The government will consult ‘extensively’ on whether to make accreditation of children’s social workers mandatory, the chief social worker for children has said.
Speaking at a British Association of Social Workers debate last week, Isabelle Trowler moved to clear up confusion sparked by a pledge from education secretary Nicky Morgan that children’s social workers “across the country, at every level, will be fully assessed and accredited by 2020”.
Morgan’s remarks were seen as confirming the accreditation tests would be compulsory, particularly as her speech made no mention of any consultation.
However, Trowler insisted no decision on mandatory accreditation had been taken and said an “extensive consultation” on the changes would be launched shortly.
She said: “It has got confused. In order for something to become mandatory it has to have either statutory guidance or legislation.
“The government’s ambition is that this is rolled out. Whether that needs to be through a mandatory mechanism is one of the questions we will ask over the next few weeks.”
The Department for Education told Community Care the consultation would address questions over who would pay for accreditation tests and the implications for practitioners who fail the assessments.
Trowler said the consultation would also seek views on the government’s plan to create a new body to regulate and set professional standards for social work.
She defended the government against accusations the profession was kept in the dark over the plans: “I don’t think this has just come out of the blue. There’s been a huge amount of discussion and debate about those two things [regulation and accreditation].
“With accreditation we’ve had extensive involvement from social workers. Hundreds of social workers across the country are testing the assessment method. The principal social workers network has been fantastic…and we’ve been really helped by input from children and families on the work.”
Debate over chief social worker roles
Much of the BASW debate focused on the role of the chief social workers and how they represent the profession’s views to government.
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston university, said: “In 2008, I suggested there should be a chief social worker that would bring expertise and wisdom into government.
“But I’m concerned it is been rescoped so that it is a way the government comes out to tell us what we should be doing.”
Peter Beresford, emeritus professor of social work at Brunel university, voiced similar concerns: “We’re not getting what Ray Jones hoped for. Maybe there are issues here about the meaning of being a social worker which could apply to attaching that label to the chief social worker.
“The truth is we are getting people within government telling social workers what they are going to do from the perspective of government.”
Trowler said her role was to act as a “conduit for frontline practice” to government but warned the profession needed to develop its own “strong voice”.
‘I’m a civil servant’
She said: “I don’t pretend to be the voice of the profession. I’m my voice. I’m a civil servant and I see my role very much about offering advice to ministers based on what other people tell me about the system. That includes children and families as well as social workers out there doing the job.”
Ruth Allen, who will take over as BASW chief executive in April, said the profession had a right to shape the chief social worker roles but also had to develop its own challenges to government policy.
“We need to be working as an association and as a collective of organisations around the sort of answers we want to put out there as an alternative to some of the things that are coming through.
“That is the way we empower ourselves as an organisation and it is how we will mature our relationship with government. Every profession has to develop its relationship with Whitehall and we have to think strategically how we do that.”