At Social Work England we’re committed to collaboration and working with the sector to deliver regulation differently. We’ve worked hard to make this commitment a reality and one of the ways we have done this is to involve people with expertise in social work, wherever possible.
However, expertise in social work goes beyond this and includes those with lived experience. If we design our work without including those it most effects, we are in danger of making false assumptions and failing to capture the nuance of real life experiences. Engagement has to be at the heart of what we do to get it right.
Natalie has been involved with Social Work England from its earliest days and is one of our greatest advocates. I asked Natalie about her involvement with us.
Why did you want to co-produce Social Work England’s activities and what attracted you to get involved?
Over the past 30 years, I have promoted equality and diversity, initially focusing on the kinds of issues that impact negatively on disabled people’s lives. I began my journey of involvement in my home town of Rotherham, volunteering in activities that were intended to break down barriers to equal access to services.
This volunteering led to my social work training, and after qualifying in 1998, I undertook a range of jobs which exposed me to many examples of social work practice. In 2009, I realised that I would benefit from a direct payment to employ a personal assistant. As such, I became the assessed rather than the assessor, facing some positive and not-so-positive thinking on the part of different social workers. Thankfully, I have been astute enough and possess the confidence to advocate on my own behalf, but I’m fully aware that many people with lived experience don’t find themselves in that position.
I wanted to co-produce Social Work England’s activities to ensure inclusivity. Without doubt, it was the new regulator’s open-mindedness and keenness to collaborate that inspired me to get involved. They’ve started with a clean sheet, giving people with lived experience of social work the opportunity to play an active role in the organisation. I have huge respect for their team spirit!
Why should Social Work England engage with you?
In many organisations it is the customer’s wishes that take centre stage, and in my view the social work profession should be operating along those same lines. Social Work England should engage with me and others with lived experience to build a true picture of what it is like to be on the receiving end. That way, we can work towards a culture of practice that genuinely and consistently focuses on enablement and wellbeing.
The first principle of engagement for me is active listening; we need to achieve a level playing field. Furthermore, we need to be inclusive. It will be difficult to build a true picture of social work while the voices of the hardest to reach people remain unheard.
How and when should we engage with you?
Thanks to advancements in technology, our opportunities to engage are wide-ranging, but I believe nothing compares to personal contact. I would say that routine communication providing opportunities to interact would work for many.
Personally, I find regular newsletters keep me well informed, as do website updates and social media newsfeeds. For some people though, more direct engagement will always be necessary. The crucial thing to remember is that one size doesn’t fit all!
We want to be as inclusive as possible. Who is often missed out?
It can be incredibly difficult to engage with everyone, especially people living with multiple and/or complex impairments. In some instances, it takes more time and innovative facilitation techniques.
For some people, the idea of having an equal voice will feel quite alien; they may lack confidence and require additional support, especially in the early days of their involvement. Previous programmes of engagement have often focused on the views of the more vocal amongst us, but here is an opportunity to redress the balance.
What should we do to help you feel engaged with us?
Just keep talking to me! There’s nothing worse than being left in the dark. Take into account my need for information in my preferred format so that I can be fully informed of, and engaged in, debates and decision making.
Provide me with opportunities to network with Social Work England colleagues and other people with lived experience of social work.
Things that would be useful to me are website updates, regular national events, local events and workshops, annual conferences, action learning sets, webinars and podcasts.
Thanks to Natalie for giving us some great suggestions – we’d love to hear from you too! Please come along to an event near you, join our Twitter Q&A following #yoursocialworkengland or complete our survey.
Morwenna is our head of strategic engagement. She has worked within the health, social care and voluntary sector for the last 15 years with a focus on engagement and co-production. Beginning this journey at Sheffield Mind, she worked as a commissioner in the NHS and then for the national charity Breast Cancer Care. Most recently Morwenna has led a project at South Yorkshire Housing Association to embed co-production into health and social care commissioning in the sector. She is passionate about bringing the voices of those who use services and practitioners together in equal partnership to design, deliver and evaluate services.