Social Work England’s failure to appoint more registered social workers to its board has been criticised by the social work community, with one academic describing it as “really concerning”.
The new social work regulator, which is set to take over from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), has come under attack after it announced via Twitter that it was looking to appoint an additional board member with “experience in accountancy, audit and risk, procurement and regulation”.
But, social work professionals – quick to spot the advertisement – expressed concern that the board already contained a number of people with no frontline social work experience and asked whether the regulator had plans to appoint more registered social workers to the group.
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The concern from professionals is that, by not having a strong contingent of registrants on the board, the governing council will not have sufficient knowledge or understanding when making decisions on social work specific issues, such as qualifications and overseeing practice.
Reacting to the advertisement via his personal Twitter account, chair of the international committee at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) David Jones suggested it would be “unacceptable” not to have a greater number on the board.
Let’s be clear. All the excellent work setting up @SocialWorkEng is at risk and will be grievously undermined if a social worker and service user aren’t appointed to the board. REALLY SERIOUS. Please don’t ignore grave concern!
— David N Jones (@JonesDavidN) 11 April 2019
Who’s on the board?
At present, chief executive of Social Work England Colum Conway is the only registered social worker – under the Northern Ireland Social Care Council – on the board.
Chair of the board Lord Patel is a qualified social worker, but is not currently registered.
Meanwhile, Baroness Tyler of Enfield is the only other member of the council with a clear link to social work, having served as chair of the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) for six years.
The rest of the board is made up of a mixture of health and finance professionals, as well as people with a background in running regulators.
Current list of board members:
- Colum Conway – previously worked in statutory family and child care services, early years policy, funding and service provision, and family system
- Lord Patel – prominent social work academic and qualified social worker
- Jonathan Gorvin – head of regulatory policy and development at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
- Dr Helen Phillips – chair of the board of the Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, helped to establish new environmental regulator
- Dr Andrew McCulloch – chair of GMC Services International and a freelance consultant in health and social care and international development
- Baroness Tyler of Enfield – former chair of Cafcass
- Mark Lam – chair of the Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust
- Adnan Bashir – finance director
‘Drowning out’ the voice of registrants
Social work academic at the University of Central Lancashire, Aidan Worsley, was one commentator to raise the issue of a lack of general social work representation on the Social Work England board.
Speaking to Community Care, Worsley said he was “surprised” by the regulator’s reluctance to appoint more registrants to the board and said it risked “drowning out the voice” of the frontline on key issues, such as setting registration fees and designing a new fitness-to-practice model.
“The thing that bothers me is that Social Work England is [due to make] some very big decisions and the board will be making them without social work expertise on the board.
“You might have people who know about regulation and think they know about fitness to practice, but they won’t know what it’s really like to be a social worker and the differences that there are in that specific setting.”
Morsley added that other regulators for parallel professions, such as the General Medical Council (GMC), had adopted a half and half approach, appointing both people with frontline experience and those with different professional backgrounds, which he believed would be more beneficial for the new social work regulator.
“What I’d like to happen is for Social Work England to announce, very clearly, its intentions about recruitment to the board, seeking a proper balance between lay and registrant members, with emphasis being on registrant.
“The [regulator] needs to announce the planned balance of the board and a timetable for getting there, assuring the profession’s voice will be heard on the board.”
‘Committed to collaborating’ with practitioners
Responding to the criticism, Conway explained the regulator’s strategy for appointing board members and allayed fears the voice of the social worker was being silenced.
“The board members of Social Work England are appointed through the public appointments process and bring a breadth of skills and knowledge, which enables the organisation to develop as a modern and effective specialist regulator. This includes experience in social work through the chairperson Lord Patel and myself.
“We are committed to collaborating with social workers and people with lived experience throughout our journey as we have demonstrated in our current consultation and the recruitment of our regional engagement leads.”