The end of false choices

Publication Date18 Sep 2017
AuthorJosh MacAlister
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Children's services,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Children/youth,Parents,Education,Early childhood education,Home culture,Social/physical development
The end of false choices
Josh MacAlister
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to expose and dispel some outdated dilemmas and straw men that
have drawn attention away from debates of substance in social work. The paper presents what Frontline
believes to be the substantive dilemmas facing the social work profession, as it looks into the future.
Design/methodology/approach The paper draws on the insights and experiences of the past four years
during which Frontline has been innovating in the field of social work education and leadership development.
Findings Building a better social work system requires addressing several important questions, namely,
whether social work; first, is a practical or intellectual task; second, is a generic or specialist profession;
third, focuses on social or therapeutic change; fourth, requires bureaucrats or change agents; and
fifth, involves measuring inspections or measuring outcomes.
Originality/value The paper sets out the key dilemmas facing the social work profession, which must be
debated and addressed in order to build a better social work system.
Keywords Leadership, Management, Social work, Debate, Social work practice, False choices
Paper type Viewpoint
Social work in the UK has been poorly served by the survival of outdated dilemmas and straw
men. This style of polemic has drawn attention away from issues of substance and a focus on the
future. Perhaps now, more than any time in the recent past, this is shifting and there is a clear
appetite from the central government to improve social work. This is evidenced by a range of
activity such as the creation of the chief social worker roles, the development of the principal
social worker network and the increased investment to enable and embed innovation,
improvement and the evaluation of impact.
Diverting focus from the quality of social work practice means that, as a profession, we are
regularly preoccupied by false choices. This paper seeks to dispel a number of these choices
and to present instead what we believe to be the substantive dilemmas facing the profession as it
looks to the future. We are in a strong position (and have a responsibility) to do so, as we have
drawn excellent insight and experience over the past four years whilst innovating in the field of
social work education and leadership development as part of the Frontline initiative[1].
Intellectual or practical?
Many problems lie in perceptions of practice not being sufficiently regarded as an intellectual
task. This results in debates about the gaps between research, theory and practice.
The consequence is an ongoing back-and-forth between individuals, employers and universities,
and in worst case scenarios blame is apportioned from one to the other. Such debates and
discussions often unwittingly expose underlying assumptions that practice is somehow free from
intellectual thought, theories or research. Social work practice is in and of itself a theory- and
Received 27 July 2017
Accepted 15 August 2017
Josh MacAlister is the Chief
Executive at Frontline,
London, UK.
VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 158-163, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660 DOI 10.1108/JCS-07-2017-0032

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