Reforms introduced on the back of the Social Work Task Force’s final report must not neglect the specific needs of practitioners in adults’ services and mental health, experts have warned.
Prof Jill Manthorpe, director of the social work research unit at King’s College London, warned that the taskforce report “has done little more than acknowledge” the uncertainties regarding the role of adult social workers.
The taskforce’s report and recommendations are targeted at social work in general rather than specific professional groups.
Manthorpe’s comments reflect longstanding concerns about the changing role of adults’ social workers as councils roll out the personalisation agenda in England.
Earlier this year, British Association of Social Workers professional officer Ruth Cartwright raised concerns that councils were cutting social worker numbers because they were “too expensive” for the personalisation era.
Several authorities have split up the traditional care management role, passing some tasks to non-qualified practitioners and leaving social workers to manage complex and safeguarding cases.
Cartwright said this could lead to adults’ services being deskilled and that the taskforce could be the “last chance to save social work with adults”.
Four key roles
Manthorpe added: “It is vital that the process of [social work] reform addresses the many changes already happening in social work with adults.”
This laid out four key roles for them: working with community groups to build social capital; supporting individuals to take control of their care and support; intensive case management for people with long-term needs; and safeguarding.
A final statement has yet to be published.
Meanwhile, the Social Care Strategic Network for Mental Health, which promotes the role of social workers in integrated mental health settings, warned that the focus on child protection since the baby Peter Connelly case should not distract from the needs of mental health practitioners.
It pointed out that mental health social workers often worked in non-social work settings, notably the NHS, and were seeking “recognition and equitable opportunities within their profession and day-to-day work contexts”.
Network chair Hari Sewell said: “Mental health social workers risk burn-out while their needs are put on the back burner. Attention is needed now.”