It is timely that the title of the book is posed as a question because the professional arena is currently engaged in a protracted debate about the future of social work. Can we define social work in terms of what social workers do? Who defines what social workers do? Is it themselves, or other agencies, or the government, or the law?
These are the questions raised in the book, and various answers are offered. There is no single answer on offer, because social work is complex and there are competing ideas about its role, purpose and function.
I believe that it is essential that potential and current students of social work have an understanding of how social work has evolved in the context of British welfare. We need to acknowledge that formations of social work practice are historically and culturally located. After all, social workers now undertake a significant role in working with people with learning disabilities within the community. Yet an historical perspective enables us to acknowledge that, until very recently, those same people were incarcerated in long stay hospitals. How did the changes come about, and what impact have the changes had on the role and purpose of social work?
These questions are considered by way of a TARDIS approach: the book follows four characters over the period from the 18th century to today. They are Jack, an infant, George, a 25 year old man with learning disabilities, Mary, a 40 year old woman with mental health problems, and Hannah, a 70 year old woman who needs help and support.
The book considers current debates about social work from the perspectives of practitioners, managers, service users and carers, and offers some pointers towards future developments in the sector.
Finally, readers are invited to consider how current social work will be seen with the benefit of hindsight. We need to be able to imagine what issues will tax the minds of future practitioners and anticipate the changes needed.
I hope the book will serve as a helpful introduction to those considering a career in social work, to those studying related courses in health, human services and education, and to those already embarked on their qualifying professional studies in social work.