Frequently asked questions about SWAN Conference 2013


Q: What does the cost of the conference include? What about food and accommodation?

A: Cost of conference includes entry on both days of the conference, light refreshments at intervals throughout the event and lunch on Saturday. All other meals – at least at this stage in planning – will need to be purchased outside the conference venue. There are restaurants and supermarkets nearby at the Elephant & Castle Roundabout, Borough High Street and Borough Road for meals or food. The conference does not include the cost of accommodation. There is a list of accommodation on the SWAN website which suggests some reasonably priced hotels and hostels.

Q: What time does the conference start and finish?

Conference starts on Friday 12th April at 13:00. Registration and refreshments, however, are available from 11:00 – we would suggest you arrive at this time to allow yourself plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the layout of the London Road Building, where the conference takes place and to allow time to deal with any queries you may have. There will be a team of stewards to assist you. The conference will conclude on Saturday 13th April at 17:00 or soon thereafter.

Q: I cannot afford the cost of the conference due to personal circumstances, but wish to attend.

A: We do not wish the cost of the conference to be a barrier to participation – the network aims to host a welcoming, fraternal, accessible and democratic event. We are well aware of the impact of austerity: low-wages, unemployment, ‘underemployment’ and benefit retrenchment and their effect on many people’s lives and in particular those communities and individuals with whom social workers practice. Please email if you want to discuss such a situation.

Q: How do I get to the conference venue and find my way around?

A: The conference takes place at London South Bank University at Elephant and Castle, London. It is well served by buses and the underground network. It is also a short walk from London Bridge rail station (15 minutes) and Elephant and Castle rail station (5 minutes). We anticipate that most people will arrive by underground – NB: if this is the case for you, please follow the exits signposted to ‘South Bank University’ – it is easier to get to the venue from the Bakerloo line exit than the Northern Line. You may get lost if you leave by the Shopping Centre exit.

A general map of the London South Bank University campus can be accessed here:

The particular building where the conference takes place (with the exception of the conference social) is the London Road Building (100-116 London Road, SE1 6LN) – with the major lecture theatre where plenary sessions being ‘L17’:

Q: Can I exhibit or hold a stall at the conference?

A: SWAN is a radical grassroots network and our conferences are not commercial enterprises or environments. If your organisation would like to have a stall and is not-for-profit and related to radical or progressive social work, welfare or action please email swanconf2013 [at] for further information. We may allow social work and care publishers to add commercial flyers to delegates packs in order to fund the cost of the conference at our discretion – if you would like to discuss this, again please email the address above.

Draft programme for SWAN Conference 2013

As the 2013 SWAN conference approaches, we in SWAN London are feverishly booking speakers and sessions, while happily overseeing a succession of excellent UK and international workshops and paper presentations roll in. In the meantime, a simple draft programme for the event is attached below, with timings to enable delegates to plan their personal arrangements. Details about speakers will follow shortly and will provide a better flavour of the event.

Obituary: Stan Cohen, 1942-2013 – a social worker turned sociologist who coined the term ‘moral panic’

Stan Cohen was the academic who coined this phrase as he tried to understand the media and public response to the 1960’s phenomena of ‘mods and rockers’.  A series of seaside clashes between different youth gangs became identified as a major threat to the social and moral order of the time, the young people transformed into ‘folk devils’. Cohen’s fascination with the process of stereotyping and stigmatisation turned into a very influential school of criminology called ‘deviancy studies’. Although he had left social work (he had trained in his native South Africa and then worked in London), preferring what he called ‘the safer world of sociology’, many social workers were attracted to his ideas. In CASE CON, the radical magazine of the seventies, various writers railed against the process by which individuals in difficulty came to be labelled as ‘clients’ with professional interventions serving to ‘amplify’ or exaggerate that role, creating ‘deviant careers’.Stan Cohen

In his contribution to the Bailey and Brake book, ‘Radical Social Work’ (1975) Cohen was not, however, especially impressed with how his ideas had been taken up by social workers but he does this in a comradely fashion. The chapter is worth rereading because he honestly touches on the tensions SWAN still struggle with, which is how we turn academic theories into something that can be used in our direct work with individuals. He concludes his chapter with a series of ‘suggestions’. These include the need ‘to think very concretely about how to avoid stigmatizing your clients, unwittingly facilitating their drift into further trouble, trapping them in cycles of rejection’.  One I especially warm to is his encouragement for us ‘to stay in your agency or organization, but don’t let it seduce you. Take every opportunity to unmask its pretensions and euphemisms’

And most challenging perhaps, ‘In practice and theory, stay “unfinished”. Don’t be ashamed of working for short-term humanitarian or libertarian goals, but always keep in mind the long-term political prospects. This might mean living with the uncomfortable ambiguity that your most radical work will be outside your day-to-day job’ (1975, p. 95).

Birmingham’s children’s homes: the moral case for closure?


The proposed closure of further children’s homes in Birmingham was the one cut where the moral and economic case coincided. This oft repeated claim made at Decembers Budget consultation meetings by Cllr Brigid Jones, the Cabinet member for Children and Young People, bears further critical examination.

To paraphrase the rest of her argument it is far better for young people to be in the loving care of a foster family than to be in institutional care.

There is a current programme of Children’s Homes closures in Birmingham with Chamberlain House, Fountain Road, Kings Lodge, South Acre and Viscount House due to be closed as a result of this year’s budget cuts. A cut of £3.289 million will be realised by these closures mainly through staff redundancies.

The November Cabinet report (1) on the consultation over these closures brings into question the narrative and case for this closure strategy.

At the Budget consultation meetings Councillor Jones lauded a successful recruitment campaign for foster parents in the City. But what she didn’t tell us in public was what it said in the Cabinet report that ‘there has been a rise in foster care recruitment recently but it is still uncertain as to how many foster carers will be able to care for more challenging young people.’ This is referring directly to those young people currently in the Children’s Homes identified for closure.

The failure to be able to provide alternative internal foster placements to the young people affected by the closure of their homes is further highlighted in the Report under the financial implications of these closures.

‘It is intended that £1.4million of the identified efficiencies will be re-invested to support the purchase of alternative placements for young people affected by the closures and for whom alternative placements are not available internally.’ (Para 4.2.2)

This is not a reinvestment to be used to develop and provide alternative care provision; rather £1.4m is being taken to pay for external placements and in all probability to private providers, for young people who cannot be placed within Council provision. There are also questions to be asked as to how many of these alternative placements will be in the City and how many will be foster as opposed to residential placements?

The young people concerned will face the disruption of a further move completely unrelated to their needs, although in the consultation the young people said they ‘broadly they liked the Homes, felt safe, were supported by staff and were settled.’

In challenging these budget cuts we must reject the simple narrative that residential care is bad and foster care is good. The demographic of young people looked after by the local authority is complex, with differing needs and differing histories of coming into and exiting care.

Young people who live in children’s homes tend to be older, and the age range of the young people living in the residential units in question is between 13 to 17, with an average age of 15/16 years. They may not want to go into foster care and may positively prefer residential care. It should be their choice.

In the next round of proposed closures proposed for 2013-14 important questions need to be asked about the range and balance of different types of care provision for young people in the city and likely needs of young people in the years to come. There will always be a need for high quality residential care for some young people and this should be publically provided. The debate should centre on young people’s needs and not the expediency of making cuts and Managements failure to raise standards of care in some of Birmingham’s Children’s Homes.

An activist from the West Midlands Social Work Action Network