Social workers to get new professional body – or maybe two

The College of Social Work will formally launch next year, but will the British Association of Social Workers launch a rival body?

A social work college, which is being set up to bolster the profession in the wake of the Baby Peter scandal, has opened its doors to “founder members” who will help shape the organisation as it develops.

But the recruitment drive threatens to be overshadowed by argument over the way the College of Social Work is being structured, amid speculation that the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) may be planning to launch a rival body.

Creation of the college was recommended by the social work task force which reported to government on measures to reform the profession and rebuild its confidence and image after a series of scandals, culminating in the death of Peter Connelly in Haringey, north London.

The college’s formal launch is scheduled for next year. But it is already established in shadow form and has now begun to invite applications for prospective membership from social workers, students and associates.

Maurice Bates, interim co-chair of the college, said: “We are calling on social workers to help lead the development of the college and its membership services. It is a unique opportunity for social workers themselves to change the face of their profession.”

Although full college membership is expected to cost £270 a year before tax relief, prospective membership is free and social workers who sign up will be eligible for all services as they come on stream.

These services will include professional indemnity and public liability insurance, a magazine and peer-reviewed journal and, controversially, representation by public services union Unison.

It is this aspect of the package that has most angered BASW, which fears its future will be jeopardised. Hilton Dawson, BASW general secretary, has written that the college is using public funds “to enable the trade union to compete with and potentially undermine an independent professional association”.

Criticism of the college has come also from three senior figures in the social work sector who have accused it of having too grandiose a vision, of focusing too much on member benefits and of failing to include grassroots social workers in its planning and development.

The three – Bill McKitterick, Terry Bamford and Ray Jones, all former social services directors – said in a letter to Community Care magazine: “The college needs to be based on the individual energies and expertise of social workers, offered at realistic cost, and demonstrating greater authority with clear independence.”

Prospective membership of the college is open to social workers in England only, although professionals in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may apply for associate status.