Which way now?

How the social care workforce develops is an issue that concerns practitioners, policymakers and service users. As children’s and adults’ services separate, how will practitioners’ roles change?

It is a subject to which Liam Hughes, chief executive of East Leeds Primary Care Trust and the former director of social services at Bradford Council, has given much thought. He says the changes affecting the social care workforce are exciting, but still at “an early, exploratory stage”.

In particular, Hughes highlights the new professional areas developing around early years child care and the child care curriculum for older children as ones to watch out for. In his view, Skills for Care and the Children’s Workforce Development Council have both picked up on the changing realities of services provided by social care, education and health organisations.

Paul Ennals Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, says changes in children’s social care have been happening for some time. “In the past 10 years there has been a flowering of new roles, especially in prevention and early intervention,” he says.

New roles are developing that would have fallen into the social work remit in the past, says Ennals, who also chairs the Children’s Workforce Network, an umbrella group representing organisations such as the Children’s Workforce Development Council and Skills for Health.

But it isn’t just in children’s services that roles are developing. Wherever the changes are taking place it is vital that practitioners remain qualified and competent, including those in hybrid or crossover roles covering two disciplines. Lynne Berry, chief executive of the General Social Care Council  says: “We want people who are skilled in their own areas of expertise, confident about that expertise and can deliver services in a common and integrated framework.”

For its part, the government is tracking the changes in the social care workforce. Last summer, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills launched a joint review, Options for Excellence. The GSCC is tasked with improving the quality of social care practice and increasing the supply of qualified social workers and social care staff in England.

Berry says the review seeks to define the role of social work in terms of looking at what is unique about the profession and considering what training is needed. Inspiration for this may be Lynne Berryderived in part from Scotland’s recent experience. In November last year, the 21st Century Social Work Review reported its findings. The Scottish executive is expected to give its formal response later this month. 

One of the review’s conclusions was that social work services alone cannot deliver the outcomes that society and the government want. Willy Roe, chair of the review, says: “We need more joined-up approaches to addressing major social need.”

Although social services and social workers should be at the heart of this approach, Roe says there is a need to  develop much greater diversity of roles.

As the social work and social care workforce develops, so will the available career paths. Hughes argues for the creation of a properly developed comprehensive career structure so that professionals can move into different areas of social care provision.

He says: “A climbing-frame approach would allow workers at different stages to make small changes to their careers and move sideways across the field.”

For Roe, Scotland could make better use of the scarce but valuable skills that qualified practitioners of whatever discipline have. “I want to see front-line staff trained, freed and supported to practise with professional autonomy, within clear definitions of accountability.”

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