Four out of five practitioners in England feel social work is poorly-represented at a national level, a survey has found.
But the research by recruitment agency Liquid Personnel also showed a lack of clarity about which bodies and individuals were responsible for championing the profession.
When asked who should be responsible for standing up for social workers, 11% of the 554 respondents said the College of Social Work, but roughly the same amount again (12%) said the Health Professions Council.
A spokesperson for the HPC, which is due to take on responsibility for regulating social workers in England from July 2012, pointed out that the role of the regulator is to protect the public, not to stand up for social workers.
Almost half (42%) said the British Association of Social Workers, now known as BASW – the College of Social Work, should take the lead in speaking up for the profession.
However, the survey was conducted before the then two colleges of social work signed a memorandum of understanding to work towards merging into a single college. Trade unions were not included in the list of responses.
The survey was also carried out before the College of Social Work launched its first ever national campaign, Speak up for Social Work, the aim of which is to ensure that social workers are able to find their individual and collective public voice.
One other key finding found almost half (48%) of respondents supported the idea of a chief social worker – an idea mooted by BASW and Professor Eileen Munro – but 40% were “unsure”.
Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW, said: “If the 42% of social workers who quite rightly think that BASW should stand up for the profession joined us that would mean we’d have 30,000 more members and £4.8m more to spend on representation and services.”
Maurice Bates, interim co-chair of the College of Social Work, said: “The College is in the early stages of its development, but we already have nearly 7,000 prospective members and are just beginning to demonstrate to social workers that our role is to represent them and stand up for the profession.”
“We all recognise the need for more positivity in the profession, but it’s now time for affirmative action,” said Jonathan Coxon, managing director of Liquid Personnel. “Organisations such as BASW and the College of Social Work have a real opportunity to begin making a difference for social workers on the frontline.
“But changing the public perception of the profession is not just a PR exercise; it can only come from meaningful investment and reform.”
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