Practitioners say reform board report lacks teeth

Practitioners are questioning the lack of sanctions for employers who fail to meet the Social Work Reform Board’s recommendations to improve working conditions.

The British Association of Social Workers said the draft framework for better supervision and standards for employers on support for practitioners “are without any real teeth” and would not lead to improvements on the frontline.

The framework includes proposed entitlements such as 90 minutes of regular, uninterrupted supervision for all social workers; annual “health checks” to assess team working environments; “transparent” caseload management systems; effective whistleblowing systems; and a lead social worker appointed to oversee implementation of the standards in every agency.

But users of Community Care’s CareSpace forum questioned the voluntary status of the standards, and BASW reacted angrily to the “extremely disappointing” proposals.

One CareSpace user, Shirack, wrote: “What are the sanctions should the employers be unable to fulfil obligations? I worked for an authority who stated similar supervision intentions that they could not keep and that was before the cuts.”

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW, which represents 13,000 social workers across the UK, attacked the proposals for lacking “conviction and any power to ensure higher standards are met”.

He added: “The recommendations to raise employer standards in the report are essential but there is no mechanism for enforcing them, so how will they be implemented?

“It is extremely disappointing that the profession has waited a year for a report without any real teeth that offers social workers no more support or protection than they receive already.”

The viewpoint was backed by Helga Pile, national officer for social care at Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers in the UK.

Pile said the union was “very concerned that employers are only being encouraged to take up these reforms on a voluntary basis”.

The reform board’s report states that the standards should inform revised inspection frameworks for public services in future, but there are no proposals to force employers to implement them at present.

The final report of the Social Work Task Force said: “If, in due course, voluntary adoption of the standard does not lead to tangible improvement in the practical and professional resources available to frontline social workers, the government should give consideration to direct intervention in statutory agencies falling short of the standard.”

The reform board’s proposals remain “a work in progress”, to be developed during a consultation period. Anyone interested in commenting on the proposals should email the reform board, ask their representative organisations to submit them on their behalf, or visit the reform board’s website for more details.

What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace

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Read our special report on what the Social Work Reform Board proposals means for the profession’s future. Includes podcast with reform board chair Moira Gibb.

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