Roles and tasks in need of fanfare

The government’s failure to publicly endorse the long-awaited statement on he roles and tasks of social workers, published last week, has drawn criticism from social care professionals involved in the process.

Amid widespread support for the content of the document, questions have been raised about the government’s failure to formally launch it, provide a ministerial foreword or produce a press release endorsing it.

This is despite the roles and tasks review being commissioned by the Department of Health and then Department for Education and Skills in October 2006 and its stated purposes including raising the status of the profession and increasing the confidence of the public in what it offers.

It is also widely acknowledged to be the first in-depth inquiry into the roles and tasks of social workers in England since the landmark publication of the 1982 Barclay Report.

The report was published last week on the General Social Care Council‘s website though as Community Care went to press there was no reference to it on the regulator’s homepage.

Reference group

The review was led by the GSCC, in conjunction with workforce development bodies the Children’s Workforce Development Council and Skills for Care, the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the Commission for Social Care Inspection, and informed by a reference group of professional bodies, user groups and other stakeholders.

Peter Beresford, chair of user group Shaping Our Lives, said it felt less like a launch than “an illicit attempt at burial”.

British Association of Social Workers chief executive Ian Johnston who, like Beresford, was a member of the reference group, said: “We are disappointed by the low-key launch.”

Fellow review group member Nick Johnson, chief executive of the Social Care Association, said the impact of the report on social care practice would not be dependent on government endorsement, though he added: “There’s still time for them to write a foreword on it.”

A DH spokesperson said: “We have agreed with the bodies who produced the report, that, given their collective responsibility for standards and delivery of social care and social work, they will also take responsibility for the appropriate publication of this report to stakeholders. The government acknowledges and recognises the value of this work and will use this to inform the development of workforce strategies for adults’ and children’s social care.”

This will be as part of the development of the DH’s Putting People First agenda for personalising adult social care through direct payments and individual budgets, and the 10-year Children’s Plan, launched last December by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Describing itself as a guide to “social work at its best”, the statement defines the profession as being “committed to enabling every child and adult to fulfil their potential”, working in partnership with them “whenever possible” and embodying values including equality and human rights.

It says employers “need to identify the situations where a registered, experienced social worker should always be involved”. These include where a child or vulnerable adult needs safeguarding from abuse, neglect or exploitation, and when a child or adult could cause significant harm to themselves or others.

Acting as brokers

It says these roles require several tasks, including acting as a broker to obtain support for people “through creative use of all available resources” and “arranging good-quality alternative care for children whose parents cannot care for them”.

But it says some of these tasks “can be shared with or delegated to” other social care staff under social work supervision.

Among its stronger statements is that to ensure good practice, “employers must provide social workers with good quality supervision, realistic workloads, access to learning support and continuing development, enabling IT and management systems and a suitable working environment”.

GSCC chief executive Mike Wardle said: “The study responds to the desire of social workers to spend more of their time in face-to-face work with the people who need their help and support. It reflects the views of people who use services that they want the support of social workers.”

Nick Johnson added: “I thought it was a really accessible piece of writing. At 18 pages, it’s a document that can be used by a school or a further education college to find out about social work.”

Johnson said there were really strong messages about “leadership and management”.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said the statement was “built on a robust consensus about the things that matter in social work today”.

BASW also backed the statement, saying it laid out how social work could “contribute to the new and emerging integrated and specialist agendas for the delivery of services to adults, children, families and carers”.

  Other social work reviews in the United Kingdom
The review of social work in England followed related exercises in Wales
and Scotland, and precedes a similar review in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland:
The Northern Ireland Social Care Council was commissioned in January by the country’s chief social services officer, Paul Martin, to carry out a review into the roles and tasks of social work.

The 21st Century Review of Social Work in Scotland reported in February 2006. Key recommendations taken up by the Scottish executive included more autonomy for social workers in decision-making and the
introduction of a layer of “paraprofessionals” to support and freeup
social workers.

The executive then produced a five-year action plan, in June 2008, overseen by a crossdepartmental ministerial group, with initial funding worth £15m over two years. The executive has a website bringing together
all the information on the change programme.

Work this year includes guidance on the role of the chief social work officer and governance arrangements to enable professionals to “deliver services in an innovative, responsible and accountable way”.

In August 2005 a group led by the Association of Directors of Social Services Wales produced Social Work in Wales: A Profession to Value, a report on the recruitment and retention of social workers in Wales.

It urged Welsh councils to collaborate rather than compete in the recruitment of social workers, for pay levels at authorities to increase to the levels of the best payers, and for all councils to have senior practitioner posts, with clear routes of progression to this. In September 2006, author
Tony Garthwaite, director of social services at Bridgend Council, reported that many councils had responded by increasing pay.


  • October 2006
    Government review of social care workforce in England, Options for Excellence reports. On the back of this, the DH and then DfES commission General Social Care Council to produce statement on the roles and tasks of social work.

  • March 2007
    GSCC produces consultation paper on roles and tasks of social work. It includes statements such as: “The social work role may be misused where
    the state fails to provide adequate resources to meet the needs of individuals and families in accordance with legislation and policy, and expects social work to be the acceptable face of service refusal.”

  • October 2007
    Draft statement circulated for discussion at the National Children and Adult
    Services Conference. Some claim original consultation paper has been “watered down” and draft statement is “wet and woolly”.

  • March 2008
    Social Work at its Best: A Statement of Social Work Roles and Tasks for the 21st Century published, though without public government endorsement. It is very similar to October 2007 draft.

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    Mithran Samuel


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