What every social work student needs to know in 2011/2012

Sarah Matthews, staff tutor in social work at the Open University, outlines the key issues students will need to know about in the coming academic year

Recent years have seen the social work sector under closer scrutiny than ever and a host of reforms proposed for the profession. Sarah Matthews, staff tutor in social work at The Open University, outlines her top 11 areas for social work students to watch in this academic year.

1. Changes to the regulation of social work

Next year, the General Social Care Council (GSCC) – the current regulatory body for the social work profession and social work education in England – will be abolished. This change was announced in 2010 as part of the government’s plans to reduce the number of quangos currently operating in the UK and was, according to the government, in line with the wider reforms set out in the health White Paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS.

Social work will continue be a registered profession but how social work programmes are regulated will change.

While many of the former functions of the GSCC will be passed to the Health Professions Council (or the Health and Care Professions Council, as it may be renamed), it is likely that quality issues in relation to social work education will be led by the new College of Social Work once it is up and running.

Regulatory bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will remain unchanged 

2. The College of Social Work

In late 2009, the Social Work Task Force – created the year before to help improve the social work profession’s quality and status and boost recruitment and retention – called for the creation of an independent organisation to represent and support the social work profession. That organisation is the College of Social Work, which is now well on its way to being established.

The role of the College of Social Work, in addition to being responsible for quality of social work programmes, will be to promote high professional standards and represent social work at a national level. 

3. The Social Work Reform Board

The Social Work Reform Board was established in 2010 to take forward the proposals of the Social Work Task Force.

The Board brings together key organisations involved in the education and training of social workers, their employers and managers and service users and will support the sector to achieve sustainable long-term reform. The emphasis of the reforms are developing a system of high quality social workers and an environment  in which social workers have the confidence of the public.

In December 2010, the Reform Board published Building a safe and confident future: One year on. The document sets out proposals for the reform of social work and the Board recently sought feedback from organisations and individuals on its suggestions.

There were a great many responses, which confirmed the sector’s commitment to the proposals and getting them right, and the feedback is currently being collated and analysed. The latest proposals are available on the Board’s website.

Likely impacts of reforms on education include: changes to the calibre of entrants to social work programmes; possible changes to the curriculum (including practice learning arrangements); and suggested partnerships between employers and social work education providers. These changes are expected to be in place for the 2013/14 academic year.

4. Professional Capabilities Framework in England

In its final report, Building a safe, confident future, the Social Work Task Force said that, to raise standards in the social work profession, it is vital to develop the capacity and improve the skills of all social workers. The Task Force recommended a more coherent and effective national framework for the continuing professional development of social workers. It also pushed for mechanisms to encourage a shift in culture to raise the expectations of social workers that they should have an entitlement to ongoing learning and development.

The proposed framework for continuous professional developmentis based on the principles that it should:

* Be owned, maintained and used by the profession, and applicable to higher education and employers
* Be cost effective, feasible and sustainable
* Support progression and the national career structure recommended by the Social Work Task Force
* Fit with and influence development of the other Social Work Task Force recommendations
* Be straightforward
* Be informed by current practice and developments, including social work internationally and other professions
* Be a professional, rather than occupational, framework.

Generally speaking, the framework was welcomed by the profession and it is an area social work students should be aware of and familiar with in understanding the direction in which the social work profession and training may be travelling.

5. Personalisation

In 2008, the government put forward its vision for social services in England, which included the personalisation agenda.

Personalisation means thinking about public services and social care in a different way – starting with the person and their individual circumstances. This means putting the individual at the centre of the process of identifying their needs and making choices about how and when they are supported to live their lives.

Personalisation is about giving people more choice and control over their lives, to ensure everyone has access to the right information, advice and advocacy to make good decisions about the support they need. It also means ensuring that people have wider choice in how their needs are met and are able to access universal services such as transport, leisure and education, housing, health and opportunities for employment, regardless of age or disability.

Personalisation is already being established as an important part of social work practice, and it is likely to continue to grow. It is important that students are familiar with the role personalisation could play in their social work practice, and more information is available on the Social Care Institute for Excellence website.  

The concept of personalisation is welcomed by most in the social work profession who view this as core to the role.

6. Early intervention – the Allen Review

The Allen Review was launched at the start of this year. Led by Graham Allen MP, the review was commissioned by the government to review the area of early intervention in the new economic climate.

Interim findings of the review urge the government to take extra measures to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, are socially, cognitively and psychologically ‘school ready’ at the age of five. The review recommends cross party consensus to build a solid foundation for long-term intervention programmes. It also suggests the government fosters an environment that embraces the sharing of best practice techniques.

The second instalment of review findings were released in June of this year and propose that this year’s Budget includes a specific allocation of money for early intervention in children’s services.

7. The Munro Review of Child Protection – Final Report

Following Baby P, Eileen Munro, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics (LSE), was commissioned to look at child protection services and consider reforms to the service. The published analysis found that local areas should have more freedom to shape their own child protection services and that the current ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ to child protection prevents local areas from focusing on the needs of the child.

As a result of the review, the Government will work closely with a group of professionals from across the children’s sector to develop a full response to Munro’s recommendations later in 2011.

The review is likely to impact on social work with children and families and in particular it is said it will ease the administrative burden many say impacts negatively on social work time spent in direct contact.

For more information see: Munro recommendations: special report

8. Changes to adult social care law

In May 2011, the Law Commission published the Final Report of its project to reform adult social care law. The recommendations made by the Law Commission are far-reaching and are likely to produce radical reforms over the coming year and beyond.

The commission recommends that the introduction of a single modern statute and code of practice would underpin a coherent social care system. The clarity this reform provides will, the commission says, mean service users can be clear about their legal rights to care and support services, and local councils across England and Wales will have clear and concise rules on when they must provide services.

The commission’s recommendations include:

* Putting the individual’s well-being at the centre of decision-making
* Giving carers new legal rights to services
* Building a single, streamlined assessment and eligibility framework  

This review will affect social work with adults and will hopefully enable the current patchwork of legislation and policy to be more easily implemented.

Social work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

9. Social Work in Scotland

The Continuous Learning Framework (CLF) was published in 2008 and is a vital tool for everyone working in social services to develop their personal competence and capabilities and to help organisations develop in ways which support their staff in this. The CLF can be used by individuals or organisations in any way they find useful. For social work students, it is a tool that can be used now and continue to use throughout a career in social work.

There are 13 personal capabilities in the CLF. They relate to the ways in which people manage themselves and their relationships at work. Some might be more relevant to your job role than others, either now or in the future. Each personal capability is described across four stages of progression – engaged, established, accomplished and exemplary.  

10. Social Work in Wales

Students in Wales should be aware that, in a devolved UK, the legalities and policies surrounding access to services is determined in Wales. It’s important, therefore, for students to familiarise themselves with Wales legislation and policy, as well as with issues around language and other aspects of the Wales context.

The publication of Sustainable Social Services for Wales: a Framework for Action outlines how future social services will be shaped and focused, ensuring they are fit for purpose for the citizens of Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government outlines that these will be built upon the principle of “citizen control” rather than “consumer choice” and “personalisation”.  This is a key document for social work in Wales and potential students, indeed all involved in the development and provision of social care, will need to be familiar with the direction of travel for social services in Wales. 

11. Social Work in Northern Ireland

Social work students in Northern Ireland should familiarise themselves with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC), which is the regulatory body for the social care workforce.  Among its functions, the council is responsible for regulating standards of training for social workers and works closely with training providers in Northern Ireland to ensure standardised provision which is of a high quality. The NISCC’s website has a range of materials, information and news for social workers and social work students in Northern Ireland.

The National Occupational Standards (NOS) in essence, form the curriculum backbone of the degree in social work and the council has recently consulted widely on a review of these standards. The feedback will be used to inform the next stage of the NOS review, which is likely to produce changes to the standards.

(Pic: OJO/Rex Features)

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