The principal social worker role has “failed spectacularly” in children’s services and could “disappear” in the next year, a leading expert has said.
Tony Stanley, chief social worker at Birmingham council and a former principal social worker, said the PSW role in children’s services was weak and at risk of being weakened further as local council budgets shrink.
He said: “I think organisations will say ‘You aren’t able to enlarge your offer to the system, you are additional to what we are doing’; and that’s a problem.”
Stanley said the adults’ PSW role was better defined and the inclusion of it in statutory guidance underpinning the Care Act 2014 had helped this group be more effective in articulating their importance to the system.
Speaking last week at Frontline’s Consultant Social Work Conference, Stanley told social workers that children’s PSWs had been “pulled in every direction” since the role was recommended in Eileen Munro’s 2011 review of child protection.
He said PSWs had become entangled in a debate about what the role involved for too long.
“We need to move away from a debate about who does what, because all the time we’re debating this the PSW is caught up in a squabble about what they do and how they do it,” he said
“Unless PSWs say ‘We are important’, as adults’ social care are beginning to do, then [the role in] children and families will disappear off our landscape I think in the next 12-18 months.”
Stanley said PSWs were “fantastic” and trying their best. But he claimed, as a network, children’s PSWs had failed to have a national impact by debating key topics and making public comment on social issues.
“I think that the PSW promise [was] to understand the architecture, understand the system’s architecture and make comment about where that was weaker and where that was stronger,” Stanley said.
He added it became clear “after the first year” this would not happen, as PSWs were being tasked with a range of different things by local authorities, which prevented them from focusing on the role as it was intended.
He said some councils were still failing to carry out social work health checks, a key recommendation of the Social Work Reform Board, which ran from 2010-13 and whose role was to drive improvements in the profession.
“I think that’s a key role of the PSW, [without it] how on earth are we able to marshal an argument about the culture of our workplace, about the experience of our practitioners?” Stanley said.