Social work in a changing world

social work article in ddn magazineI noticed a deep sense of calm in myself on the morning of our cross-sector event, Social Work in a Changing World. The event was a collaboration between Change Grow Live, Adfam, Addiction Professionals, Collective Voice and The British Association of Social Workers, bringing people together to explore the possibilities of social work, and have conversations on how best to respond to the drug strategy. I had a sense that I was walking into a collective of people who all wanted the same thing – to be able to offer the best social work for people who use services. 

Dame Carol Black’s recommendation to increase the number of social workers in drug and alcohol services is clear, and the drug strategy also provides fresh possibilities around the impact of social workers. 

We created the space to have the conversations that mattered – to explore the role of social work, learn, and hear new ideas and diverse perspectives. 

We wanted diversity of thought – we wanted to hear the ideas and questions that hadn’t been heard before. The invitation for this event went out far and wide, and we gathered as a diverse group – not just social workers but people with lived experience, social work students, policy makers, strategists, regulators, educators and academics. Yet our job titles weren’t important – we were there as people who wanted to explore the role of social work in the drug and alcohol sector.

As a collective we crafted questions that were taken into open space discussion groups. Some strong themes were shining through – purpose and professional identity, involving people with lived experience, and offering the best support so that people are truly empowered to make the changes they want.

As we were nearing the end of the day, we spoke about what we wanted to do next. People wanted more connection and conversation, more in-depth exploration of what we’d started, sharing of ideas and insights, creating a movement, making a difference, and celebrating social work.

Together we are energised to influence social work developments and changes, to improve what we do, to respond to the changing contexts and to be alongside people. We can share stories of good practice, celebrating the impact the profession has, and promoting a shared understanding of the role for effective collaboration.

We can help to define the social work role in the sector to maximise positive impact for people who use services and wider teams, contributing to the delivery of the drug strategy and Dame Carol Black’s recommendations. We want to share our learning and experience, as well explore our way forward, so that we create a social work role that is fit for purpose in our ever-changing landscape. 

We reflected on the importance of social work values, skills and knowledge at this time where health and economic inequalities are creating layers of complexity and compounding social exclusion of the poorest people in society. People need us to be alongside them, to listen to their experiences, to be flexible to respond, and most importantly to create meaningful relationships.

There are multiple factors that are shifting the foundations of how we live. People are facing extraordinary challenges. The economic and health inequalities that we see in society now bring a level of complexity that calls for social work values, knowledge, and skills.

I’ve met many wonderful new people as a result of arranging this event; I’ve created new relationships and we’re having fresh conversations. We are forming a new Social Work Community of Practice, across the sectors, and I’m really excited to see where this will lead us – great things can happen. 

Thanks to everyone who supported the event: Jennifer Condron at Warm Data Wandering, Bec Davison at Rippleshift, Kate Halliday at Addiction Professionals, Viv Evans and Rob Stebbings at Adfam, Luke Geoghegan at BASW, Oliver Standing at Collective Voice, Tom Bailey, and Zac McMaster, Helen Thompson, Danielle Hickey, Rebecca Pettifort and Peter Furlong at Change Grow Live.

If you’d like more information on the new Social Work Community of Practice please contact

Ellie Reed is head of social work – principal social worker at Change Grow Live.

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