Over two in five of social workers have logged onto their Social Work England account, on which they will be expected to log their continuing professional development (CPD), eight weeks into the regulator’s existence.
Almost 43,000 of England’s 98,000 social workers have now activated their online accounts, since Social Work England took over responsibility for regulating the profession from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) on 2 December 2019. This is double the number that had signed up as of mid-December 2019.
Speaking last week, Sarah Blackmore, Social Work England’s executive director of strategy, policy and engagement, said 11,050 pieces had been uploaded by practitioners onto online accounts. All practitioners must log at least one piece of CPD by 30 November as a requirement of the new one-year registration cycle.
‘Some concerns’ about logging CPD
“There have been some concerns about the changes to the CPD logging process but we feel that’s a really positive figure being just over seven weeks in,” Blackmore added.
There have been reports on social media and on Community Care articles of social workers finding it difficult to register their accounts or log CPD, while the regulator has also said it has received enquiries from practitioners having difficulties.
Social Work England has said problems recording CPD have occurred when using legacy internet browsers such as Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9, 10 or any other browsers no longer supported by their manufacturer. But practitioners should be able to use the system without issues using manufacturer-supported versions of Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Edge.
The regulator has also noted a few instances in which people weren’t sure which email address to use to set up their online account. Social workers and applicants previously registered with the HCPC must use the primary email address they supplied to HCPC to activate their online account.
In a statement, Social Work England said: “Inevitably, there is a small minority of cases where things didn’t go right the first time.
“We have worked hard to address these too and we would urge anybody with any difficulties to get in touch with us.”
CPD requirements and registration
Social Work England requires all social workers to record at least some CPD in their online accounts at the point of renewal this year, under the system of annual registration they have introduced.
Social workers will not be able to defer their CPD during the registration period – 2 December 2019 to 30 November 2020. The regulator will give practitioners who do not submit any CPD during the registration period a further 21 days to record some. If this does not happen, it will take action ranging from placing a condition on the practitioner’s registration requiring them to provide CPD evidence by a set date or, as a last resort, removing them from the register.
Social Work England will communicate regularly with practitioners during the year and send reminders about completing CPD requirements before the first renewal period opens on 1 September 2020. If personal circumstances mean that a person is unable to record a piece of evidence during the year, Social Work England said they should get in touch to discuss options for maintaining their registration.
Fitness to practise progress
Social Work England has also made changes to the fitness to practise (FtP) process with the aim of reducing the number of hearings and resolving cases more quickly.
Jonathon Dillon, the new regulator’s executive director for FtP, said Social Work England had received 1,300 active cases from HCPC and was aiming to review all of them by the end of March. Of those reviewed so far, 18% have been closed and the regulator believes it will be able to close 20% of all the cases inherited, said Dillon.
Dillon said Social Work England had received 329 new referrals since going live, which was slightly higher than predicted. The average referral rate was about 42 cases a week, compared with HCPC in its final year, which averaged 38 referrals per week, he said.
The regulator had made 151 decisions as of 7 February, 45% of which were case closures.
As with the HCPC, all FtP concerns reported to Social Work England will pass through an initial triage stage before being taken forward. Some cases will be filtered out at the very start of this, with instances of registration fraud set to be passed to a different team, while social workers convicted of serious ‘listed offences’ will be automatically struck off.
But for the remainder, there will be a more expansive initial process than is currently the case. Instead of simply establishing whether a concern falls within the regulator’s remit, the new body’s rules set out criteria it must apply to determine if there are reasonable grounds for an investigation.
“There are 54 cases that we’ve looked at in triage and we’ve said ‘we think we need one more piece of information to make a decision here’; with our new legislation we have the power to go directly to that organisation and get that information,” Dillon said.
Deciding whether cases go to a final hearing are 10 case examiners, six of whom are social workers.
Since going live, 13 cases have been referred to a case examiner – all in the last month. In those 13 referrals, four cases are still being looked at by the case examiner but none have been referred to a final hearing. There have been two final hearings, both of which concluded with findings of impairment against the social worker.
Social Work England has also established an FtP decision review group, which Blackmore chairs, as part of its “robust internal quality assurance framework”.
“Every month we take a sample of FtP decisions and we look at those as a team anonymously and we will make recommendations if there are any lessons to be learned,” she said.
With the initial transition phase now over, Blackmore said the regulator has shifted its focus toward its year-one strategy.
“For us year one is primarily about establishing ourselves as a regulator, learning from what we’ve done so far, learning from the build up to go live and the transition, looking at our fitness-to-practise processes and learning from some of the earlier fitness-to-practise processes.
“We will also be looking closely at our EQA (external quality assurance) processes and building up to renewal and registration which will happen later in the year,” Blackmore said.
On World Social Work Day (17 March), the regulator will publish its three-year corporate strategy. Blackmore said this would set out Social Work England’s stall for the next three years and “re-emphasise its values as a regulator” and the five key areas of focus for the next five years.
Those areas are: the profession, education and training, the regulatory approach, the public and the organisation and how it develops internally.
“We’ve taken all of the feedback from the consultation we’ve done so far and used that and the views of our staff to develop what we feel is a really simple but effective plan on the page for what we’re doing over the next three years,” she said.
In 2023, Social Work England plans to publish a ‘state of the nation’ report on the sector, which Blackmore said would be a comprehensive report about what social work in England looks like.
“There have been pockets of analysis about how social work is happening but it’s been exclusive to children’s services and adults’, there’s been nothing comprehensive and we know that social work happens in so many different contexts, it’s not just children’s and adults’ statutory services,” she said.
Sector bodies respond
Sector bodies have responded broadly positively to the transition between regulators, but concerns persist about the lack of a registered social worker on Social Work England’s board – besides the chief executive, Colum Conway.
A spokesperson for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said: “It remains a priority for BASW England that the new regulator has registered social worker representation on the board, and we will continue to advocate for this.”
But he said BASW would continue to work in partnership with Social Work England in getting social workers comfortable with their new registration accounts.
Principal Children and Families Social Worker (PCFSW) Network national chair Claudia Megele said Social Work England’s regional engagement leads had linked with the principal social worker (PSW) regional chairs and were getting out to visit local authorities.
“Social Work England is conducting new research which is very positive and demonstrates wanting to know social workers and their experience.
“However, it is important to actively engage practitioners and managers and ensure that there are representatives from local authorities on different boards in SWE,” Megele said.
If you were previously registered with HCPC and would like to set up your online account with Social Work England and update your personal details, you can do so by visiting the ‘My account’ login page and clicking ‘Create password’ under the ‘Transferring from HCPC?’ button.
Anyone experiencing problems accessing their account is encouraged to get in touch with Social Work England via phone or email.