‘UK social workers have most responsibility in Europe’

Children’s social workers in England have more responsibility and a wider remit than many of their European counterparts, according to a report published today.

The report by the Thomas Coram Research Unit drew on two studies of work with children and families in countries such as Denmark, France and Germany.

It found that, while social workers in England were in charge of case management and direct contact with families, in many European countries these responsibilities were split between several highly trained professionals.

Call for revamp

Professor June Statham, one of the report’s authors, has called for a fundamental reassessment of what social workers can and should be expected to do.

“Debate tends to focus on the best split between case management and face-to-face time with families,” she said. “But a better question to ask might be ‘Is it reasonable to expect social workers in England to do a job that is shared among members of multi-professional graduate teams in other European countries?'”

The report also found that, in Denmark, Germany and France, most direct work with children and families is undertaken by professionals highly qualified in therapeutic and direct work, working with social workers.

Support staff

However, in England, this type of work is mostly done by support staff, such as social work assistants, family support workers and sessional workers, many of whom have no specialist qualifications.

In addition, the report found child psychologists in the UK usually work in separate child and adolescent mental health services and educational psychology teams, whereas in Europe they are routinely based within multi-disciplinary social services teams.

“We should consider different ways of organising the core tasks of social work and the professionals who provide them,” said Sharon Witherspoon, deputy director at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the report. “There is growing evidence that having specialist professionals working alongside social workers could help deliver a better service for children and families.”

Read the full report

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