At the end of last year, I announced in my blog that the Department of Health would be funding six local authorities across England to pilot deployment of a ‘named social worker’ programme for people with learning disabilities, mental health challenges and autism.
Now more than halfway through the programme, I’ve been encouraged by some of the learning that is emerging from the pilot sites. It’s been an exciting space to develop effective social work practice that supports people to have the best possible lives.
Named social workers (NSWs) have been defined as being:
- Dedicated caseworkers
- Main points of contact for people and their families
- Professional voices of challenge across the system
Across the six sites, NSWs have been shaping their role by understanding and representing the needs of individuals they work with. They have also been challenging themselves to shift the balance from process and procedure to what matters most to the people they are tasked to help.
These ways of working will already sound familiar to many of us. So, aren’t we all named social workers? It’s a very fair question to ask.
In many ways we are. We know that many areas already use an allocated worker model in supporting individuals over the longer term, especially those who are moving in and out of crisis and appearing on risk registers.
We also know that the pressures on funding and resources in the system mean it is not always possible to deliver social work practice in the way we’d like. These pilot sites are helping to shine a light on what good social work practice looks like and making the case for how it might evolve in the future.
NSWs are not a new subset of social workers; rather, they are helping to raise the profile of good social work.
A number of sites are thinking seriously about what it means to work with people in holistic and genuinely person centred ways. Here are some examples that stood out:
- having experts by experience as paid team members to help shape the service;
- making every interaction - from a phone call to an assessment - as meaningful as possible;
- shifting the emphasis to when an individual requests support from their social worker, rather than presume the level of interaction they require.
Other sites have been focusing on building stronger relationships with colleagues in other parts of the system; drawing on the shared ambition that health and social care professionals have to improve people’s lives even when they might not always agree on how to achieve it.
Not only does this programme provide a space for social work practice development, it also sits alongside the transforming care agenda. By demonstrating the positive contribution of social care and social workers - and aligning these services with other health initiatives – the support for individuals outside in-patient settings can be so much wider.
As we move into the final stage of the programme, I look forward to seeing how the learning from these pilots feeds into the practice of individual social workers and their teams, and to hearing more examples of the impact named social workers are having on people’s lives.