Children’s services directors and local government leaders oppose plans to bring social worker regulation under government control.
Ministers want a new government-controlled executive agency to replace the HCPC as social work’s regulator from 2018.
Under regulations underpinning the Children and Social Work Bill, the new body would be based in the Department for Education and accountable to the education secretary. The government said it would review the arrangement after three years to see if the regulator needed more independence.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said it was in favour of the decision to set up a social-work focused regulator but was “really against” the plan to have it run by government.
The Local Government Association said the new regulator “must have guaranteed independence” and lent its support to an amendment to the bill that would require this.
Dave Hill, ADCS president, told Community Care: “We think it ought to have independence. When you imagine an executive agency of government making judgments about individual social workers’ permission to practice, it seems to us a very odd position to find ourselves in.
“This may not happen in practice, but in theory it means [children’s minister] Edward Timpson, or [education secretary] Nicky Morgan or whoever is in the government at the time, could directly have a role to play in decisions about an individual social worker.
“Say there is a serious case review and someone was being critical of the social worker in that scenario. We just think it cries out for that to be arm’s length from the government.
“At the moment the government is saying ‘well it could be in the future but at the beginning we feel it ought to be an executive arm of the government’. We just don’t agree with that. We’ve said very clearly we don’t agree with that so nobody can accuse us of being two-faced about this, we think it’s a mistake.
“We welcome there being a bespoke registration body for social work, we think that’s a great idea. We just wish it would be once removed.”
In a briefing on the bill, the LGA backed an amendment tabled by peers that would require the regulator to be independent.
“The social work regulator must have guaranteed independence in order to balance the needs of the public; requirements set out by government; the interests of the profession; and the organisational requirements of employers,” the briefing said.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) has yet to announce its position on the proposal.
The new social work body will be tasked with overseeing accreditation of children’s social workers, developing a new set of professional standards for children’s and adult social workers, and redefining the requirements of social work courses.
The proposal for the regulator to be government-controlled has sparked concerns from social work bodies that the regulatory system underpinning the profession could be dictated by short-term political priorities. The British Association of Social Workers has called for the proposal to be scrapped.
Speaking at last week’s ADCS conference in Manchester, Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, acknowledged the proposals around regulation were controversial but said giving social work “a closer relationship” with government was necessary and offered an opportunity to get ministers to understand, invest in and promote the profession.
She said: “When push comes to shove it is the best chance all round to get us to a position of rebuilding public confidence in the social work profession. No matter how unfair you think it might be that this is the public narrative – that we need to get better – we are stuck with it until we do something about it.”
The Children and Social Work Bill is currently going through parliament.