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5 August 2021

Children’s Social Work Collective: a new advocacy group for social work in the UK

Roseanna Freiburghaus is a Frontline fellow who recently returned from volunteering in Athens, supporting children and adults who have been displaced.

Roseanna Freiburghaus is a Frontline fellow who recently returned from volunteering in Athens, Greece, with organisations supporting children and adults who have been displaced. Roseanna runs a blog about child migration in Europe, and is part of the Children’s Social Work Collective – a group of fellows who have set up and launched a new advocacy group for social work in the UK. The Frontline Fellowship supports fellows like Roseanna by providing the spaces and tools for them to connect with like-minded professionals and advocate for social change.

It’s always important to re-imagine social work because society is always changing, communities are always changing, and support services need to reflect that.”

Why do you believe it’s important that social workers and people in mission-aligned organisations have a voice in policy?

One of the main things that I feel is really missing from policy is the voice of the people that it’s actually affecting! They don’t have any part in the decision-making process, so professionals need to raise awareness and take action to help change this, so that families can input and see their experiences being reflected. This is the only effective way to ensure that the policies are needs-and-people-led. Until then, it’s really important that professionals who are working directly with people try and amplify their voice through their own.

What is the value of fellows, and social workers more widely, working together to advocate for vulnerable communities?

Together, we have more experience, knowledge and expertise than we do individually, and more power to effect change. There is also the question of time and energy, because social workers are often working above and beyond the 9-5 job expectations. A lot of people that get into social work are not doing it just to earn a living. They’re doing it to push for wider change within society by working constructively with individuals and families, and I think by doing that you get a good perspective on how directly government and local authority policies affect the daily lives of people. I think that leaves a lot of social workers frustrated and lost, and I think that social workers at the moment don’t always have a strong voice even within their local authorities to advocate for system change. Coming together will not only help individuals to get started and build their policy-influencing toolkit, but to also create a stronger voice for the profession. Hopefully, in the future, there will be much more scope for a stronger representation in policy decision-making, establishing the kind of relationship that other professions have with influencing services, such as the relationship that doctors have with the NHS.

My passion for getting involved in policy work really stemmed from my first experiences of volunteering in Northern France with unaccompanied minors (children who have travelled alone through Europe in search of safety). There were only two legal options for unaccompanied minors to get to the UK at the time. If there wasn’t a legal route available, then there wasn’t a safe route available. For those that had access to a legal route it could take over a year to reach the UK where they might have family waiting. Advocating for individuals and linking up with different organisations like Safe Passage that support unaccompanied minors is obviously tremendous and extremely valuable work. But that individual advocacy doesn’t have an impact on the policies that are affecting the whole community. If we want to improve the safety of children that are travelling alone, we need to be sure they can and will  be legally reunited with their families in the UK. I also think that it’s only by working together and networking that we can really affect that kind of change, because it requires everybody who is working on the forefront to get involved.  Without legal passage, children find themselves at risk of child trafficking, labour and sexual exploitation. Anyone working at the borders can see the signs of this on a day-to-day basis and are therefore in a really strong position to push for that policy change.

How did the Children’s Social Work Collective get started?

The Children’s Social Work Collective got started off the back of a workshop about unaccompanied minors that another fellow and I ran in collaboration with the British Red Cross.”

In my eyes, stateless children that are travelling alone are some of the most disadvantaged people in the world because they don’t have the normal safeguards and protections that families and communities and a sense of place can offer. When I was invited to be a part of this workshop, my main mission was really to try and share what I’d learnt about police brutality and state violence that occurs across borders. I think at the end of the workshop everybody felt quite keenly that we needed to do more as social workers, as professionals supporting children, specifically unaccompanied minors. So, I think the collective started really off the back of that. We needed to establish our voice as a group of social workers first, and changing policies that affect unaccompanied minors would be one of our first campaigns. When you can change policies, you can change the realities for vulnerable children and families. At the end of the workshop, we discussed how we could individually advocate for system change, but most of us don’t have a background in policy-making or advocacy beyond individual advocacy within our social work roles. We all realised that collectively our voice would be much stronger, and we’d be able to learn together and from each other as well. We’re really excited to see how we can represent children and families’ social work in more policy discussions.

Why do you think now is a particularly important moment for social workers to take action?

I think it’s always an important moment to be re-imagining social work or any profession that supports people, because society is always changing, communities are always changing, and support services need to reflect that. I think it’s a really important time now that we think about all children we can support, and not just those children and families that are in the UK, or have status within the UK.

If you’re a practitioner working in children’s services, and would like to join the Children’s Social Work Collective, a national voice representing children and families’ social workers, get in touch with Looking to develop your leadership skills and be inspired to create social change? Check out our resources page.