Death of the department

Ray Jones is director of adult and community services
for Wiltshire Council. He has also been its director of social
services since 1992. In 2001-2 he was the first chief executive of
the Social Care Institute for Excellence. He is also visiting
professor at the Universities of Bath and Exeter and a fellow of
the University of Gloucestershire.

For 30 years council social services departments have been the
home territory for much of social work and social care. As these
departments are now disbanded, what lies ahead for the

It is sometimes difficult to recall how important social services
departments have been for social work and social care. Before they
existed, there were children’s, mental health and welfare
departments. There was no coherent professional base for social
work and no organisation whose main purpose was to host social care

All this changed with the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.
This brought together the three separate social care departments in
local councils, established the statutory post of director of
social services, and gave wide-ranging responsibilities through the
Children and Young Person’s Act 1969 and the Chronically Sick and
Disabled Persons Act 1970, both of which were sympathetic to the
role and importance of social work and social care.

With this strong organisational, managerial and legal base
established, social work and social care spawned its own
professional association (the British Association of Social
Workers), its own managerial organisations (the Association of
Directors of Social Services and the Association of Directors of
Social Work), its own service association (the Social Care
Association), its own research network (the Social Services
Research Group) and its own think-tank (the National Institute for
Social Work).

Within government itself, social work and social care had a seat at
the top table through the Department of Health’s Social Work
Service and the chief social work service officer (later
transformed into the Social Services Inspectorate and the chief

So for 30 years social work and social care have had a clear legal
structure and mandate, a strong political and organisational base
within government, strong specialist managerial representation and
dedicated professional and occupational associations. And during
that time social work and social care within social services
departments have delivered.

Large institutions have been closed, and the focus has shifted to
assisting individuals and families in the community, protecting
people (in the main, successfully) where necessary, promoting
well-being and independence and enhancing life chances and quality
of life.

Social services have also succeeded where central government was
failing, hence the 1993 community care reforms and the Supporting
People programme in 2003. And for the past five years the
government’s own performance assessment ratings and the joint
review programme have highlighted social services

But no more. Standalone social services departments within local
government are an increasingly declining breed. This decline was
hastened by local government reform in the late 1990s, which
created some local authorities that were too small to have
sustainable separate social services departments. And the trend
will now gather pace with new configurations of education and
social care children’s services, and adult social care and health

The base and profile for social work and social care is now more
fragmented. Within central government social care has lost its
obvious champions with the demise of the social services
inspectorate and the chief inspector. And social care services are
now delivered through a wide range of organisations where social
work may not be the dominant profession nor social care the main
discipline within integrated teams.

This is happening within a political context where the value-base
of social work and social care is sometimes challenged. The
criminal justice, antisocial behaviour, mental health and asylum
political agendas run counter to much of what has been important to
social work: seeing people in context, valuing not rejecting,
recognising and developing individual and community strengths, and
enabling and facilitating.

Yet it’s not all bad news for social work and social care. In
England (there are similar organisations throughout the UK) we have
the General Social Care Council with, for the first time,
protection of the title of social worker, registration of social
workers, social work becoming a graduate profession and a
requirement for continuing professional development.

We have a care skills sector council, the Training Organisation for
Personal Social Services (Topss), with competences and
qualification pathways under development for everyone working in
social care.

We have the new Commission for Social Care Inspection to define
service standards, and registering and inspecting services.

And we have the Social Care Institute for Excellence collating,
disseminating and promoting the knowledge base for social

But there is a risk. The GSCC, Topss, CSCI and Scie are all funded
by central government. Governments are pragmatic and not always
principled. They are not professionally partisan, and can indeed be
professionally hostile. They have their own (populist) agendas.
They also change!

Government-structured and funded organisations are not particularly
secure or stable. The National Care Standards Commission was just
17 days old when the government announced it was going to kill it
off, and the future of CSCI and the GSCC is already under

That makes it even more important for social work and social care
to have their own independent organisations and champions. It is
why making BASW and the SCA strong should be a commitment for all
within the sectors.

It is also why in early June, the Nuffield Foundation hosted and
funded a forum of 13 organisations (such as the Joint Universities
Council Social Work Education Committee, the Social Services
Research Group, and BASW and SCA) to consider establishing an
assembly for social work and social care education, training and
research. This “standing conference” would provide a network for
organisations championing social care and social work and its
knowledge and competence base.

Although the future for social work and social care may be
uncertain, it is still a bright one. But getting it right will
depend on the contribution and commitment of everyone in the
sector, working alongside and in partnership with service users,
carers and all our other professional colleagues.


As social services departments are disaggregated and disbanded,
how are the values, principles, and knowledge and skills base of
social care and social work to be protected and promoted? This
article argues that, in addition to the four government-sponsored
social care bodies (CSCI, GSCC, Scie and Topss), which may be
vulnerable to political vagaries, strong professional associations
and a proposed assembly for social work are needed.

Further information

For the background to the new, government-created, sponsored and
funded social care infrastructure bodies, see: 

  • Modernising Social Services, Department of Health,
  • A Quality Strategy for Social Care, Department of
    Health, 2000  For information about improvement in social services
    performance, see: 
  • All Our Lives: Social Care in England 2002-2003,
    Department of Health, March 2004  
  • Old Virtues, New Virtues, Audit Commission,

The Department of Health publications can be ordered from,
the Audit Commission publication from

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