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Education and empathy

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

Being a social worker is a privilege, but it is one which carries huge responsibilities. When you work so closely with those you are seeking to help, effective relationships require a high degree of emotional intelligence - an awareness that the decisions or suggestions you support people to make can have a significant effect upon their lives. In this respect, our capacity for authentic engagement and empathy is paramount, but so too are the skills and knowledge within which these essential qualities are framed.

Improving the quality of education, training and support available to both new and existing social workers is one of my key priorities as Chief Social Worker. That’s why Professor David Croisdale-Appleby’s Review of Social work Education, published earlier this year, was so valuable. It helped us to focus further on the tools and grounding social workers need to navigate the complex and evolving landscape of 21st Century social work.

The Department of Health's Response: "Taking Forward Professor Croisdale-Appleby’s Review of Social Work Education” is now published
The Department of Health's response: Taking Forward Professor Croisdale-Appleby’s Review of Social Work Education has now been published

The Department of Health’s response to his review is published today,  an opportunity to set out current thinking and actions informed by his recommendations.

I won’t spell out the full list of proposed actions, you can read them here, but the Professor’s proposed re-visioning of social work education, where social workers emerge as ‘practitioners, professionals and social scientists’ sums them up pretty well. Significantly, he has supported maintaining a generic, unified social work qualification and emphasised the importance of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) as the beginning of a social worker’s professional development in practice. So what have we been doing to bring these and other recommendations about? Here’s a flavour of current activity:

  • Consulting on a Knowledge and Skills Statement (KSS) for social work with adults, to mirror the Children’s Knowledge and Skills Statement from the Department for Education (DfE);
  • Developing national assessment criteria at the end of the assessed supported year in employment (ASYE) for social work with adults;
  • Commissioning The College of Social Work (TCSW) to develop proposals for a continuing professional development (CPD) framework and specific materials covering dementia, autism, the Mental Capacity Act and best interest approaches to working with and empowering people to have as much choice and control over their lives as possible.
  • Progressing the Think Ahead fast-track programme for social work in mental health.

A reminder on these first two points: our consultation closes 12 December, so if you haven’t responded yet and want your views and suggestions to be considered, please do contribute. The refined knowledge and skills statement, when it is published, will provide not just a framework for continuous professional development but also set a national quality benchmark for social work with adults in statutory settings. On a related point, I look forward to continuing to work with TCSW and the Health and Care Professionals Council in continually improving the regulation, education and continuing professional development of our profession.

And looking ahead, we’ll be continuing our efforts to consider and influence the way in which social work can contribute more effectively to supporting individuals and families in the areas of mental health, learning disabilities and dementia.

I am particularly interested to hear from social workers and people with learning disabilities, their families and carers, about whether we should strengthen the role of social workers in protecting people’s rights. Is there more we can do to create a personalised, co-production approach to care and support arrangements? For example, could a social worker have explicit duty to make sure the least restrictive/ non institutionalised settings are chosen for people? Should they have primary responsibility to ensure non-residential options have been fully considered, including evidence of engagement with appropriate experts in community based provision?

Our population is growing, changing and the challenges people face becoming ever more complex and diverse. So too are the economic, health and social issues facing those we are tasked to help. As social workers, we must be fully equipped to meet these challenges head on. Yes, empathy and compassion go a long way towards delivering high quality outcomes for people, but we also need the educational and professional support networks to help channel these qualities and to remain firmly connected to the human rights and social justice value base of our profession.

I believe today’s update is proof we are well on the way to doing just that.

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