Chief social workers: Closer link with government will benefit profession

Lyn Romeo and Isabelle Trowler explain why they feel bringing social work regulation closer to government is the right model

Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker children and Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults
By Lyn Romeo and Isabelle Trowler

With all that has happened in the past week, it’s easy to forget that policy making never really stops. As chief social workers, we are as committed as ever to improving the lives of children and adults and the social work profession as a whole.

The Children and Social Work Bill continues to move forward. It is a wide-ranging bill that will allow the provision of greater support to young people in care. It will also make clear the duties of the local authority and extend the offer of support from a personal adviser to all care leavers up to age 25.

Today, however, we would like to talk about the second part of the bill, containing the clauses allowing government to legislate for a new regulatory body for all social workers.

We suspect that this will be the headline proposal for many social workers, and that since it was first announced by the education secretary in January, lots of people across the profession have had questions.

This week, the health and education departments published a policy statement on the regulation of social workers, alongside a set of indicative regulations, which set out how the new arrangements will work.

This is the first time we have been in a position to offer this level of detail and we would like to help explain what the new regulator will mean for the profession.

Committed to one profession

The first thing we should make clear is that the regulator will be for the whole of the profession across England. We are firmly committed to maintaining a single social work profession with a single standard of qualification enabling registration.

Of course, like many people in the profession, we know that different parts of the profession face different challenges. Ensuring that mainstream qualifying programmes are well placed to respond to the challenges that social work faces in delivering best life chances for all, as well as supporting programmes like Frontline and Think Ahead, is essential to addressing those challenges.

But getting the new regulator right is about much more than initial training. We need both initial and post qualification standards of professional practice and a robust system of regulation which secures the highest levels of practice, including the development of career pathways in specialist areas of practice.

A closer relationship with government

The policy statement confirms that government will initially establish the new regulator as an executive agency. It will be jointly supported by both the Department of Health and Department for Education.

We know that this closer relationship with government will cause some concern but believe that this is the right model to deliver the changes that we all want to see as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Government has recognised the concerns by committing to reviewing the arrangements after three years, to consider whether the regulator should be moved to a more independent footing.

The government wants and is committed to working in partnership with the sector and the profession. This is an opportunity for social workers to influence and shape the standards and regulatory approach that are right for the profession, and most importantly, right for the people we serve.

Opportunity for debate

There will be plenty of opportunity for debate. The policy statement makes firm commitments to engage with the sector and consult on proposals to ensure that new standards are developed in partnership with the profession – and we are very keen that as many people as possible contribute towards establishing the regulatory regime that the profession deserves.

It is important for us to remember that many social workers carry out statutory functions on behalf of the state – we make decisions that can lead to the temporary or long-term removal of children from their families or to the deprivation of liberty, including compulsory admission to hospital under the mental health act.

The government relies upon social workers to do these things and to do them well. Given the importance of what we do, the opportunity to have government having a stake in the standards expected of us, supports how vital and valued our work is.

Our profession is based on the values of respect and dignity for all, commitment to equality and fairness and working to improve life chances and well-being for everyone, so social justice is at its heart.  We believe it is our role to ensure, with practitioners, academics and employers that this remains at the heart of excellent social work practice.

Fitness to practise

While there will be changes, things will not change for change’s sake. With fitness to practise, we expect the broad framework to stay much the same, although there will be improvements. We want to hear from the sector on the operation of the current framework and we will also be incorporating improvements recommended by the Law Commission, in its recent review of regulation.

Social work offences, the subject of much debate when the bill was first published, will also remain broadly the same.

It has been suggested that social workers who fail to meet the new professional standards will be prosecuted. This will absolutely not be the case. The title of social worker will remain protected; meaning that only those who are properly qualified and registered can call themselves social workers. False representation to being registered or to entries in the register or qualifications will also continue to be offences.

It is here – in relation to false representation – that the offence provisions will be slightly extended to include those who falsely represent having undertaken a course of education or training relevant to social work. This is a small but important change that will provide further reassurance that social workers have the necessary competence and skills, particularly in relation to their specialisms.

It’s impossible to cover the full breadth of the new regulator in so few words. That’s why the policy statement was published and we would encourage you to read it and to engage through the various opportunities for engagement and dialogue in the coming months.

We will, of course, continue to engage as much as we can through events and visits, and look forward to working with you in the formation of a new, dedicated regulator for social workers.

Lyn Romeo is the chief social worker for adults. Isabelle Trowler is the chief social worker for children.

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13 Responses to Chief social workers: Closer link with government will benefit profession

  1. Nick Johnson July 1, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    But they would say that – they are part of the government – I think we need to focus less on regulation and more on the content and quality of professional practice which will happen best in local authorities and networked communities – this will be of greater benefit to the people we serve.

  2. Northern poorhouse July 1, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Calling the bill children and social work and moving responsibilities to the dept of education has been a big mistake. If you want a social work bill and regulator then call it that and make sure adults social work is included and respected. It does it feel like this at the moment.

  3. Anita Singh July 1, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    The Chief Social Workers talk about the standards of professional practice and a robust system of regulation which secures the highest levels of practise, but mention nothing about the impact of excessive caseloads on good practise. It is high time that regulatory bodies started to issue policy statements and clear directives on Local Authorities who consistently overload their social workers. Little has been done to resolve the matter and the problem has been dragging on for years. Ofsted has only very recently begun to acknowledge it as an issue that is prevalent in Local Authorities where they have found practice to be poor. Even when LA’s have been able to deliver good practise and still overload their social workers, most of the time it is because of the huge number of hours that social workers are putting in to get the job done and most services run on the good will of staff. So how is a government led regulator going to act to address the overload? Why has Isabelle Trowler never referred to it when talking about the standards of practise and improving it, particularly in Child Protection and Children in Need? This goes hand-in-hand and what the government led regulator does about it remains to be seen…..

  4. David Gaylard July 1, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    I’m afraid that I don’t share our chief social workers’ optimism. Adult social work again appears marginalised in these reforms.

    Professional independence and autonomy remain central principles for compassionate practice ,otherwise, the future of our professional integrity will be severely compromised

  5. Phil Sanderson July 1, 2016 at 8:25 pm #

    I am afraid that the chiefs do not speak up on issues like workload because they support the cuts to public services. Trowler will never criticise a single thing the tories do she is there purely to promote the government agenda. They are trying to permenantly dismantle radical ideas in social work and help the tories bury the welfare state once and for all

  6. Nanbar July 1, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    Isabelle Trowler and Lyn Romeo are not Chief Social Workers, the are civil servants, government advisors. Given the current political turmoil and the victimisation of vulnerable groups they are advocating greater control over social workers.
    These women do not address, poor government policy (of all political shades), constant interference, poor senior management, excessive caseloads and poor organisational training. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve standards in the profession but this is about controlling the profession and I am seriously appalled
    at the roles theses two women are playing in promoting this legislation. No other profession would agree to government regulation that will limit the capacity to object to policies if they are not working for the benefit of the population
    We have seen how politicians have used imagery and language recently for their own political ends. The bill proposes criminalising social workers and allowing LAs to get out of certain statutory duties to children in certain circumstances. The role of the IRO in children’s work can be reduced or removed. How can you call your self a social worker and support the privatisation of children’s services and the reduction of protections for vulnerable children. If we do not fight this legislation, then the analogy I would uses is ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ . Look at past child protection tragedies governments threw social workers under the bus after being prompted to do so by newspapers and their editors. We are being conned on a legendary scale by individuals who do not have our best interests or those of service users at heart.
    I am sure colleagues who work with adults can also provide examples too. We are at a critical time and decisions taken now will impact on the wellbeing of thousands of people.
    I am currently reading ‘The Poverty Industry’ The Exploitation of America’s Vunerable Citizens (old and young) by Daniel L Hatcher. Remember this current government has attempted to privatise services significantly despite evidence there are major problems with the model Winterbourne, G4S ETC.

  7. Stuart July 2, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    Party line and platitudes. Remind me someone, what exactly was wrong with the GSCC?

  8. Richard Leighton July 3, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Government is “committing to reviewing the arrangements after three years, to consider whether the regulator should be moved to a more independent footing”, hasn’t government done enough meddling in the management of social work? We have seen the ‘bonfire of the Quangos’ and demise of the TCoSW because successive governments have reprioritised their views on the direction that social work must travel. Why should we trust their judgement, this time? The disturbing message is “whether” the regulator should move towards independence, NOT that it WILL move to become independent of government meddling.

    Romeo and Trowler speak of a government committed to partnership with the social work profession but instead we see a government bent of imposing its will and, at best coercing a profession into change. Change that it on their terms and not necessarily in the best interests of those in need or the profession. Social work has suffered at the hands of ‘knee-jerk’, ideological reactions to societal catastrophes, by uninvested politicians. The politicians have made political capital by laying much blame on a ‘broken’ social work system and poorly trained/managed practitioners. The politicians, supported by their political appointees, in the shape of the two CSWs, have been quick to tweak the regulatory system and bring in confining barriers to stymie the practice of qualified social workers, rather than reviewing the systemic failures that have led to preventable calamities, crises and chaos. Much of ‘mess’ that social workers have to minister to, on a daily basis, is brought about through short-termist political interference and micro-management of a complex and demanding profession.

    It is the role of politicians to determine their ideological path and to bring the electorate along with them. Then it is the role of the wining party(ies) to form a government that will set a strategic plan for the achievement of those aspirations and the BENEFIT of the country, as a whole. We have lost sight of the role of parliament, which is to determine how the aspirations of that strategic plan can best meet the needs of the population, within the resources available to the country. We have misplaced the skills of parliamentary governance through an addiction to prime ministerial celebrity. Thatcher embodied this, Cabinet has her mouthpiece, rather than parliament. Major, Blair, Brown & Cameron have continued this legacy but do not be fooled that Thatcher began this steady slide to prime ministerial autocracy, the momentum was built up among her forebears.

    This pitiful article speaks of the opportunities for debate and commitment to engagement but only recently we have seen how the Health Secretary has engaged with and committed to debate with junior doctors. It was not until the health service was severely effected by strike action that Hunt was shamed into reentering negotiations and settlement found. Can social work wield the same power shown by stoical junior doctors? No, neither does the profession carry the same level of public support and defence as that held by our doctors and the health service. Any negotiation and debate is likely to be conducted in an atmosphere of significant governmental power and authority. Change will be imposed, as change has been in the past.

    Cameron and his successor will, no doubt, continue the ‘presidential’ manner of government that we have seen develop over decades. But, if we are to see the growth of social justice, social mobility, sustainable financial, economic and social policy in the newly emerging Britain, we MUST see a return to parliamentary democracy. The power and strength of all-party policy committees and consensus politics must be realised among those who are elected to represent us.

    Without a return to consensus politics, any move towards government oversight of social work is doomed to revisit the mistakes of the past and the politicisation of a profession that was born of the need to challenge political dogma, a profession charged with fighting against the oppression of overly bureaucratic systems, to promote and defend the voiceless and the powerless.

    Sadly Romeo and Trowler do little to extol faith in these fatuous ‘tweaks’ to system. Worse still, together they do little to support a profession feeling woefully under represented and negligibly supported.

  9. Dave July 6, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    I have an idea! Why don’t we have a College of Social Work and transfer the registration of Social Workers from the HCPC to the Social Work College which would underwrite in part (or possibly in full) the on going funding of the college. We could then regulate our own profession as Doctors and Nurses do and that seems to work for them.

    Social Work is about working with some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society and advocating for them. I’m not sure moving to a closer relationship with the government who imposes the policies that often exasperates these disadvantages is where Social Work should be heading.

    Plus the track record of MPs and government officials being openly hostile to Social Work when thing go wrong and the constant belief that Social Worker involvement should guarantee children won’t be harmed suggests that there is little understanding in government about what Social Work is and can be expected to do.

    The child protection system on the UK is one of the best in the world. No matter how hard we work (and we do), how well we are educated (and we are) and even if we are accredited or not we are never going to stop all children being harmed, exploited or sadly killed. The police don’t manage to do this neither to health colleagues but interestingly they don’t receive the same criticism and blame as Social Work does from the government.

    Government regulator of Social Work….I don’t think so!

  10. Mary Harris July 6, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

    I wonder who the two chief Social Workers are working for ??clearly from where I am standing, not for Social Workers. I fail to see how having the government involved will help our profession. The same government that would support Social Workers facing jail are the same government that wants to be involved….very worrying because the policy makers do not have a clue about the role of a Social Worker and the amount of pressure that the job comes with. I get the job will always bring different pressure and rightly so when working with families and people, however, the same people deciding what’s best for use should first of all look at the caseloads that Social workers carry. Maybe address the most important things from the grass roots ..understand the profession and what it stands for, sell it in a positive way to the public, then deal with trying to governs us. Whoever governs us should be a body that is purely in favour of Social Workers…( working for Social Workers pure and simply). Social Work is not a political party, so why do we need politicians support.

  11. john-paul king July 17, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

    I have no problem with ensuring social workers meet professional standards and that the profession should have robust structures to ensure inappropriate individuals do not become qualified social workers or remain in the profession. Yet I think there needs to be some reciprocation here. There should be a statutory duty of care placed on employers – i.e. that is access to appropriate training is mandatory – and all social workers should be able to get on at least one course a year at a Higher Ed institution outside of their employing organisation and in addition to internal training courses; caseloads should be manageable and safe – i.e. a contractual promise that an individual’s caseload will not exceed a service agreed maximum. Improved pay – and I wouldn’t say no to performance related pay either. However I do believe we have to change public expectation of social work with legal sanctions for service users who mistreat or abuse social workers and allied staff.

  12. LongtimeSW July 18, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    They should both hang thier heads in shame in being selective about the focus of the argument – as with all the commentator’s above, I believe Ms Trowler and Romeo have compromised any validity to thier argument by not including or commenting on the impact of current Social Policy on this profession.

    Such evidence to support thier arguments would not get past an Initial Hearing if presented to a Court as it is incomplete and biased.

    Ms Trowler and Ms Romeo – the hearing is adjourned so that you take the opportunity to review your evidence before your Court of Peers who you seem determined to judge so harshly (at the behest of others, granted), – ‘judge not lest ye be judged’!

  13. Joe Z Mairura July 29, 2016 at 2:56 am #

    No, Closer link with the government will not benefit the profession

    This is a misguided and fallacious suggestion. How can it? What is the nature of this link ?

    What benefit ? in fact it is a sure way to the demise of a profession,that seems for some mysterious reason to instill so much fear in government that it feels necessary control and regulate and decide how we are educated and trained

    Show me a single profession in this country that is regulated directly by government.

    All the other professions carry out and implement government policy but they are NOT regulated by Government- what is the nature of their ” links with government”- they are still independent professions governed by a Code of Conduct and very much independent of government

    i could go on.

    Lyn and Isabelle I don’t know what world you inhabit.. but please give us some credence and regard, we are not devoid of intelligence.

    Wake up and smell the coffee!