Is Social Work Rocket Science?

By Elaine James, Rob Mitchell, Hannah Morgan, Mark Harvey & Ian Burgess
You may wonder how rocket science has a role in social work. For us, rocket science is a metaphor for the new world of complex technologies, reshaping our lives and our understanding of the social world we live in. It is also a way of describing how understanding the complexity of human lives and relationships is far more complicated than being able to take apart the inner workings of a rocket ship, yet in many ways social work is so much simpler and more beautiful.
We each have over 20 years working in social care, and during our careers we have come to conclusion that social work practice isn’t technically complex, like that of a rocket scientist is, but it requires working with the complexity of human relationships.  Social work is deep in the messy stuff, the grey areas of life, which become intermingled with the social worker’s interpretation of what we think we see during our smallest snapshot of a glimpse into someone’s life during our “assessment”.
Since the 1970s successive UK policymakers have proposed a role for social workers in meeting the wider needs and aspirations of citizens by acting as a source of advice and connecting people into wider circles of support to sustain their independence and wellbeing.
However, social workers cannot meet and uphold people’s hopes, wishes and ambitions for their lives if social workers do not first have a strong understanding of the social model of disability and the blocks which prevent people living their best life.   It is almost 40 years since Mike Oliver developed the social model of disability as a way of explaining the new approach to disability.  However in 2019 we still see that power and control over how support is planned and paid for is very firmly within the hands of  professional staff within health and social care.
2011, Lord Justice Munby, at a speech given to social workers, asked the question – at what price did social workers ‘safeguard’ people by restricting their freedoms? His observation, that the local authority is a servant, not a master and that vulnerable adults do not seek to be controlled by the state, should be a mantra for all social workers.  Reminding us that we are there to uphold the inherent dignity of the people whose lives we become a part of. We are not there to displace their decision making, their control and confidence, imposing a set of outcomes which we feel good about, but which steamroll their views and ignore their rights.
People tell us they want some very simple things from the social wormers who are invited into their lives.
Home, Work, Love and Hope.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get that these 4 things are the foundations of a good life. But it might take a tonne of high octane rocket fuel to inject the energy needed into social care to make these 4 things the mission of all social workers. Let’s go for main engine start and reach for the stars!

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