The independent review by Martin Narey of the education of children’s social workers in England contains much to be welcomed and needs to be part of an active and inclusive debate amongst social workers. Yet it is telling that, again, we have a review of an important part of social work initiated by a politician rather than from within the profession. It follows on from Narey’s earlier work on adoption and Eileen Munro’s review child protection; all three reviews listened and gave a voice to social workers in a way which could and should have been initiated from within, using the two professional bodies the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and The College of Social Work (TCSW).
Narey’s recommendations for a broad national curriculum for social work training in knowledge, skills in critical analysis and in practice learning is important, especially if placed alongside a streamlining of the professional capabilities framework and a focus on the domains of knowledge, reflection, analysis and intervention skills. This was proposed to the Social Work Task Force and Social Work Reform Board, but not taken up.
However, his proposal that this work should be led by the chief social worker for children advised by TCSW, academics and employers, rather than an explicit requirement for a full and comprehensive contribution of all social workers, is of concern. It risks confusing leadership from within the profession with management and the work of quangos. It will not help the profession find and express its own voice of experience and expertise in true collegiate and inclusive working.
Narey’s proposal that the regulation and registration of social work is transferred from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to TCSW also needs to be considered with caution. It would require new legislation and regulation and would jeopardise the public perception of a separation of the interests of social work from those receiving its services and their carers. Cynically, it could be a way for TCSW, with structures which Narey criticises for their complexity, to find a secure source of funding and to be required to further separate from the active contribution and engagement of all social workers.
A radical increase in the rigour of the endorsement and oversight of social work education can be welcomed; however, it would need a greater contribution from experienced and knowledgeable leaders in the profession. I do not agree this needs high payment to the individuals carrying out the work – it could be arranged on a quid pro quo basis across the country, drawing on the enthusiasm, energy, experience and expertise of social workers taking responsibility for their own professionalism.
Narey makes tough demands for all students to have practice experience in statutory settings. This was a requirement in the reform of social work education in 2003, but it was never enforced by [the HCPC’s predecessor] the General Social Care Council and the civil servants backtracked. This, coupled with an earlier commitment to the requirement for all social work education to be provided by strong, authoritative and collaborative partnerships of universities, employers and the profession, could have prevented many of the problems Narey identifies now.
So, much to welcome. Much which requires an active and inclusive discussion to find the right way forward (and quickly) for social work. For once money is not the issue; what is needed is to use the expertise and experience within the whole profession. Then perhaps the next major review of an aspect of social work can be initiated and undertaken from our own leadership, rather than from a politician or government or following a national scandal.
Bill McKitterick works in social work leadership, supervision, early development of social workers and workforce development. He represented directors of social services in the negotiations leading up to the new social work degree in 2003.