Who can guide social work in England through an unparalleled period of reform? Kirsty McGregor examines the qualities they will need. We also include a table (below) that presents social care’s current leaders and their status
The final report of the Social Work Task Force, which set out a 10-year plan to transform the status, training and conditions of practitioners at the end of last year, has been hailed as a “watershed moment” for the profession. Strong leadership will be essential to make this a reality, yet recent events have conspired to create a potential vacuum at national level.
In addition, Barbara Young, chair of the Care Quality Commission, suddenly announced her resignation in November, while the chief executive of Skills for Care, Andrea Rowe, is retiring later this year.
The taskforce itself concluded that social work “lacked a single focus of responsibility” at a national level, and proposed forming a national college of social work.
Efforts to set up the organisation are now under way. Although the job of leading the reforms will be tricky, Moira Gibb, chief executive of Camden Council who is herself chairing the Social Work Reform Board, is confident of finding suitable candidates.
“I think people are finding leadership jobs slightly more daunting now because they’re more exposed,” she says.
“But in the past I’ve found the right person usually comes forward.”
The British Association of Social Workers wants the national college to be led by qualified social workers – but other qualities are also needed.
Prof Iain Densten, director of the Leadership Centre at Lancaster University, says future social work leaders will need the ability to inspire and communicate directly with practitioners. “If you are asking [leaders] to get other people to get motivated, they will also need compassion, resilience, personal sacrifice and vision,” he says.
Candidates to lead national college
Runner: Moira Gibb
Odds: 1/2 (favourite)
Gibb, chief executive of Camden Council, is a qualified social worker and chaired first the Social Work Task Force, now the Social Work Reform Board. Respected in political circles and known for her integrity.
Possible handicap: National college may struggle to match her salary at Camden.
Runner: Ray Jones
Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, is a qualified social worker with 40 years’ practice and management experience. Known for his integrity, passion and willingness to engage with the media.
Possible handicap: As a research professor, could be seen as out of touch with frontline practice.
Runner: Jenny Owen
Owen, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, has had wide experience working with the Department of Health and in local government.
Possible handicap: Arguably more focused on social care rather than social work, following comments at 2009 National Children’s and Adult Services conference.
Runner: John Coughlan
Coughlan, director of children’s services at Hampshire Council, impressed as the former president of the Association of Directors of Social Services. Was temporarily seconded to run child protection services in Haringey after the baby Peter case.
Possible handicap: Could be seen as too closely linked to children’s services.
Runner: Hilton Dawson
Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, is a qualified social worker and loudly champions the profession. As a former Labour MP, he is not afraid to challenge senior figures.
Possible handicap: Sceptical over independence of national college.