The new boss of the General Social Care Council said social work was “on the verge of a renaissance” after a proposed national college won the backing of the regulator and almost all delegates at its annual conference yesterday.
Acting chief executive Paul Snell said the government-appointed Social Work Task Force, due to issue its final report next month with recommendations to improve the profession in England, represented a “once in a generation opportunity” for reform.
Snell spoke of a “huge buzz” around the conference in London, adding: “It’s a great opportunity for social work to get back onto the agenda. That means a strong professional identity, strong professional leadership, and effective professional regulation. There’s a once in a generation opportunity to get this right and we are seeing enough energy and enthusiasm to do that.”
GSCC chair Rosie Varley reiterated her support for the creation of a national college of social work, recommended by the taskforce earlier this year with a proposed remit to raise standards, lead policy debates and speak to the media on behalf of the profession.
Social workers ‘need champion’
She said the new body should work alongside the GSCC in its role as social work regulator and public protector, adding: “Social workers need a strong national body to represent you, to champion your successes and address misconceptions in the public and media.”
Varley added that the profession “suffered enormously” during the media backlash in the wake of the Peter Connelly case “because there wasn’t a strong professional body”.
Asked whether they supported the national college proposal, the vast majority of the audience, who numbered around 150, raised their hands.
Concern over membership fees
A social worker from the audience asked whether professionals would be expected to pay three separate membership fees for the college, the British Association of Social Workers and a trade union.
BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson, who is firmly in support of a national college, replied: “The brutal reality is that if you want to own the college, you have to pay for it.”
In an earlier session, one of the vice-chairs of the taskforce, Andrew Webb, said social workers had responded to a taskforce questionnaire about the national college by rating its possible functions in order of importance.
Training not pay
Most practitioners wanted it to focus on training and qualifications, professional standards, and becoming the public face of social work, according to Webb, director of children’s services at Stockport Council.
Lobbying on pay and conditions was seen as the least important.