In our issue of 22 March sector leaders gave their views of social work in light of the General Social Care Council’s consultation on the roles of social workers. Here, Lauren Revans asks practitioners to respond.
The professional identity of social work has become increasingly blurred with the rise of multidisciplinary teams and service user empowerment. Fortunately, the Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills has commissioned the General Social Care Council to produce a statement describing the roles and tasks of social workers. This follows on from Options for Excellence.(1)
In March, the GSCC published a consultation paper to enable the sector to inform this work.(2) It promises that the resulting statement will help everyone understand what is expected of social work, and illustrate how it is best used and developed.
As well as running a competition to find the most insightful views on the profession, we asked front-line practitioners and managers from across the country to give the front-line perspective on six of the consultation’s 18 questions.
To respond to the consultation online, go to www.tribalgroup.co.uk/GSCC-consultation. The consultation closes on 12 June.
What does social work look like at its very best?
Gill Halden, team manager, children’s services, London
“Forward-thinking, rewarding and exciting. At its best, social work is the career that people want to know more about. At its worst, it is the career where we are blamed for everything that has gone wrong! Good social work will evidence the highest quality assessments and maximum involvement of service users and all involved professionals. It will demonstrate full commitment to diversity and making a real change to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society.”
Clea Barry, adoption social worker, Hackney Council
“For me, what sets social work apart is our values, and the best social work is when we embody those values. But you’ve also got to remember that, when you ask service users what sets apart the best social workers they have ever had, they tend to talk about people who offer practical help, do what they say they will and are honest. Not rocket science, but still much rarer than you would think.”
Which roles and tasks should be reserved for registered social workers?
Malcolm Jarman, assistant team manager, Weymouth and Portland Community Mental Health Team
“There are many varied roles across the spectrum of social work that should be reserved for registered social workers. In broad terms I see these as being related to specific tasks required through legislation, and complex casework and case planning. An obvious example is the role of the approved social worker.”
David Glover-Wright, team manager, family advice and support team, Milton Keynes Council
“Some might argue that the unqualified social care worker is just as capable as their qualified counterpart in undertaking process-driven tasks of care management, family support planning and assessment by eligibility criteria. But it is the theoretical understanding that informs these processes that makes the real difference. There are many complex social care scenarios that require intricate understanding of legislation coupled with the deployment of detailed risk analysis and analytical reflection.”
Barry: “I guess those are the jobs where you are really making decisions that will affect the course of someone’s life – taking away their liberty or their children, deciding where someone will live, or who they can see. But we don’t do any of these things in isolation, but in consultation with other professionals and often the courts.”
What roles and tasks should social workers not have to undertake?
Kathryn Hulme, mental health social worker, West Yorkshire
“Social workers should not have to take on the roles of purchasing services and assessing needs at the same time. Doing both tasks is ridiculous. One or the other is fine, but not both together. If you have to go on to purchase the services, you are compromised in your holistic assessment.”
Melanie Valentino, social worker for disabled children, south of England
“I don’t think we should be in charge of organising our paper files for auditing. I don’t think it should be our responsibility to input massive amounts of data into the system. For example, a child’s notes from a dental appointment or medical appointment. And it is not our job to do filing. Budgets are not our responsibility either. I didn’t train to work out the financial implications of care packages.”
How is the balance of power between social workers and the people using their services changing, and what further changes are likely?
Jarman: “This is an encouraging area. It only seems a few years ago that involving the users of services in the planning and delivery of services seemed an alien and unworkable concept. I detect a move from token consultation with ‘safe’ service users towards a more recognised and accepted partnership in the provision of services. We have a way to go, but we have to learn to share power appropriately in some of the less obvious, less comfortable areas.”
Glover-Wright: “Traditionalists would argue that the gulf between the social worker and the service user is wider than ever. The statutory sector social worker primarily assesses and determines whether a person is eligible for a service. Social workers rarely provide the service themselves, but commission others to do this.”
How is the social work role affected by membership of or outposting to multi-agency teams?
Valentino: “I work in a disabled children’s team. We work very closely with health colleagues. But they tend to just see the disability, not the child. We are trained to look at the child’s needs and take into account the wider impact these have on their lives. I am concerned we are going to be swallowed up by health. My relationship with individuals is quite good. But their training is different, and ultimately there are things where we won’t see eye to eye.”
Jarman: “For the past 15 years, I have worked away from the social services office, as part of a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary community mental health team. I have tended to see myself as less and less a part of the local authority, as on a day-to-day my working life is immersed within the culture and working practices of health. But the social work role within a busy CMHT remains as vital and integral as ever.”
Duncan Fairweather, emergency duty service team manager, Kirklees Council in Yorkshire
“We need to define and clarify the social work role more and ensure that we are not getting lost in someone else’s profession, and to ensure that we are not driven by other professions’ categories and understanding of risk. As a profession, we need to keep generic skills, we need to have insight into the bigger problems and we need to understand that the current state of society affects the people we deal with.”
How should more senior roles in social work be defined?
Hulme: “Sometimes it’s more about experience than qualifications, and sometimes it’s the other way round. Once you start on the management role, you lose the focus on the users. It worries me that after three years, you can become a manager for the next 30 years. You need a wealth of experience to be able to provide effective supervision – I would not want to be managed or supervised by a manager who hasn’t seen a client for 20 years.”
Glover-Wright: “It is vital that managers stay in touch with their practice roots and still use the skills that their practitioner colleagues deploy. Some social work managers can (and do) get lost in financial issues, where bureaucratic processes driven by arcane management systems take over their lives and transform their comprehension of the world into one of business objects and commodities. Milton Keynes Council has worked hard to develop pathways of progression from practitioner to manager via senior practitioner and deputy manager roles. Each level gives the worker an opportunity to try out new roles and responsibilities and establish their own individual development route.”
(1) Options for Excellence: Building the Social Care Workforce of the Future, Department of Health, October 2006
(2) Roles and Tasks of Social Work, GSCC, March 2007
So tell us what you think the role of social workers should be
Roles and tasks consultation – make sure you take part
This weeks other feature articles
Response to the GSCC survey by James Blewitt
A practice placement in South Africa: working with orphaned children, children with Aids…
Updating the 1999 carers’ strategy
Traumatised children: how story-telling can heal the pain
This article appeared in the 5 April issue under the headline “Social Work, as we see it…”