The chief social workers for adults are to pilot a workforce race and equality standard to tackle discrimination and inequalities faced by Black and ethnic minority practitioners in the workplace.
Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra are holding an event today for local authority adult social services leaders to discuss the pilot, for which representatives from 39 councils have registered.
The Department of Health and Social Care was unable to provide details on the pilot at this stage, but Harvey said on Twitter that it was “time to be open about the workforce issues for colleagues of colour and other ethnic communities and take action”.
The initiative comes with a sharpened focus on issues of race in social work – both in terms of the profession’s engagement with Black and ethnic minority communities and within the workforce – following the death of George Floyd after a Minessota police officer pinned him to the ground for eight minutes and the Black Lives Matters protests that followed.
While Black and ethnic minority practitioners are well-represented in the profession – accounting for 25% of adults’ services practitioners, 22% of children’s social workers and 18% of NHS mental health practitioners in England, compared with population representation of 14% – there are concerns that representation in some areas is not reflective of the communities served by the profession.
In addition, the proportion of Black and ethnic minority practitioners in senior levels of management is far lower than at the front line, while concerns have also been raised about the disproportionate representation of Black social workers in agency work, including in relation to how they have been treated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Representational issues have also been raised among the student population, with significant inequalities between different training routes, ranging from 36% on university postgraduate and undergraduate courses to 22% and 17%, respectively, on the latest cohorts of fast-track providers Frontline and Think Ahead, though these are their highest rates yet.
Fitness to practise has also come under the spotlight with Social Work England saying Black and ethnic minority social workers are disproportionately subject to investigations, though it does not have data as yet on what happens to them once they are within the system.
While concerns have been raised about the lack of public statements from social work leaders on racial inequalities in recent months – or that such statements have been tokenistic – there is evidence of action being taken. For example, alongside, the chief social workers’ initiatives, some councils – including Brighton and Hove and the London Borough of Sutton – are recruiting practitioners to specific anti-racist practice roles, to tackle inequalities and discrimination in relation to ethnic minority groups and within the profession.
Discuss and debate race in social work
Next week’s Community Care Live – held virtually this year – will include a specific focus on race in social work, including:
- A panel discussion on anti-racist social work.
- A seminar on the experiences of Black and ethnic minority social workers within the workplace.
- A session on race in the mental health system.
Register now for your free place to join the debate on this critical issue for the profession.