Will new review remodel social work in light of impact of personalised budgets?

After the lack of social work focus in Options for Excellence another review is launched. Simeon Brody canvases opinions on the future roles in social work

Just two pages dedicated to the future role of social workers is not a healthy return on the year invested in the Options for Excellence social care workforce review. The review report talks broadly about “remodelling” social workers’ role to improve outcomes for services users but is short on detail.

A concrete plan that does feature is for the General Social Care Council, along with other agencies, to carry out a review early next year into the future role and tasks of social workers in England, which will be followed by a consultation.

The widespread roll out of direct payments and individual budgets is expected to have a big impact on the future role of social workers.

Last year’s social care adult green paper has already introduced the idea of social workers as “care navigators”, helping service users to choose how to spend their budgets.

But the role will need to have more detailed about what social workers will be expected to do.

Richard Banks, head of workforce development at Skills for Care, which will contribute to the GSCC review, says that in terms of “values and intent” – working alongside individuals and helping to direct support to them – future social work will be similar to that of today but the processes and the skills required will be different as budgets move into the hands of service users.

British Association of Social Workers professional officer Bridget Robb says in future a social work service could be bought in by individuals to help them make decisions about suitable support.

She says social workers may also continue to play a role on behalf of a local authority in assessing service users’ need for support.

“Some of these are complex decisions to make and we would expect social workers to be involved in those decisions,” she says.

But the range of services available is often complicated and Robb says that when people are in difficult situations they will still need someone to help them work their way through the system.

John Knight, head of policy at disability charity Leonard Cheshire, says he would be sorry if that social work “friend at court” role is lost. But he says the main social work role will be one of helping people to understand their own needs.

He is concerned however, that social workers will be reluctant to take on the role of advising people which services to choose, because of issues of liability and indemnity. He believes the role could be more suited to a fair trading adviser.

Defining the future of social work will be a balancing act. Knight says it is important the old values are not lost but the profession must be flexible enough to adapt to the growing power of service users. But he adds: “The social work pr ofession is strong, flexible and principled enough to do that.”

The next review
Other issues which could be addressed by the GSCC-led social work review (which will cover England):

● Effects of the GP-style social care practices proposed in the children in care green paper.
● How to build career progression without necessarily losing contact with front-line work.
● How to make the best use of social workers’ expertise and what should be delegated to others.

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