Two experts, speaking in a personal capacity, give their view on the protection of the social work role three years after it was introduced.
Sylvia Armstrong, Independent Reviewing Officer, Leeds City Council
“I’ve always felt quite strongly that social workers should be registered. I’ve been a social worker since 1982 – back then anyone could say they were a social worker if they did something within the caring profession. I think that perhaps gave people the wrong impression of the level of skill and education required for the role.
Registration hasn’t seen much change in the roles and responsibilities of a social worker but in terms of the way in which I regard myself as part of a profession it has been a good thing.
Things have changed slightly in public perceptions of social workers in comparison to other professions but not massively. I would say it will be a gradual change. I think the new PLO reflects the courts desire to give social work opinion more status in relation to our reports to court.
For me, the next three years will see changes in the law regarding the Independent Reviewing Officer role, bringing increased responsibilities. I do have concerns about an emerging two-tier system for children and adult services and that children’s social care may begin to have a higher status or vice versa. One of the great things about social work is that you can move across disciplines and do lots of different things and it would be a shame if someone was at the point in their career where they want to change and can’t. I’ve done lots of different jobs over the past 26 years and that’s been stimulating. It keeps you fresh.
Dr Karen Postle, School of Social Work and Psychosocial Sciences, University of East Anglia
The curriculum has formalised over the past three years. There are things that are not on the curriculum that I would like to see on there. I teach health inequality which is a crucial facet of social work but isn’t explicit on the curriculum in the same way communications is and therefore it may not necessarily be taught.
I am glad education and training has remained generic. It’s crucial that it stays that way because it is as important for social work as it is for other professions. Above all, it helps social workers to see people within a family context. It also gives people scope to change their area of work.
I think social workers need to do more to promote their role and say what they are good at. It’s not enough to say, ’we are registered now’, and expect to be recognised and held on a par with other professions. This is particularly important because of all the changes coming along in health and social care. Social workers need to say clearly what they do and how well they do it. Otherwise there is a real risk that other people will say ‘I can do that’. The eligibility criteria hasn’t helped as it means we are doing more work with people in crisis situations whereas if we are seen to be doing preventative work people would have better idea of what the profession can do.
I’ve been pleased to see greater involvement of service users over the past few years in all areas of education, from recruitment right through to teaching and assessing. It’s important and necessary that service users are involved – when putting together our BA degree programme last year, we automatically sought to involve service users.
Looking ahead, personalisation will bring big changes. Social workers need to learn to adapt their skills and knowledge. With changes to self assessment, social workers need to show that they can work with service users in how assessments happen, for example in thinking of something beneficial which the person hasn’t necessarily thought of.
Multi-disciplinary working is already here but we’ve got to think more about how it happens and the different roles in commissioning services. The changing role of the voluntary sector will also bring massive changes for social work.