Chief social worker: ‘refreshing profession’s distinct role in mental health is a priority’

Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults, also keen to see improvements in post-qualifying education

Lyn Romeo
Chief social worker for adults Lyn Romeo

Last week I attended the annual conference of The College of Social Work’s network of Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs). The event featured a keynote speech from Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults. Here are some of the key points I picked out from the speech…

Refreshing social work’s mental health role is a priority

“One area where we really do need to refresh and reconsolidate the role of social work is in mental health services, particularly in the context of integrated responses to people with mental health needs,” said Romeo

“I’m pushing that social workers have a real unique contribution to make to individuals, families and communities where mental health needs are an issue. The whole of social work is based on personalising support and enabling and empowering people to have as much choice and control to identify the things that will make a difference to them and how we can help them access practical support.”

Romeo said reinforcing this value of social work to mental health services is “one of the priorities for me”. She has been working with senior mental health policy leads at the Department of Health on this and is chairing the steering group tasked with reviewing the Mental Health Act Code of Practice.

Romeo said she has also been in talks over the Department of Health’s research agenda to see if there is a possibility of doing some work on social work’s unique impact in mental health:

“One of the things we’re trying to look at is what difference do social workers make in terms of working with people rather than what difference did that service make or what did the local authority or mental health trust do?

“Instead, [we need to know] did it make a difference that it was a social worker working with that individual and what is that difference? What is the business case [for social work] if you like.”

This is likely to be welcome news for mental health social workers given concerns in the profession that its distinct role is being eroded by the shift towards generic ‘care coordinator’ roles staffed by a range of professions.

Interestingly, the government’s ‘mental health action plan’, published this week, mentions social work and social workers as a distinct professional group rather than the usual catch all term of ‘mental health professionals’. The government’s forthcoming crisis care concordat – a position statement that will outline expectations for crisis provision – will also mention the ‘pivotal role’ played by AMHPs.

AMHP training could be a ‘blueprint’ for other social work post-qualifying education

Romeo said that recent years have seen a renewed focus on social work degree content – the findings of the government’s latest reviews into education programmes for adult and children’s services are both imminent – but work on post-qualifying professional development has “tended to get a bit neglected”.

One exception is the AMHP training programme, she said.

“It is the only proper post-qualifying training that has to go through the Health and Care Professions Council. In a way it is a blueprint for what we should be doing in other areas of social work”, said Romeo.

“So I think we’ve been pushing that we need to think about that. We need to develop a lifetime of social work education and development. When you graduate that’s only the beginning of your social work education in a way. Deepening our skills and understanding and knowing about what does make a difference in terms of improving our social work practice is really important. I don’t think we’ve been really good at doing that.”

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5 Responses to Chief social worker: ‘refreshing profession’s distinct role in mental health is a priority’

  1. Jane Buckley January 22, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    The significance of preventing the loss of the protected title that registered Social Workers hold, cannot be underestimated when it comes to patient and staff care, safety and standards.
    However, until the management of Social Workers is by Social Workers, the resistance to Social Work , will continue in Mental Health Trusts where health ‘ managers’ are permitted to ‘blend ‘ professionals under the meaningless and non-transparent title of Mental Health Professional, hiding qualifications, or lack of, and ignoring the specialist skills brought to these services for a reason.
    The problems of discrimination in Mental Health care will only continue, unless their is a commitment from Social Work Leaders to ensure our values and ethics are seen as sacrosanct. The College is offering new hope in achieving this necessary step.
    Until this is the case, the system will remain severely compromised by the narrowminded approach which is reminiscent of the male-medical dominated institutions with long corridors and lost souls.

  2. rosemary brierley January 22, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Thank you, this is long overdue. Can I also make a plea for consideration of the importance and value of the AMHP role and function in emergency duty teams (usually generic)please?

  3. ian Kemp January 22, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    Have spent many years in all forms of social work. Over recent years and after retirement from social work I have seen the marked decline of mental health social work. There appeared to be in many of the CMHts I have worked in that social workers just did care plans and dealt with Providers implementing care plans with a whole range of budgetary constraints. This was their only role . In other words just basic care management .I had degrees in Psychology and in neurobiology as well health psychology and diploma s in cognitive behavioral therapy, None of those skills and experience were called on. CPN s often were given the the more therapeutic tasks and were treated as such by the medics who gave very little recognition to social workers . It is a sad reflection on what has been over quite a few years the deskilling of social work , which has no structure or voice within the local authority . Their main interest is budgets and managing and controlling social workers . There is no recognition of social work skills by local government . Social work as a result has become deskilled and is no longer really a profession . It is mere part of the controlling system of the local Government bureaucracy. It has no independent voice. That was lost long ago. If there is any future for social work in the UK it will need to develop away from local government corporatism . How is another story .

  4. Katherine Smith January 26, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    Can we also include the role of social workers in children’s mental health services. Without AMHP training including more work with children and young people this group is severely disadvantaged plus many MH difficulties emerge in childhood and these origins are very relevant to adult difficulties. It is frustrating to see that professionals seem to continue to promote the cut off between children and adults which allows people to fall down the gap between the two services.

  5. ian Kemp January 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    True but does not really address what has happened to social work over the last 30 years