An expert has backed calls from MPs this week for chief social workers to be appointed within local authorities to provide professional leadership to practitioners.
Ray Jones, a former British Association of Social Workers chair and now professor of social work at Kingston University, said he had previously argued for such a role. He claimed that it could help provide a strong voice for the profession, particularly where children’s directors lacked a social work background, as in the majority of cases.
This week, in a report which called for the radical overhaul of the social work training system, the children, schools and families select committee said the government should pilot the role, whose functions could include ensuring social workers had adequate supervision and taking charge of practice learning.
BASW: Chiefs could shield practitioners from target imperatives
It cited evidence from BASW, which said all councils should appoint a chief social worker, reporting to the chief executive, providing protection for frontline practitioners against pressure to meet organisational targets to the detriment of good professional practice.
BASW professional officer Bridget Robb and Sue White, professor of social work at Lancaster University, also said it would help provide leadership and understanding of the profession where children’s directors came from an education or other non-social work background.
Jones echoed this point, saying: “What we can’t expect [children’s services directors with an education background] to have is a real feel for the nuances and complexities of the social work task.”
Role should have protection
He said chief practitioners should have a specific role to provide public advice on social work for the whole council and said the position should be a “national requirement supported by protection for those responsible for the fulfilment of their role”.
He said they should have political experience and professional credibility and, while not necessarily having responsibility for cases, should “bring real knowledge of working at the frontline”.
Jones also said it was also “important that they are outside the line management structure”, enabling them to comment independently on practice.
Lead professional for all social workers
While its report focused on children’s services, the committee said the chief social worker would be the “lead professional for all social workers employed by the authority”.
Jones said that having a lead voice across children’s and adults’ services would help join up practice, particularly given links between child protection and domestic violence or substance misuse, while placing a value on social work as a profession.
- Do you think councils should be required to appoint chief social workers to provide professional leadership to practitioners? Have your say on CareSpace.
Leadership training for directors of children’s services