By the time you read this I will be on holiday visiting my mother in Australia and I know she will want to know how things are going for me in this new role.
I struggle to make time to reflect on whether what I am doing is making a difference, so I know how important it is that employers facilitate social workers to have the time and space for reflective supervision.
I have visited a number of authorities now where real progress has been made in embedding the employer standards for social workers. I’ve also seen excellent examples of supporting practice, such as learning circles on particular areas led by advanced or lead practitioners; practice forums; differentiated arrangements for practice supervision and line management arrangements. All this to ensure staff can really reflect on their social work practice and the impact their work has with service users and carers.
The Employer Standards have just been refreshed and are now available on the Local Government Authority (LGA) website. Check with your principal social worker to find out what's happening in your organisation.
The Adult Principal Social Worker network is really starting to gain momentum and it was great to meet with them earlier this month. Through this network, I really think we can lead and support social workers to put great social work at the heart of adult social care. I am humbled by the enthusiasm and commitment of the people taking on these roles and the creative and influential ways in which they are helping to reposition social work in their organisations. We plan to have a joint conference with principal social workers for children in the summer to ensure we can harness good practice ideas across both areas and takes things forward together.
I was pleased to be on a Question Time style panel at the Community Care Live conference recently, with my colleague Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector for Adult social Care, Professor Ray Jones and John Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust and Ruth Smith from Community Care. The panel was chaired by BBC journalist Gavin Esler, so it felt the closest I will ever get to being on Newsnight.
There were lots of challenging questions from the audience and there is clearly still much to be done to achieve the shift we need to enable social workers to spend most of their time doing social work, rather than sitting in front of computers. But for me the most important questions were about the Care Act and the role social workers will play in implementing it. I believe they will do this through taking strengths-based, personalised and outcome-focused approaches to help people and their carers achieve the lives they want. The opportunity to further develop social work practice with older people and those with dementia is an area where I hope our development of continuing professional development opportunities will bear fruit.
The qualifying education and training of social workers continues to be a focus for the sector - there is a lot of disquiet in some quarters about the proposals for the Think Ahead fast track graduate scheme designed to attract people who want a career in mental health social work.
It is right that, as a profession, we should strive to attract more of the best and brightest into social work. Social work is a demanding role, but also incredibly rewarding. I think we need to welcome the chance to draw in people from all walks of life, to take on the tough, but rewarding job of social work.
This programme represents one small, diverse entry route into social work, on similar lines to ‘grow your own’ schemes and other options. It is important to emphasise that traditional academic courses will continue to be the biggest providers of social work education and this programme is only a very small piece of the jigsaw.
What I’m most interested in is raising the quality of practice and the continuous professional development of existing qualified social workers to deliver a confident and capable profession. I am working with the sector to build on a framework which can deliver this.
I hope you will be enjoying a fine English summer whilst I’m shivering in the Australian winter.