RESPONSE TO BASW STATEMENT ON SOCIAL WORK WITH TRANSGENDER PEOPLE
September 2nd 2021
The rights and needs of those who need personal social services are of primary importance to social workers. A statement on this new area of practice is therefore to be welcomed. However, the statement as published by BASW is flawed by lack of evidence. The lack of evidence is accompanied by a failure to identify or address the safeguarding and rights issues which are raised by this demand.
This is an area on which there are known to be strong and opposing views. It would be helpful if this were to be acknowledged at the outset, along with a clear commitment that concerns about safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, and about women’s rights and protections are as important as the rights and needs of people who might define themselves as “transgender”. There has been a silencing of debate and discussion on this issue which must be broken by a commitment to open debate and discussion.
It has recently been made clear (case of Maya Forstater) that “gender critical” views are protected under the Equality Act. The use of insults and threats is not protected. Insults such as “terf” and accusations of “transphobia” and threats to report persons expressing critical views to employers and to professional bodies as “hate speech” or as illegal discrimination are therefore unacceptable.
No profession can afford to have “no go” areas for discussion, especially where the views being suppressed or censored are legally protected, evidenced, and rational. The gathering and testing of available evidence is a first requirement when any profession is faced with new theories which challenge existing knowledge and understandings and call for changes in ethics, policy and practice. The acceptance by senior bodies in social work and other professional of the demand for acceptance of self-definition of gender or sex , and that any opposing view is possible evidence of bigotry or hatred has led to a silencing of discussion.
There are no definitions given for “sex” “gender” “women” “men” “gender identity” or “gender reassignment” in the statement. Definitions are key to any proper discussion of an issue. Without a common vocabulary we are unable to debate and discuss. The only attempt at any definitions is in a footnote (page 1) that: ‘Trans’ is the current, most cited preferred term for people who self-identify as transgender women or men, who may or may not have undergone formal gender reassignment and who live with a gender identity different to the sex which they were assigned at birth born or in which they were initially raised.” The first part of that sentence only applies to some persons who would regard themselves as transgender or transsexual. Many people who would describe themselves as transgender do not claim to have a “gender identity”. The only definition of transgender given is therefore exclusive of those who do not subscribe to the notion of a fixed gender identity. The second part of the sentence, after “formal gender assignment” is just as problematic. That is that sex is “assigned at birth”. Does BASW believe that sex is open to subjective and personal discovery? And that gender identity on the other hand is fixed at birth but only discoverable by an act of personal self-awareness? And, contrary to our rights in law, are members required to believe this and act accordingly?
The extension of the IFSW Code of Ethics to include self-identification of gender as a protected characteristic is cited as if this is self-evidently an unobjectionable extension of human rights. Where is the evidence that was considered by the IFSW in reaching this decision to amend the Code? Did BASW consult members and agree with a change which supposes a right to identify into others’ protected characteristics? When did the consultation take place? How were members made aware of it? Were the consequences of extending protected characteristics beyond the protected characteristics in UK Equalities law properly considered? Is it legal for BASW to promote this? The UK Equalities Act requires that the any conflicts between the rights of those with protected characteristics must be considered and steps taken to mitigate them. Adding the right to self-identify into any a protected characteristic (sex) is a breach of the Equality Act protection of the characteristic of sex.
Endorsing self-identification of sex and gender as a protected characteristic risks nullifying the rights held by those with protected characteristics under the Equalities Act. Self-inclusion into protected rights is surely as unacceptable in relation to sex as it would be in relation to disability, sexuality, age, ethnicity or race? If on the other hand it is claimed that sex or gender is a matter of belief rather than of material fact, then there is no requirement at all on others to accept those beliefs. People are entitled to hold opposing religious or philosophical beliefs. They are not entitled to demand that others follow those beliefs. No one has entitlement to abuse or threaten others or to vexatiously complain about or slander or libel others who hold opposing beliefs, purely because they hold them. That is the law.
There seems to have been a lack of professional rigour or even curiosity about the phenomenon of gender identity beliefs. The statement instead seems to accept gender identity beliefs as fact i.e., that sex is assigned at birth and that how sex is recorded is subject to change according to feelings of “gender identity”. How does one explain the rapid growth of girls affected by the belief that they are transgender? From a minority of children referred to the GID services they now outnumber boys by 25-1. How does one explain growth and self-organisation of numbers of young women who “detransition” and now regret the loss of healthy breasts, fertility, sexual function and their permanently altered presentation?
The text accompanying the statement commits to “coproduction” of further work with transgender people. Are detransitioners, gay and lesbian people, transexual people who disagree with transgender theories, women whose rights and legal entitlement to single sex services, including in prison, health services and refuges have been impacted also to be engaged in this work of co-production? If not, why not? Their lived experience is surely equally relevant to the development of practice that respects everyone’s needs and rights.
The statement refers to but does not identify the conflicts of rights or concerns about safeguarding of children and of women’s sex-based rights in law which arise from accepting self-definition of “gender” as equivalent to biological sex . These conflicts of rights confront social workers daily in practice, particularly but not exclusively those working with children and those working in health and in criminal justice. If self-definition of gender or sex is accepted, how will that fit with evidence-based practice developed in mental health, criminal justice, children and families, and disability? How will self-definition of sex affect the collection and reliability of national and local statistics? How will understandings of child development fit with a theory that children have a fixed gender identity from birth? How will women’s rights to single sex services fit with the demand that males can identify as female for the purposes of the provision or receipt of services?
The questions raised above about: definition of terms used: the implications for the rights of other services users and the rights of those who hold opposing views which are protected in law; and the evidence base for practice in the area must surely be addressed and the statement amended.
Summary of questions raised by the statement
What evidence has been relied on to support the statement?
What other than dictionary definitions of sex, gender, man, woman, transgender underpin the statement?
When is it necessary within social work services to identify the actual biological sex of a person even where that person disagrees?
How will acceptance of self ID of sex/gender affect the rights of others?
How will the rights of children, including the right of the special status of childhood, capacity to consent, and other developmental considerations be observed and protected?
How does the statement meet UK Equality Act obligations in relation to protected characteristics, particularly the protected characteristic of sex and sexuality?
How does the statement meet UK Equality Act obligations in relation to protected beliefs?
How will the collection of information about service users and the impact of services be affected by allowing self -dentification into a protected characteristic?
M.Sc., CQSW, Dip. Child Protection
On behalf of the Evidence Based Social Work Alliance
2 September 2021
LETTER TO SOCIAL WORK ENGLAND
September 6th 2021
On 9 February 2021, EBSWA wrote to the regulators in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and other leadership organisations in social work to raise our concerns about the adoption of beliefs advocated by transactivist lobby groups such as Stonewall and Mermaids. We explicitly pointed to the danger of adopting ideological positions without any attempt to test or verify them, and of having “no go” areas for questioning and discussion. We called on the regulators to
Review policy and update guidance
Make available the evidence to support policy and guidance
Facilitate respectful and considered debate
To make clear that threats bullying, and intimidation will not be tolerated
We explained that many of our members were unable to publicly identify themselves because of widespread adoption of claims that challenging gender identity beliefs could result in disciplinary action by employers or by the regulator.
Since February 2021, the same month as we raised our concerns with the regulator, there has been a very clear ruling in the Forstater case that gender critical beliefs are protected in law. Any threats, intimidation or discrimination against persons holding and expressing protected beliefs are illegitimate and should not be condoned or supported.
We were therefore surprised and alarmed to learn in August 2021 that SWE had issued a written warning to a social worker for holding and expressing gender critical beliefs. Their investigation was launched based on a complaint by a former colleague that Rachel Meade’s support for gender critical beliefs and organisations holding them were evidence per se of “transphobia” and a breach of the social work code of conduct. The investigators’ own report acknowledged that there was no evidence that Rachel Meade’s beliefs had led her to discriminate against any service user. Holding and expressing views in conflict with claims that gender identity is innate and fixed, and that sex is assigned rather than identified at birth cannot be reasonably held to breach of the Code of Conduct.
We believe that SWE is guilty of a serious error in adopting, or allowing their staff to adopt, unevidenced ideological beliefs as if they were proven facts, and in allowing itself to be used as part of a determined effort to intimidate and silence those of us who do not accept belief in gender identity. In finding against a social worker purely based on her not accepting what are in any case unproven claims about the nature of sex and gender, SWE has betrayed its duty to protect and promote public trust and confidence in social work and has brought the profession of social work into disrepute.
Widespread criticism of SWE’s actions has led them to produce a statement which attempts to explain their position. They state:
“We want to be clear that as an independent public body we are committed both to upholding human rights and to maintaining impartiality– as must social workers on our register who support some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
EBSWA agrees that SWE should uphold human rights and should be impartial in its approach. We also agree that the rights and interests of the most vulnerable people in society are at the heart of social work principles.
However, the necessary inference of the SWE ruling is that they view the rights of transgender persons to have their sense of identity validated will always trump the rights of those who do not claim to be transgender. EBSWA believes that SWE’s advertised membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme is an obvious breach of their duty to be impartial. Stonewall’s denial of the material reality of sex and advocacy for replacing “sex” with “gender identity” in the Equality Act has been criticised for denying lesbian and gay and women’s rights.
This puts SWE in conflict with the Equality Act, which identifies sex and not gender identity as a protected characteristic. Seeking to silence claims that sex is innate and fixed, and gender identity is subjective is clearly a partial act.
SWE reminds social workers that:
“…our professional standards state that their personal views must not impact on their work.”
It seems that SWE has fallen into error in believing that social workers are not allowed to hold or express personal views on the issue of sex and gender without affecting their ability to practice. Social workers can and do legitimately hold and express religious, philosophical and political beliefs. The only requirement is that this should not negatively affect their practice by discriminating against those who do not share them.
Safeguarding children’s welfare and rights is at the heart of social work. Why then has SWE upheld a complaint that supporting a post criticising Mermaids charity is a breach of the code of conduct? Mermaids is a controversial charity at the heart of controversy over the best approach to children who are gender questioning or gender dysphoric. Mermaids has produced no evidence to support its advocacy of extreme and life changing measures in response to children or their parents questioning their sex. There is now a growing body of “detransitioners”, mainly young women, who bitterly regret the life changing drugs and surgery that they were prescribed. EBSWA believes that critical attention to the claims of Mermaids and any other lobby groups advocating extreme measures is entirely justified and necessary for the protection of children. SWE must now consider the ruling of an Employment Tribunal that the Tavistock and Portman Trust’s treatment of Sonia Appleby damaged her professional reputation and “prevented her from proper work on safeguarding”. Sonia Appleby’s concerns about children’s safety in treatment by the Gender Identity Development Service were dismissed, and staff were told not to approach her with their concerns.
Expressing gender critical beliefs and supporting women’s rights to single sex services and sports is not discriminatory or insulting. Indeed, we must recognise social work’s debt of gratitude to feminism, and to generations of women whose work is at the heart of all that is best in social work, which has contributed to building essential women’s and children’s protections and services. Social workers must have the right to support women’s causes and to speak up in support of women’s organisations, rights and protections.
EBSWA believes that there should be an independent investigation of SWE’s governance and how, despite forewarning, they have allowed acceptance of controversial and unevidenced claims about gender and sex to become a condition of registration and the right to practice as a social worker.
EBSWA does not believe that any charity or organisation, or any set of beliefs, is above challenge and above criticism. “No debate” has no place in social work. EBSWA will support any social worker facing investigation merely for holding and expressing gender critical views and supporting women’s rights.
M.Sc., CQSW, Dip. Child Protection
On behalf of the Evidence Based Social Work Alliance, a collective of social workers in practice and social work academics who are working together to challenge the acceptance of gender identity beliefs in social work and more widely.
6 September 2021
RESPONSE TO OUR OPEN LETTER FROM CAFCASS
Sent via email. 24 February 2021
To the Evidence-based Social Work Alliance
Response to the Open Letter from the Evidence-based Social Work Alliance
Thank you for your letter dated 09 February 2021, received on 15 February, enquiring
about Cafcass’ current policies and practices regarding gender identity. I hope that you
find this information helpful.
In your correspondence, you have asked that Cafcass address the following points:
1) A review of policy and update of practice guidance for social workers who are
working with gender dysphoric children, their families, and schools.
2) To make available the evidence upon which policy and practice guidelines in
issues of sex and gender identity, both for adults and children, are based.
3) To facilitate respectful and considered debate on the topic of sex and gender
identity in social work practice.
4) To make clear that threats, bullying and intimidation towards social workers who
explore evidence for practice in this field will not be tolerated.
All Cafcass practitioners have access to a range of internal training resources, including
mandatory ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ training, as well as training around working with
LGBT+ young people and adults and specific training around working with trans
individuals. Our training is designed to enhance practitioners’ understanding of the
issues for young people experiencing gender dysphoria; how to work in a sensitive,
responsive and individual way with these young people; how to analyse risk relating to
their unique situation; the discrimination facing trans people within society; handling
misinformation and misconceptions about trans people.
They also have access to a ‘peer practice specialist’ – a Cafcass practitioner they can
consult when working with a young person who is questioning their gender or seeking
help with gender issues. Practitioners can access a range of resources through our in-
house Library service and we have an intranet page dedicated to resources on working
with trans adults and young people. The Family Justice Young People’s Board has
published top tips for working with transgender children and which we have promoted
internally. Furthermore, the FJYPB provide regular support and challenge to ensure we
reflect the diverse needs of children and young people in our practice, including working
with LGBT+ young people.
We recognise the importance of not making assumptions when working with young
people who may be exploring or questioning their gender identity; the young person is
the best person to tell us what is going on for them. In our assessments and reports to
the family court, we will always reflect the wishes, feelings, experiences of children and
their relevance to our recommendations.
It is a highly sensitive and personal experience and the timing, place and who is present
when we have these conversations are all important considerations to ensure the young
person is supported and not put under any pressure.
We work closely with Social Work England and the BASW and would be willing and
interested in contributing to a review of social work practice guidance in this practice
We are supportive of our staff and encourage them to explore practice evidence in all
areas of social work. Our Cafcass Library service plays an integral part, enabling
practitioners to learn from practice research. We also run staff ‘think-ins’ which allow our
practitioners to have considered debate on different areas of social work practice and all
participants are encouraged to voice their opinions during these workshops.
Please do write again if you would like to correspond further or indeed to have a virtual
RESPONSE TO OUR OPEN LETTER FROM BASW
Sent via email. 9th February 2021
Dear Evidence Based Social Work Alliance
Re: Open Letter from EBSWA dated 9 February 2021
Thank you for your open letter dated 9th February 2021 and your appeal for a policy review and practice
guidance regarding sex and gender identity and the requests you make.
We believe and fully understand that this is a very important area for social work practice with children and
adults. We are following and debating the implications of recent legal and clinical developments. Recently
our magazine Professional Social Work carried articles from different perspectives on transgender practice
with young people.
We do not claim to have done all the work we need to do. In September 2020 BASW Council passed a
motion that agreed for BASW to:
• Plan for the development of social work capabilities on gender identity
• Address the lack of training across social work education on gender identity.
There is much to be done to clarify policy and practice guidance in this field and for that to be evidence
based. Equally for social work to be properly evidence based in this field, there is a need for more
evidence to be generated – empirical and otherwise - and also for that which is presented to be more
available, known and understood across the profession. BASW has a key role in all of this.
We wholeheartedly agree that no social worker should experience threats, bullying and intimidation in their
work on this or any subject.
There are contested views and complex safeguarding considerations at stake. We will engage with these
and ensure the association has an ethical stance and promotes good evidence and practice guidance that
properly protects the wellbeing and interests of children and young people.
We will continue to develop our work, in discussion, considered debate and engagement with our members’
policy and ethics group/s. BASW will support, work with other social work bodies and where appropriate
lead the debate and development of best evidence on sex and gender identity in social work practice.
BASW would welcome further direct dialogue with EBSWA on these important issues going forward.
Dr Ruth Allen
British Association of Social Workers