Adult PSWs should be part of leadership team with additional roles limited, says government

Government guidance on roles and capabilities of PSWs seeks to improve consistency of position and improve support from directors of adult services

The findings were announced at last week's PSW conference

Adult principal social workers should be part of their organisation’s leadership team and have any additional responsibilities limited, government guidance has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care last week issued a document setting out adult PSWs’ roles and responsibilities and a separate statement of capabilities required of the role, designed to improve consistency in the way it is carried out nationally and improve its standing.

A survey of PSWs in 2017 found that two-thirds of adult PSWs fulfilled a ‘hybrid’ role, meaning they carried out their duties alongside management positions. It also found a variation in the rank of PSWs within organisations, with principals operating across a range of levels from consultant practitioners and team managers up to assistant director level.

The government guidance, issued last week, is designed aims to get rid of uncertainty around the PSW role while improving its standing.

Limiting additional responsibilities

The capabilities statement says that PSWs’ additional responsibilities should be limited and they should also be “party to decision-making with managers and directors in the top tiers of the organisation and be a member of a
relevant high-level leadership team”.

The statement also says that PSWs should be highly visible and occupy a position of significant influence in the local health and social care system, model through their practice “behaviours that demonstrate integrity, consistency and the ability to use legitimate challenge”, provide practice leadership in complex cases and support the development of strengths-based practice.

The roles and responsibilities document – drawn up with the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and Adult Principal Social Worker Network – says PSWs’ functions include leading on social work practice, effective supervision and professional development, disseminating findings from safeguarding adults reviews and advising directors on complex safeguarding and fitness to practise cases.

Resource tensions

The guidance also highlights the resource tensions facing PSWs in their role. The capabilities statement says they should advocate for sufficient social work resources in order that personalised, integrated care and support is available and appropriate safeguarding procedures implemented, and that they should also “advocate for best practice without being compromised by resource-led considerations”.

It then adds: “This is a difficult balance as PSWs should take resources into account, as part of their accountability to all people who may need care and support, but they should not be constrained in their professional judgement by the
need to reduce costs.”

Need for clarification 

The PSW role originates from Eileen Munro’s influential review of child protection services, which reported in 2011.

Munro recommended every council appoint a principal child and family social worker who was a senior manager but active in frontline practice. The role was then recommended for adult social care services.

The Munro 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.

The majority of local authorities now have adult PSWs and the Care Act 2014 firmly embedded the role in local authorities. The 2016 revised Care Act guidance said local authorities “should make arrangements to have a qualified and registered social work professional practice lead in place” to carry out a range of practice leadership functions.

PSWs within mental health trusts 

The roles and responsibilities document also includes an update on the PSW role within mental health trusts.

Most trusts have a lead for social work, who has assumed the PSW role in that organisation, while the statutory function still sits with the PSW based in the relevant local authority.

The guidance encourages PSWs within mental health trusts to develop a “direct report line” to either the statutory PSW or to the DASS.

This, it says, is to “provide assurance of practice in relation to all delegated functions to the mental health trust”.

Raising quality and consistency

Chief social worker Lyn Romeo said of the new documents: “Together, these form part of the government’s ambition to further raise the quality and consistency of social work supervision and leadership.”

“This will help ensure we have enough social workers with the right skills and knowledge to support quality practice, improve retention, increase morale and, most importantly, improve outcomes for the people and communities with whom social workers work.”

Ensuring effective supervision

Separately, the DHSC has introduced a national programme to improve the quality of supervision given to social workers last week.

The train the trainer supervisor development programme, which will be led by the Research in Practice for Adults (RiPfA) and has been informed by the Department for Education’s programme for child and family social work supervisors, will ensure that supervisors are supported to reach and maintain the required capabilities.

These were set out at the end of last year in post-qualifying standards for adult social work supervisors published by the DHSC.

The standards looked to increase the emphasis on critical reflection in supervision and provide a clearer career progression for adults’ practitioners, establishing eight key areas of focus.

The new programme is aimed at PSWs, practice development leads and other senior social workers in adult services responsible for delivering and overseeing effective supervision.

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