“Given it’s only been such a short period of time, we’ve had much more influence than I would have thought possible,” says Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults.
She points out that the first chief medical officer came into role almost 160 years ago, whereas she, and her counterpart for children Isabelle Trowler, took their posts just 12 months ago and are already “punching above their weight”.
Romeo, who was previously the assistant director of adults’ services in the London Borough of Camden, now works to champion social work within the Department of Health (DH), trying to ensure both social workers’ and service users’ voices are heard in policy and decision making.
She is confident the role will grow in influence over the next few years.
“The first thing I needed to do when I came into role was to actually establish this post and get it embedded in the department.
“I try once or twice a week to visit social workers within local authorities and spend some time with them talking about my role, and about what’s going on for them- they are really rising to the challenge of working in creative ways,” she adds.
Romeo believes one of her biggest successes so far in the role has been helping to put social workers at the centre of the 2014 Care Act guidance.
“We’ve managed to get a real voice for social work within the Care Act regulations. The chief social work role had a big influence in making sure that guidance reflects social work practice and signals where social workers should have a key role to play.”
However, she’s under no illusion that the real challenge will be successfully implementing the Care Act against a difficult financial backdrop. “Local authorities will have a lot to do to make sure they deliver their statutory services within the resources available,” she agrees.
Principal Social Workers
While Romeo’s role is to ensure social work has a voice in key pieces of policy and legislation, she is aware that such policies also need proper implementation on the ground and she sees the role of the principal social worker (PSW) as the tool to make this happen.
“We’ve had a fantastic year getting the PSW network up and running. It’s a really strong, emerging and influential group. Within their organisations PSWs have got a link with the director and senior management team as well as with frontline practitioners. That’s the mechanism through which I want the voices of frontline practitioners to be heard, not only to drive up good practice but to support them in doing that.”
Mental Capacity Act
Romeo remains realistic about the challenges ahead, including the effective lowering of the threshold for assessments for Deprivation of Liberty safeguards (DoLs) which has created a huge backlog of work for local authorities, now struggling to meet the appropriate timescales.
“I think everybody accepts that there are key challenges with DoLs timescales after the Cheshire West judgement and we are currently thinking through in the department how we can help and support people to manage that challenge,” says Romeo. “My ambition is that all qualified social workers should have formal training on the Mental Capacity Act.”
She is working together with the College of Social Work to put together curriculum guides aimed at raising the profile of Mental Capacity Act work in initial social work training as well as part of continuing professional development. Romeo will be chairing a working group in parliament to examine how to further integrate the act and apply best principles to social work training.
“I want to re-profile the role of social work within mental health services and start to think about how we can influence mental health care.”
In the year ahead, Romeo is focused on driving forward the reform agenda. She is currently putting the finishing touches to her review of the necessary knowledge and skills for adults’ social workers, equivalent to Isabelle Trowler’s knowledge and skills for children and families’ social workers document which came out in the summer.
Romeo says: “We’re trying to put in place nationally agreed criteria against which social work is assessed so we get some consistency in order to drive up standards of practice.
“I can’t speak for everyone but I think on the whole, speaking to social workers, having a chief social worker is really important to them as it shows the government is valuing and recognising how important this profession is,” she says.