Social workers will be regulated by the government from 2018, under plans tabled by ministers.
A new government executive agency will replace the HCPC as the regulator for social workers in England, under regulations underpinning the Children and Social Work Bill.
The agency will be accountable to the education secretary and based in the Department for Education (DfE). It will be supported by the DfE and Department of Health with both departments sharing responsibility for social work policy.
The move will see the government introduce a new set of professional standards for social workers, more “challenging” CPD requirements, and a tougher approval regime for social work degree programmes. The agency will also oversee the fitness-to-practise system and introduce post-qualifying accreditation and career development pathways.
A chief executive for the new agency will be appointed next year. An expert reference group will also be set up to “help ensure the views of the sector are taken into account” when developing standards.
In a report outlining the plans, the government said it believes social work regulation “urgently needs” reform.
“We need to set credible standards which address evidence of failings in practice and set clear expectations of the profession,” the report said.
It added: “A distinct social work specific regulator will have the expertise and standards oriented approach essential to this drive for improvement.”
The move marks a shift from the current system, with the HCPC operationally and financially independent of government. The HCPC is also accountable to parliament rather than the government of the day.
Fears have been raised government-controlled regulation will see social work’s professional standards driven by short-term government policy agendas.
Ministers considered setting up a wholly independent social-work specific regulator but concluded it was better to “bring regulation closer to government” due to the need to reform and a desire to “effect change quickly”.
There will be sufficient checks and balances to make sure there is not “inappropriate political interference”, the government’s report said. Fitness-to-practise decisions will be kept at ‘arm’s length’ of ministers, it added.
After three years the arrangement will be reviewed to consider whether the regulator requires more independence.
The government has committed to meeting the set up costs of the new agency. Details of how much those set up costs will be, or how ongoing running costs will be met, have yet to be revealed.
However, the report said there were no plans to increase the £90 a year registration fee currently paid by social workers within the current spending review period, which ends in March 2020.
What the new body will do
- Publish new professional standards, aligning with the chief social workers’ knowledge and skills statements
- Set new standards for qualifying education and training, and reaccredit providers against these standards by 2020
- Maintain a single register of social workers, annotating it to denote specialist accreditations
- Set new social work specific CPD standards
- Oversee a robust and transparent fitness to practise system
- Approve post qualifying programmes and training in specialisms including Approved Mental Health Professionals and Best Interests Assessors
- Oversee the proposed new assessment and accreditation system for child and family social workers
- Oversee the required arrangements for succesfully completing the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE)
The Children and Social Work Bill is currently going through parliament. Labour has opposed the section of the bill outlining changes to social work regulation.