order to publicise information, identify issues of concern, raise awareness of issues with a wider audience, and provide a degree of transparent accountability for those in positions of significant power.
It is to be noted how over the last decade significant decision making around children’s services in England has been shaped through largely hidden channels and the corridors of power flowing in, out and around the UK Government. We would also note the increasing influence of global corporations, often espousing social philanthropic aims, and who have now curiously started to take such a keen interest in social work and social care provision under the aegis of benevolent altruism. Beyond this review, as well as within it, there is an important, far-reaching, conversation to be had about social work. It is one that concerns the very nature, identity and role of social work and how it will and should be constructed and shaped, and by what and whom, in future.
It was in recognition of all these issues, and from a desire to contribute positively to that conversation, that we re-opened for this Special Edition.
Rather than providing an exceedingly long editorial by reviewing each of the 28 submissions we have been lucky enough to receive, we instead group them under five themes which may help readers in deciding which to read in which order. The groupings are inevitably subjective so do feel free to alternatively dive in to the contents list and make your own choices:
Theme 1: Critiques of the operation of the aspects of current social work system in England
Theme 2: The wider politics and processes of undertaking social work reviews
Theme 3: Imagining, re-imagining the possible futures of social care, social work and social work education
Becca Dove and Tim Fisher
Julia James, Matthew Davies, Arzu Bokhari, Catherine Davies and Hannah Osborn – the MASW Bursary Campaign 2020
A principal social worker in England
Thomas Croft and Diana Skelton
Sarah Jane Waters
Theme 4: Critiques of the English Care Review and its internal politics
Theme 5: Analysis of elements of the current children’s social care system
The end of SW2020-21 under Covid-19
According to the maxim you should never say never, but we are doing so here. This will undoubtedly be the last edition of SW2020-21. In closing the magazine we would note that the number and quality of submissions and the general level of interest in the magazine has been brilliant and should give encouragement to any others in the social work field who may wish to operate a free, openly accessible platform, that is free of the constraints of corporate or large organisational control. We would encourage others minded to do so to try and are happy to provide any advice and support we can if that be the case.
For now from us it’s Good Night, and Good Luck.
Robin and Christian, on behalf of the Editorial Collective.