Integration may dilute identity

Lord Laming highlighted the serious problems affecting child and
family social work practice: the heavy workloads, the low morale
and the haemorrhaging of experienced staff from the front line.

The government, in response, outlined ambitious proposals for
system change and workforce reform in its green paper Every
Child Matters
. The question is, will the proposals solve the
problems or will they contribute to the demise of social work as a

The green paper suggests an integrated approach towards identifying
and meeting the needs of children through children’s trusts and
multidisciplinary teams. However, it is easy to recognise what
should be in place but not realise the difficulties in achieving

It is clear from the case reviews that follow child deaths that
effective multidisciplinary practice depends on each professional
having a clear understanding of their own role and area of
expertise, as well as that of others. If professionals work
together in more integrated services without this clear
understanding it is likely to lead to the development of
“quasi-professionals” who are trying to be all things to all
children and families, but meeting the needs of none.

The move to children’s trusts and multidisciplinary teams could
take child and family social workers out of organisations
specialising in social work practice. In this situation, how can
social work professionals maintain a sense of professional
identity? Some people think that professional identity relies on
credentials, expertise and autonomy. At least the changes to social
work education should improve social work’s status.

However, the new social work degree focuses on preparing newly
qualified practitioners to be competent in most areas of social
work practice. As a result newly qualified workers will have to
rely on post-qualifying training and supervision to assist them in
developing expert skills and in learning how to work autonomously
as specialist practitioners. Consequently, in the future, the role
of the supervisor will be even more crucial.

The green paper does not address the nature of supervision in the
integrated world of child welfare. Without the chance of continual
professional development through quality supervision, social
workers will not develop the skills and expertise to become
effective practitioners with their own sense of professional

Jan Horwath is senior lecturer in social work studies at
Sheffield University.

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