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The need for a New Eco-Social World: Building trust and understanding between people

Peter Beresford OBE, one of the founding partners of an international network of educators, service users and carers talks to Social Work Today about the importance of building trust between professionals and those they work with.

29/06/22

The need for a New Eco-Social World: Building trust and understanding between people

How can professionals build trust and understanding between themselves and the people with which they work?

That was the question at a keynote speech at the People’s Global Summit from Peter Beresford OBE sought to answer.

The dilemma can be evidenced as early as social work education, where service users may be involved in various ways to help people with their learning. The key issue with this approach, Peter says, is that the two ‘groups’ – for wont of a better word – “tend to meet in an environment of uncertainty. [There is] some distrust and some questioning of each other.”

There are, however, some efforts to push back against this, with universities in Sweden and London working on a new approach to involve service users and carers on a much more equal basis. One way in which this is done is through establishing a module on their courses where students, alongside service users and carers who were interested, would learn together.

“The greater achievement of that approach of user involvement has been the building of trust and the building of confidence with each other.”

Peter describes the need to ‘mend the gap’ – the disparity between the two groups created by things like lack of confidence and trust in each other. “It’s something which is bridgeable. It can be built.”

The virtual summit ‘Co-Building a New Eco-Social World: Leaving No One Behind’ was one step in the right direction. Taking place online this summer, the conference arose from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic – which saw social workers and other professionals working in new, inventive, and cooperative ways – the summit seeks to start big, much needed conversations about how we can work together going forward.

“I’m especially pleased, not only with this realisation that we’re seriously all in it together, but that the social worker may one day also be a service user and the other way round. And with this recognition of the importance of connecting social work with climate change, sustainability and environmental issues.”

“We need to think about social work in that liberatory role that’s always had its heart, although I think present politics have made it really difficult.

“Social work, because of its commitment to seeing the person in their environment connecting social as well as psychological and personal issues, its kind of emphasis is on the human, and not on the economic, the social, not just the financial – it’s absolutely the perfect profession to be waving this flag.”

“I think this is both the right time, and I’m proud that it’s social work that’s picked it up, to make that connection between the eco, the personal and the social and the role of the aspirations for anti-poverty, social justice and equality.”

Peter also laments about the ‘McDonaldization’ of social work: a theory proposed by Donna Dustin which borrowed from George Ritzer’s thesis of the ‘McDonaldization of Society’.

“There’s a similarity to the way short-order restaurants and social workers are increasingly subjected to the same kind of discipline of having very little independence, being monitored with computers, having to record everything, do simple tasks to a very standardised and exclusionary recipe.

Peter, whose latest book The Routledge International Handbook of Mad Studies draws on international thinking and experience, says many social workers in many cases are having to ‘smuggle in’ good practice.

“Social workers are under incredibly close control. How long you’re allowed to see someone, how often, and under what circumstances you can see them. If it is that they’re not judged to be bad enough, in terms of the criteria of entitlement of eligibility – then you won’t have that ongoing contact.

“They have to do the things they’re not meant to be doing…and then you get worn out, it is as simple as that.”

Peter Beresford OBE is one of the founding partners of PowerUs, an international network of educators, service users and carers.

His most recent book, coedited with Jasna Russo is The Routledge International Handbook of Mad Studies (2021), available here: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Routledge_International_Handbook_of.html

Watch his keynote speech at The People’s Summit: https://newecosocialworld.com/speaker/the-need-for-a-new-eco-social-world/

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