Wayne Reid portrait

Written by Wayne Reid

Professional Officer & Social Worker

Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated

 

The Black Lives Matter movement casts a revealing spotlight on how White supremacy permeates society and influences the policies in ‘modern institutions.’  An immediate example is Social Work regulation.  In this article, I outline how Social Work regulation perpetuates White supremacy.  My premise is that “morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated.” (Martin Luther King).

 

My mantra is “pure, proactive and unapologetic anti-racism,” which underlines my militant spirit when it comes to ‘Anti-racism in Social Work.’  My mentality is influenced by the hostile environment inside and outside of Social Work.  I hope any readers resist the urge to ‘tone police’ my opinions.  My observations reflect my environment – the ‘hostile environment.’  My motivation is for the cause, not applause – and the cause is Black Lives Matter.  

 

My narrative reflects my lived experiences and those of people like me who are routinely judged, based on their skin colour.  I write this article from both personal and professional perspectives.  I use the terms ‘people of colour’ and ‘Black and Ethnic Minority people’ interchangeably for ease.  I do not speak on behalf of all people or Social Workers of colour – as we are not a homogenous group.  My writing here may not represent the views of my employer (BASW).  I’m one of many Black voices in the profession.   The prelude to my current thinking is outlined in my previous articles here: 1, 2, 3 & 4.  

 

In my work, I’m able to act as an Anti-racism Visionary for Social Work across England.  I utilise different strategic approaches including: shock and awe; edutainment; collaboration and allyship.  My knowledge and expertise relates to anti-Black racism.  Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve reported widely on the lack of protections and support for Social Workers of colour; their over-representation in fitness to practice panels and their disproportionately negative outcomes on Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programmes. The coverage and prominence of anti-racism in Social Work in recent months has been inescapable.  However, the silence from Social Work England (SWE) (and MP’s) is perplexing.                                 

 

Tools that discriminate and oppress

 

The Social Work standards (nor their associated guidance) make no reference to Social Workers or service-users of colour.  In a previous article, I emphasised my disappointment that: “neither [the] education and training standards for 2019 or 2020, nor the professional standards for Social Workers, explicitly refer[s] to anti-discriminatory (ADP), anti-oppressive (AOP) or anti-racist practice (ARP).”  And: “Their omission in Social Work regulation is a travesty of social justice in itself.”  Yet they are considered as ‘accepted wisdom’, ‘normal’ and ‘respectable’ – even though they implicitly convey that “White is best.”

 

I’ve commentated widely on how many Social Workers of colour feel unsupported during fitness to practice investigations.  Indeed, their statistical over-representation implies the current standards overtly dominates and punishes them.  At best, the standards are non-racist (or neutral/colour-blind), but definitely NOT anti-racist.  Due to the omissions of ADP, AOP and ARP, I conclude that central aspects of the education, training and the professional standards in Social Work are inadequate and unfit for purpose.  Perversely, the standards risk being perceived as tools wielded to discriminate and oppress Social Workers of colour (and consequently service-users of colour).

 

Community Care articles (from February 2021 and March 2021), have reported on the “delays in fitness to practise processes having ‘life-changing impacts.’”  Social Workers of colour are over-represented in these cases.  Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume these are the same unfortunate people being disproportionately affected by the delays. Another article (from July 2020), cited the lack of ethnic diversity within the SWE workforce.  Confidence is not instilled when there is no transparency about how this is being addressed/reversed.  I’ve previously queried whether this was being treated as a priority, as this could be mistaken for ‘pigmentocracy vs meritocracy – but I’ve had no response. Also, I’m concerned that SWE does not appear to have 1 designated Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead Officer.  I do wonder how incidents of racism (and other forms of discrimination) are being properly resolved.  Interestingly, even the Royal Family plan to recruit a ‘diversity tsar’.  My hope is this will be replicated swiftly in Social Work regulation.  

 

I’m pleased SWE have developed a Professional Experts Panel and appointed members with backgrounds in social justice and workforce development.  However, I was unable to find any information about panel members (including their backgrounds and careers in England, UK and overseas) on their website.  It is important the panel can reflect with insight, the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences of those within the workforce.  Also, transparency about the panel’s membership would be welcome.  My hope is for improved partnership working with BASW and myself on related matters.  I expect many social workers of colour (and their allies) will be disappointed if SWE don’t revisit the above issues, once their panel of experts have reviewed it.            

 

Patiently waiting

 

In collaboration with allies and colleagues (inside and outside of BASW England), I’ve amplified the voices of Social Workers of colour in OUTLANDERS.  I’ve published an anti-racist Social Work framework and outlined readily deployable strategies.  I’ve developed a comprehensive ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ presentation and delivered it at nearly 100 online events internationally (since May 2020).  I founded the BASW England Black & Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium (BPS), (which is a multi-talented network of professionals across England).  I was joint winner of ‘Author of the Month’ in December 2020 for Social Work News magazine.  I’ve created a repository of anti-racism resources, which is utilised by thousands of Social Workers, organisations and stakeholders across the UK.  Here is my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ portfolio.  

 

Despite my prolific work in this area, I’m disheartened to have not been approached by SWE (or responsible MP’s) to explore my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ solutions.  I fear losing any momentum we have.  I remain patiently waiting for any opportunity to progress this work meaningfully.  Admittedly, I’m crestfallen, because I do not want to interpret the lack of responsivity as denial and rejection of my knowledge, expertise and lived (personal and professional) experiences. I don’t wish to appear populist or journalistic in my observations, but I genuinely don’t know whether some of the senior personnel at SWE are unaware of my work or just ignoring it.  I would prefer transparency and to be told that my efforts are not in accordance with their perceived vision – if that is the case.   I recognise there are minefields and pitfalls in embedding anti-racism in Social Work.  However, my door has remained metaphorically wide open for months.  

 

Those who govern the profession’s policies must do more than just be seen to acknowledge the advent of another social justice celebration (ie. Black History Month, Holocaust Memorial Day etc). These occasions are often met with bland blogs and ‘toxic positivity’ (if it all).  There is rarely accountability, substance or, more importantly – action.  My intelligence feels insulted when I read comments like: “…our statement of intent and inclusion shows how [anti-racism] is part of our core business.”  How can that be, when no actual proof is presented or when ‘anti-racism’ is only mentioned (fleetingly) once within the entire document?  This can easily be mistaken for brazen performative allyship.  Just so we are clear, suppressing racism does not mean racism does not exist.  

 

Sadly, none of the ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ activities that I’ve been involved in have generated endorsement or support from SWE.  I sent an invitation for SWE representatives to view an online presentation I was delivering at the Anglia Ruskin University on 25/03/21.  Unfortunately, I did not receive a reply.  I shared a draft version of this article (with my portfolio and presentation) to offer them the right to reply and/or shape the final versions.  I received the following reply: 

“[We do not wish to make any comment at this point.]  We will continue our dialogue with the sector more broadly, as well as various representative groups within it, on all matters relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion (including anti-racism) as we continue to develop our work and approach. The strategic conversations we are involved with at a national level will also drive conversation and change.  Good luck with the article and your portfolio.” 

I’ll continue working effectively with organisational leaders and relevant stakeholders nationally to integrate anti-racism into Social Work at every level.  I will genuinely engage and collaborate with authentic allies and professionals who want to improve the circumstances of Social Workers and service-users of colour.  Preferably, with people who are honest about where they (and their organisations) are at on their anti-racism journey               

       

Social work remains institutionally racist

 

Sir William Macpherson (RIP) coined the term ‘institutional racism’ when reporting on the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1999.  In 2019, Ibram X Kendi (in his book ‘How to be an Anti-Racist’) suggested substituting the term ‘institutional racism’ with ‘racist policies.’  I understand and appreciate both positions and their contemporary relevance to Social Work.  My previous article on this received widespread agreement (and acclaim) from my peers.  However, sadly, it failed to generate any response from SWE – the very institution responsible for policy changes in Social Work. 

 

I’m pleased the Chief Social Workers for Adults and Children & Families have acknowledged their previous shortcomings and re-emphasised the importance of anti-racism.  Hopefully, this will involve the Workforce Race Equality Standards (WRES) becoming mandatory and universal across the profession (with a sense of urgency) and supplemented by other national initiatives from key Social Work stakeholders and policy makers. Black human rights activists are rarely welcomed by ‘the establishment.’  The obstacles Social Workers of colour face are simply the latest manifestations of what people like me have battled against continuously for centuries.  Opponents of ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ must be mercilessly spotlighted, shamed and subverted.  

 

Clearly, some readers might take delight in labelling me as an ‘extremist’.  I admit, I’m extremely anti-racist.  If at this juncture, the message requires ‘tub-thumping’ – so be it!  Social justice must prevail. Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. I remain convinced the 2 main obstacles to progress are ignorance and ‘wilful blindness’.                         

 

The OUTLANDERS anthology

 

OUTLANDERS: Hidden narratives from Social Workers of colour, is an anthology of essays, stories, poems and other miscellaneous works – which I co-edited and compiled in collaboration with Siobhan Maclean.  I’m proud to have been involved with OUTLANDERS and the richness and uniqueness it exudes.  People have enquired whether I will profit from the book.  Definitely not!  The profits will go to the Social Workers Benevolent Trust (SWBT).  At the time of writing, the book has sold 1000 copies and raised £700 for the SWBT.  As far as I’m concerned, OUTLANDERS is a legacy piece of Social Work history and literature.  Siobhan and I’s ‘labours of love’ for OUTLANDERS is an eternal gift to the Social Work profession.   

 

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