Senior adult social care management positions are disproportionately filled by white people, with men also over-represented, according to research by the Adult Principal Social Workers’ Network.
Responses by 124 councils to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed 90.4% of senior local authority adult social care managers and board members identified as White British. A report by the network said the findings were particularly shocking when set against regional figures that reveal black and minority ethnic (BME) people make up between 17% and 59% of workforces.
“Furthermore, these are figures that do not reflect the very communities and societies that social care strives to work alongside,” the report stated.
Men are also over-represented among senior managers and board members, with FOI responses revealing a 61/39% female to male split. The social care workforce as a whole is 82% female.
The report identified similar issues among principal social workers (PSWs), with a recent survey by the network finding that 87.3% of PSWs identified as White British, “with a span of ethnicity only covering three BME groups”. The gender split among PSWs was 76/23% female to male.
As well as looking at diversity, the research asked questions about the number of board members and senior managers who had social work qualifications.
The FOI responses showed that just 43.7% did, although a majority of these appeared to be directors of adult services. “What was less clear…was whether these senior managers had retained the HCPC registration and by default their CPD and evidence base to practice,” the report said.
The research also found that almost half (46%) of PSWs were not deemed to be senior managers, nor sat on any boards.
This seems to be of “significant concern”, given Care Act guidance, the report stated. “While you can still advise the director without being part of this setup, the ability of the PSW to lead and influence across complex systems would be significantly hindered.”
The Care Act statutory guidance states: “All local authorities should ensure principal social workers are given the credibility, authority and capacity to provide effective leadership and challenge, both at managerial and practitioner level and are given sufficient time to carry out their role. The principal social worker should also be visible across the organisation, from elected members and senior management, through to frontline social workers, people who use services and carers. Local authorities should therefore ensure that the role is located where it can have the most impact and profile.”
Mark Harvey, principal social worker for adults at Hertfordshire council and co-chair of the adult PSW network, described the findings as “stark”.
“It highlights a problem that social work and social care leaders mustn’t shy aware from. We need for the sector to accept there is an issue, potentially an institutional, one and act.” This was also true for the adult PSW network, Harvey said.
“Our challenge to the sector is that it needs to support across all areas an honest, open conversation with a concerted effort to address these issues,” Harvey added. “A real challenge must be set for local authorities and trusts to ensure senior management and leaders reflect both their social work and social care workforce and more crucially the people they serve.”
Kate Terroni, workforce development network lead at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said: “Councils value a diverse workforce and encourage and promote equality in all staffing decisions, including in adult social care. The sector needs to ensure that it draws leadership talent from as diverse a pool as it can.”
Terroni added that ADASS welcomed a “broad spectrum” of skills within leadership roles – including the likes of nurses and finance experts as well as social workers – in order to ensure a “breadth of perspective” in managing social care.