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.”