Most principal social workers combine the job with other responsibilities, early findings from a research project have revealed.
The survey by Daisy Bogg Consultancy found 62% of principal social workers (PSWs) were in “hybrid roles”, often carrying out their PSW duties alongside management tasks. Three-quarters of those working in this way said they had no more than two days per week to dedicate to PSW work.
The survey polled 173 PSWs across England, with 97 working in adult’s services, 61 in children’s services and 15 covering both. The initial results were presented at last week’s national PSW conference.
The PSW role originates from Eileen Munro’s influential review of child protection services. Munro recommended every council appoint a principal child and family social worker who was a senior manager but active in frontline practice. The review did not specify whether the role should be a dedicated post or not. But concerns have previously been voiced that some councils have treated the PSW role as an ‘add on’ to management roles.
Responding to the survey findings, Samantha Clayton, co-chair of the children’s PSW network, said the size and structure of local authorities and the nature of the PSW’s other duties were key to determining whether a hybrid arrangement works.
“For example, I know some PSWs manage the child protection chairs and IROs. This means they get a good line of sight of the quality of practice for looked-after children and more independent oversight of the social work practice across their teams,” she said.
“Some manage the learning and development. This means they can address gaps in practice when they happen quickly and get the necessary training into the organisation quickly, this also allows them to be responsive to emerging themes if they can see these from their Quality Assurance and auditing.”
She added: “I think there are pros and cons, but mostly individual PSWs are making it work for their organisations.”
Lee Pardy-McLaughlin, who co-chairs the network alongside Clayton, said the survey showed the “vast majority” of councils now had PSWs in place and the role was being “distinctly implemented” across councils.
Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said there was “no single way” that the PSW role should work, and ultimately the test was whether the impact of the post was felt by the workforce.
She said: “Frontline social workers sometimes say ‘I don’t know who my PSW is, I don’t know what they do’. So what you really need to ask is whether or not the social workers feel the benefit of the leadership, whether a PSW is spending two days a week or five days a week on it.
“You can get someone working two days a week, where everybody knows them and they really set the path and work effectively. At the same time you can get someone working four days and not being very effective.”
Allen said the PSW role had been “a step in the right direction” since it was introduced. She voiced her backing for the national networks and called on employer bodies to do more to support them.
“I think those professional lead roles need more recognition from employers. PSWs need the support to develop social workers and help that next generation come through strongly.”
The PSW survey found high levels of engagement with the national children’s and adult’s PSW networks, with 80% of respondents attending at least one national meeting over the past year. A smaller proportion (43%) had attended regional PSW network meetings but 80% that had rated their regional groups as effective.
Asked which issues presented the biggest challenges for their social workers, both adult’s and children’s PSWs highlighted austerity, quality and recruitment and retention of social workers. Children’s PSWs also identified accreditation as a specific challenge they faced. Adult’s PSWs said the same of the integration with health.