The government will appoint two chief social workers for England – one for adults’ services, and one for children and families – rather than the one it initially envisaged.
But on Thursday the government confirmed the change of direction, with a Department of Health spokesperson saying the two successful candidates would “work together side-by-side to provide unified leadership to the sector”.
Two chiefs plan slammed by BASW
The government’s change of heart was attacked by British Association of Social Workers acting chief executive Bridget Robb.
“It may suit the bureaucracy but doesn’t suit the profession,” she said. “Social work is a single profession working as part of many and varied employment structures in the public and private sectors. The Social Work Task Force and work of the Social Work Reform Board in England have stressed the importance of a unified profession.
Warning of division
“This ethos has been supported across government, and progress to date will be undermined if the role of the chief social worker is split into two separate roles which reflect the existing silos of the departments of health and education. The very last thing the profession needs is more division.
“No other profession has a lead role in government split in this way. This proposed division also ignores the roles of the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, who also employ statutory social workers in the services for which they are responsible.”
The College of Social Work also expressed concern, saying the move risked “opening up a false divide in what should be a single all-encompassing professional leadership role”.
Need for single office of chief social worker
“Many individuals and families who social workers come into contact with on a daily basis have wide-ranging and complex needs,” said College co-chair Maurice Bates. “It will therefore be absolutely vital that the two chief social workers work very closely together as part of a single office of the chief social worker, otherwise an important oppotunity will have been lost.”
Meanwhile, adults’ and children’s services directors have urged the holders of the two roles to work together “to ensure a coherent approach to social work reform”, according to a joint statement by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).
Adass said it would have preferred there to have been one chief social worker but it would work with government to make the two-roles arrangement work.
Speak with one voice
“Social work needs a loud voice at the heart of government, championing social work’s values and the importance of the work that the profession does, day in day out, whether with children or adults,” said Jo Cleary, joint chair of the Adass workforce network. “It is essential that the chief social workers will speak with one voice recognising that social work is one profession.”
Appointing two chief social workers would be “better than none at all”, said Dave Hill, chair of the ADCS workforce development policy committee.
“While we recognise the different specialisms required to work with children and adults, and the different legal frameworks, there are core social work values and practices that are shared by the whole profession, and these must be the guiding principles of both post-holders,” he said.
The chief social workers will be expected to oversee improvements in social work practice at a national level, raise public awareness and understanding of social work and promote effective communication between the profession, employers and ministers.