Care Act 2014: councils told to give principal social workers power to improve practice

Clarification of adults’ principal social worker role among series of changes made to statutory care and support guidance

Care Act
Photo: Gary Brigden

Councils will be expected to give principal social workers the power to improve social work practice under changes to Care Act guidance introduced last week.

The revised care and support guidance consolidates the role of principal social workers to ensure they can effectively lead practitioners and challenge management decisions on care. It says principal social workers should be given “the credibility, authority and capacity to provide effective leadership and challenge, both at managerial and practitioner level”.

Councils should also give principal social workers sufficient time to carry out their role and engage in some frontline practice, such as co-working or mentoring, the guidance says.

This is the first time the government has set out the responsibilities of principal social workers working in adults’ services. These include: quality assuring social work practice, supporting effective supervision, and advising councils and social services directors on complex or controversial cases.

‘Practice focus’

Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults’, told Community Care the revised guidance recognised that social work had been “a bit side-lined” in adult social care and confirmed the importance of the principal social worker role and the difference it can make to practice.

She said: “The guidance stresses the need for social work to be in the system to ensure there is a strong focus on practice first and good support for senior managers and practitioners.”

The revised guidance also strengthens the role of principal social workers in relation to safeguarding practice and leadership. Councils were previously told to appoint a designated adult safeguarding manager but this requirement has now been removed. The role was deemed to be confusing, contradictory and distracted from improving practice.

Instead, councils should ensure principal social workers use their broad knowledge of safeguarding, and how it applies to their own and others’ work, to develop the quality and consistency of social work practice in this area, the guidance says.

‘Safeguarding legislation’

The revised guidance clarifies how practitioners can comply with the legislation on safeguarding. This includes considering the need for a criminal investigation when reporting and responding to abuse and neglect to ensure forensic evidence is not lost.

The guidance also states that it may not be appropriate, under section 42 of the Care Act, to make a safeguarding enquiry in cases where people are self-neglecting or failing to care for themselves.

Other key changes include:

  • Additional information in relation to financial abuse to reflect significant increases in internet, postal and doorstop scams and crime;
  • A more detailed explanation of the potential conflict of interest with advocacy providers;
  • Clearer guidance on arranging care and support in cross-border arrangements.
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