Special report on the new social work roles outlined in
the green paper
By Simeon Brody.
“For too long social work has been perceived as a gatekeeper
or rationer of services and has been accused, sometimes unfairly,
of fostering dependence rather than independence,” says the green
“We want to create a different environment which
reinforces the core social work values of supporting individuals to
take control of their own lives and to make choices which matter to
The adult green paper appears to promise a new role for social
workers. In a world of personalised budgets and promoting
independence, new jobs such as “care navigators” or
“person-centred planning facilitators” would involve
helping people decide how to plan their care and spend their
Many have welcomed the new roles as beneficial for both social
workers and people who use care services. Roy Webb, head of policy
at the National Centre for Independent Living believes the green
paper sees people who receive care as active citizens and social
workers as enablers.
“The problem tends to be that traditionally things have
been done for disabled people and what we need to do is to look at
disabled people doing things for themselves, with the help they
need to facilitate that.”
“We are talking about a role where social workers can begin to
do more about supporting people to make those choices themselves.
That may be a much more interesting and satisfying job,” he
“It’s always been part of the social work role and
part of the philosophy of social work but the whole concept of care
management has ended up with social workers spending a lot of time
Liberate social workers
Webb believes the new navigator role would liberate social workers
from much of the administration by encouraging people who use
services to make more of an active role in managing their own
Under the current system, care is inflexibly allocated to
specific tasks such as domestic work or assistance with meals, and
recipients find it difficult to reorganise it around their lives,
In the future, social workers would concentrate on advising
people about what services are available and helping them to access
them, he suggests.
But not everyone is convinced the green paper represents a
significant new departure for social workers.
British Association of Social Workers director Ian Johnston says
the “navigator” role is something he would expect
social workers to be doing anyway.
But he fears that without additional resources social workers
will continue to have too much to deal with in tackling the results
of social problems and will not have enough time to meaningfully
extend their navigator role.
And without more money social workers could end up rationing
services even more than they do now, he argues.
Social workers are already navigators
Mona Sehgal, programme manager for the community wellbeing team at
the Local Government Association also believes social workers are
She argues the government should not attempt to split up the
various roles outlined in the green paper.
The paper outlines roles for “care managers” and
“care brokers” alongside the person-centred planning
facilitators and care navigators. It says care managers might work
alongside people with very complex needs and brokers could help
negotiate funding and monitor services. Navigators would work with
the person to develop a “sustained pathway of care” and
facilitators would “support the person to develop their own
The roles clearly overlap and the paper does not explain how
they might relate to each other and says the range of options needs
to be explored further.
“Our view is that how these different roles pan out might
be different in different areas but it’s not necessarily
having one person doing one specific role. There could be issues
around staff morale and recruitment and retention if you try to
narrow down the role too much,” says Sehgal.
“We would very much like some flexibility around these
roles,” she adds.
Fill the vacuum
For John Knight, head of external policy at disability charity
Leonard Cheshire, the new role for social workers has simply arisen
out of necessity.
With downward funding pressures on public services, more people
are funding their own social care and the number is expected to
rise in the future, he says.
Many older and disabled people are simply given a list of local
providers and left to fend for themselves, with no experience of
employing people or negotiating on price.
“The new brand of social worker will probably fill some of
that vacuum so people aren’t being cut adrift and in some
cases ripped off,” he suggests.
But he believes the new role carries dangers. “I hope that
part of social work isn’t lost and they don’t
effectively become business agents.”
Knight says social workers must beware of losing their holistic
approach to people in favour of one centred on financial
“Will the case work aspect of social work be lost as a result of
this, and if it is it will be very damaging.”