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What’s possible and who cares?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education and training, Knowledge and skills, Viewpoint

As social workers’ practice becomes less about “what’s wrong here and how do we fix it?” and more about “what’s possible here and what is the best outcome?”

For those who are served by social workers it may be timely to take this approach to thinking about social work itself.

A couple of weeks ago, Sir Martin Narey published his independent review on the education of social work students and how well their education prepared them for working with children. Importantly, his review supports social work continuing as a single profession, along with a call for greater specialisation within the generic degree.

Professor David Croisdale-Appleby’s review of social work education published today, focuses on whether social work education properly equips those students who will work predominately with adults. Importantly, it also considers the whole system of education, training, continuous professional development, regulation and registration arrangements for all social workers.

I welcome Professor Croisdale–Appleby’s report and its sharp focus on social work as a unified profession. He recognises the importance of social workers developing their practice from a well-grounded generic qualification in social work, with opportunities for further specialisation and professional development.

One thing certain in life is change. Legislation, theories and our society at large are constantly developing and changing. Likewise, the social work qualification needed to equip social workers with critical thinking, analysis and sound decision-making skills must also keep pace with this change. In addition, it should give social workers the ability and confidence to take responsibility for continually developing their skills and knowledge.

It is refreshing to have clear acknowledgement from someone outside the profession that social work is an extraordinarily complex undertaking and many social workers are doing fantastic work.

Of course, more needs to be done to push further improvements to deliver high quality social workers and great social work practice. Raising the quality of practice standards, the education and training system, and importantly, the continuing professional development of existing qualified social workers, is essential to deliver a confident, capable profession.

What does matter is that social workers must be well equipped to undertake their crucial roles in supporting people and communities to achieve the best possible outcomes. They must be able to work across all age groups and take a holistic approach in understanding people’s lives. They must have the skills to protect the children, adults and families with whom they work and empower them to make positive changes in their lives. Students on the Step Up programme have reported how important their placements in adult mental health or substance misuse teams have been in preparing them for their work with children and families.

The right systems must be in place to support their practice, to ensure workloads are manageable and that reflective practice is well embedded in supervision arrangements.

What is reassuring is that government, academics, students, social workers, other professionals, the wider public and people who receive social work services are united in the vital role social work has to play in society. We all want it to be the best it can be.

Both reports present an opportunity for us to move forward in challenging and driving up the quality of social work in this country.

I look forward to working with everyone who cares to make this happen.

Looking ahead

I will be blogging regularly about issues affecting social work as I work across government, the social work sector and the wider public, to help reposition social work at the heart of adult social care. I welcome your comments and views (positive and constructive!) to help bring about the improvements in social work which we all want to see.

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  1. Comment by Richard Hanwell posted on

    What puzzles me is everyone talks about choice but local authorities still put contracts out to tender which restricts choice

  2. Comment by Karen Murphy posted on

    Absolutely spot on. All SWs need to understand the needs and challenges across the lifespan, because we work with people in the context of families. A generic training foundation followed by specialism is the best way to achieve this. Those working with adults must be able to recognise and give weight to the needs of the children they encounter. Those working with children must be able to recognise the needs of parents whose functioning may be affected by disability, ill health or substance misuse.

  3. Comment by Sue R posted on

    Fully agree with Karen Murphy's comments. My concerns however also relate to Social Worker's continuing professional development. When within health service providers we have the intercollegiate document "Safeguarding Children and Young people: roles and competences for health care staff" (RCPCH 2010 & revision due out imminently) why on earth do Social Care professinals, at the front line of safeguarding children, not have something similar? I have met Social Worker's who have stated that they haven't been on any training "for several years". This cannot be allowed to continue, and although I am sure that very many Social Workers do undertake learning experiences on a regular basis, Social Worker employers should be mandated to ensure that their staff regularly take up opportunities to maintain & develop their knowledge, skills & competencies.

  4. Comment by Peter Durrant posted on

    Interesting comments, especially measuring outcomes, critical decision making and problem-solving skills... But, as an 'ageing activist' now long retired I find it disappointing that community social work, as a 'trade' as opposed to a top-down profession, has not begun to draw upon theory and practice which works with, as opposed to for, people on the receiving ends of sometimes unhelpful bureaucracies. Embodying a preparedness to transfer power, positively complementing peer group relationships, thinking around grass-rooots upwards strategies instead of too many vague and top-down over-individiualised and institutionalised 'skills,' pro-actively networking as a means of identifying, and regularly action-researching, evidence-based approaches which enable and facilitate change, etc, etc. (How many of remember the still very relevant recommendations from the Barclay Report of almost thirty years ago - see the Centre for Welfare Reform-web-site). Whilst contemporary examples around how to really involve people, -not clients or service-users, remember labelling theory - in their own futures includes post-credit union/community banking, radical family conference approaches, second phase Bromley-by-Bow-healthcentres. community brokerage, encouraging social enterprises to work together and co-operatively to move on etc, etc.. Plus many other examples which already exist if we were prepared to learn real evidence-based street-wise possibilities; especially challenging over-diverse third sector and statutory models which fail to complement each other.. Short paper available if anyone is interested on

  5. Comment by Lyn Romeo posted on

    Thanks all for your comments. Really helpful...sorry for the delay in acknowledging and hopefully new blog on the way !


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