by Professor Lord Patel of Bradford OBE
I feel honoured to be appointed as the Chair of Social Work England and I am grateful for all the messages of support and congratulations that I have received since my appointment was announced.
I am aware of the challenges that lie ahead, attempts to regulate social work in England have a chequered history and I intend to do all that I can to ensure that Social Work England (SWE) becomes an exemplar of best practice in professional regulation.
As a former social worker myself, I have an understanding of the profession and I know that, like me, people become social workers because they want to make a real difference in people’s lives. I believe that the aim of the social work profession is to protect and empower some of the most vulnerable people in our communities by helping them to enhance their own abilities to meet their needs.
Social work practices are based in core values and ethical standards, which guides our actions and includes the dignity and worth of individuals, integrity, competence and accountability. Every day social workers are fulfilling complex and challenging roles and are using their skills and experience to ensure the protection of vulnerable children and adults. Social workers can, and do, transform lives for the better and provide an essential service for the people and communities they serve.
What it means to be vulnerable
I have some understanding of what it means to be vulnerable. I first came to the UK as a baby after my parents had to flee Kenya.
Not out of choice, not as economic migrants but as was so common then – and still too common today – because we were fleeing a country that no longer wanted us and where we faced certain discrimination, loss of our freedom and identity or, worse, death.
We settled in Bradford and, suffice to say, they were very tough times in the early 60s – like so many migrant families at the time our lives were marred by poverty, huge discrimination and alienation.
Even though I arrived in the UK as a baby, I didn’t go to school until I was about 7 and then I was packed off to an immigrant centre for the first year – so I didn’t really learn to read and write well until I was about 8/9.
Those early experiences never left me. After a myriad of jobs in the private and public sector I eventually became a social worker. My role enabled me to use my experiences, my understanding and my commitment to social justice to help and support others who were vulnerable and at risk.
As a social work practitioner, a manager, an academic and a parliamentarian I have always been committed to ensuring that the needs of those who are most vulnerable in our society are understood and can be met effectively, based on the best evidence of what works.
As Chair of SWE I will continue with this commitment and seek to ensure that we set and maintain the highest professional, education and training standards for social work practice.
I am known for my collaborative and non-partisan approach whether I am involved in making national policy and legislation, service improvement or organisational change. I have already started the process of talking to and consulting with people about SWE and I promise that I will continue to do this in partnership with the profession, so that SWE has your confidence.
But I am also clear that to be successful and effective, SWE must have the confidence of the public. I am determined that in setting standards for the profession we will provide assurance for the public that those registered to practise, meet the standards, are suitably qualified and remain fit to practise throughout their careers.
Over the coming months my priority will be to get out and about as much as I can. I want to hear for myself what the challenges are, what people are feeling concerned about, as well as what excites them about the future. I will then take account of those views and consider how they can influence and inform the establishment of SWE.
I also want to meet social work sector groups and other regulators to understand their perspective on the challenges facing both the profession and the regulatory landscape, as well as find out what is working well.
Learning lessons from the past as well as from best practice will help ensure we get SWE right from the beginning. Most importantly, I want to meet service users to find out about their experience of social work and how SWE can ensure that those individuals and families who are on the receiving end of social work support remain at the heart of what we do.
To create a new specialist regulator from scratch presents a unique and exciting opportunity. I don’t underestimate the challenges, nor the complexity of the task ahead.
I am convinced though that together we can make a real difference, not only to improving the status and standing of a profession I believe so passionately in, but also to improving the lives of vulnerable individuals and families that has been at the core of my professional career for so many years.