A cohesive identity

Social care workforce training was given a significant boost last
week when it emerged that the organisation responsible for it, the
Topss UK Partnership, was to become a sector skills council. When
it takes effect next April, Skills for Care should make it easier
to develop strategies for identifying and meeting skills needs
across social care and to argue the case to government for better

All this builds on the important work already done by Topss in
laying the foundations for training 1.4 million social care
workers. But, in another sense, the stakes will be even higher for
Skills for Care than they are for Topss. Skills for Care, unlike
Topss in its existing form, will be responsible for the entire
workforce, including a range of auxiliary staff working in care
settings. As Topss itself says, it will be easier to pass on to
these groups the “values and needs specific to social care”.

The idea of a cohesive social care workforce with a common set of
values and a specific set of needs is very attractive. It was an
idea that the health secretary John Reid may have had in mind when
he mentioned values 34 times in his otherwise vacuous speech to the
National Social Services Conference last month. Social care is
increasingly criss-crossed with fault lines – between health,
social services and education, between the statutory, voluntary and
private sectors, and between adults’ and children’s services – and
a strong social care identity that transcends these boundaries is

Yet, if proposals in the children’s green paper ever get off the
drawing board, this imperative will be ignored. It recommends that
the children and families workforce should have its own sector
skills council, which risks wrecking the aspirations of social care
to a single, clear professional identity. Much better would be to
extend Topss’ existing geographical federal structure to client
groups. Skills for Care would then be the only sector skills
council, though it would have adults’ and children’s divisions each
with a degree of autonomy. It would be a pity if, having won its
own sector skills council at last, social care itself were to lose
the name of profession.

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