By Joan Beck
There is no pure children and families or adults social work.
Older people and people with disabilities live in families. They have children and grandchildren. Grandparents (and great grandparents) are increasingly the carers of younger children. Carers of people with disability and older people can be as young as four or five years old.
Children’s social workers work with adults (parents) to encourage positive change. They also work with perpetrators of abuse who are adults.
The mental health of the people involved in children’s safeguarding referrals is frequently a factor in their ability to parent/care for either the child or other loved one, as is the presence of domestic violence.
Easy access to post qualifying training
The current training of social workers provides students with a generalist base which is followed by the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE). It is not meant to prepare students for every eventuality, any more than any of the training that happens in the NHS is able to.
Instead, social workers should have easy access to post qualifying training as do nurses (most of whom now do masters’ degrees) so they can specialise in their chosen subject.
Indeed, the approved mental health worker training and the proposed training for best interest assessors is a good model of this. Specialisms in dementia, safeguarding and palliative care could all be treated in the same way.
Resources are needed, not more change
Failures to protect children or vulnerable people are rarely down to the action of one professional – but of the system surrounding that person.
Rather than changing social work education and training, yet again, the government should see what happens if they give social workers in both children’s and adults services the time and resources to do their job (the job they have been trained to do) properly.
This means time to build a trusting relationship, time to work for positive change in people’s lives, time to intervene appropriately and at the right moment, before the crisis occurs.
This means resources to combat loneliness and the feelings of being overwhelmed by the problems life is throwing at clients. Resources like computer systems designed to enable the work and that social workers can see the benefit of using.
Generic skills are key
To separate the training of social workers ignores the broader aspects of safeguarding and the responsibility of everyone involved in that.
Who better than social workers to understand that the way we recruit and train staff; the way the receptionist talks to someone seeking help; the speed of the response to a broken window is all part of safeguarding.
Social work is about working in a team and understanding how to get other professions to work constructively in the best interests of their client.
Social work is about understanding cultures and demographic change and working within it.
Social work is about enabling, encouraging, coaching, walking alongside. It’s about understanding the pressures of daily life for individuals and it’s about helping them to create positive change.
Social work is about trusting relationships and a genuine desire to help someone; it’s about caring. It can also be about using legal powers appropriately and being aware of others responsibilities within the team.
These are all generic skills.
We have to be able to rely on flexibility within the workforce with social workers being able to change their initial focus depending on where their career takes them.
Work in relation to transitions and all-age disability, for example, relies on generic social workers being able to cross imaginary boundaries.
Frankly, at a time when integration between health and social care is high on the agenda it is nonsense to dis-integrate social work training.
Joan Beck is the joint chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) workforce network.