Chief social workers: ‘visible leadership’ needed to tackle race discrimination in profession

Adult chief practitioners urge senior managers to take lead in tackling issues including lack of progression for Black and ethnic minority practitioners in launching workforce race equality pilot

Image of the word 'inequality' highlighted in a dictionary page (credit: sharafmaksumov / Adobe Stock)
(credit: sharafmaksumov / Adobe Stock)

The chief social workers for adults have urged council senior managers to show “visible leadership” to tackle discrimination and inequalities faced by Black and ethnic minority practitioners in the sector.

The call came as they launched their social care workforce race and equality standard pilot, which will see up to 15 local authorities report on key metrics highlighting disparities in experiences between white staff and those from Black and ethnic minority groups.

In a letter calling for expressions of interest in becoming a pilot site, Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra urged “senior leaders at the highest level” to be involved in developing and reviewing race and diversity policies, practice and procedures from recruitment and selection, professional development opportunities and support with progression.

“Visible leadership in this area, along with effective and consistent implementations can contribute to meaningful and sustained change from the impact on racism on the social care workforce,” they wrote.

Post-George Floyd focus on race

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 and the Black Lives Matters protests that followed.

As part of this, concerns have been raised about a perceived lack of vocal or practical support for race equality among social work leaders.

Earlier in October, the chief social workers held an engagement event for local authority adult social service leaders to discuss the pilot, which was attended by nearly 100 people.

Harvey said on Twitter at the time that it was “time to be open about the workforce issues for colleagues of colour and other ethnic communities and take action”.

The chief social workers plan to engage 10-15 local authority social service departments to commence a workforce race equality standard (WRES) for staff employed by local authority adults’ and children’s services, starting in April 2021. Successful sites will then be supported “via communities of practice and guidance tools”.

The WRES is based on one that applies in the NHS, which requires clinical commissioning groups and NHS providers to provide data on workforce representation, including at seinor levels, the relative risks of disciplinary measures among white and non-white staff and perceived levels of bullying and discrimination among professionals from ethnic minority groups.

A key priority for the social care WRES will be tackling the under-representation of Black and ethnic minority staff in management roles, said Harvey and Leddra. While, a quarter of social workers in council adults’ services whose ethnicity was known were from Black and ethnic minority groups, this applied to 7% of middle and senior managers in adult social services departments, according to the latest NHS Digital workforce statistics.

What the pilot will entail

Harvey and Leddra said the responsibilities of pilot sites included:

  • Having leaders champion the initiative from the top of the organisation to promote “a deep examination of its own processes and culture with a focus on action”.
  • Dedicated project management capacity.
  • A WRES lead should be appointed, reporting to senior managers.
  • Involving staff at all levels in the process, with a focus on the experiences of Black and ethnic minority staff.
  • The need to set aside time to learn and make necessary improvements.

Councils interested in taking part need to complete a form, setting out how they would implement the WRES, and email it to Nimal Jude, policy adviser to the chief social workers, at nimal.jude@dhsc.gov.uk, by 30 October.

10 Responses to Chief social workers: ‘visible leadership’ needed to tackle race discrimination in profession

  1. The Watcher October 26, 2020 at 3:39 pm #

    Wayne Reid is the authority on Anti-racism in Social Work, not the DHSC or Chief Social Workers!

    Why don’t they just take forward the recommendations in his article here: https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2020/07/17/promote-anti-racist-culture-social-work/, rather than implement the failing WRES from the NHS…?!

    • Ann October 28, 2020 at 5:56 am #

      Its high time

  2. Retired and Happy October 26, 2020 at 5:54 pm #

    At last, a new bureaucracy to address and tackle the obvious, that should do it. What more is there to uncover and to understand? I suspect the pilot will come, there will be a grand announcement but our experinces will largely remain the same. We are dispirited not because no one listens or they struggle with “unconscious bias”. Until there is meaningful commitment to change the structures which support the recycling of the same people into positions of power nothing of substance will change. BASW is no better than ADASS, SWE no better than the cohort of sector leads. I have 34 years of post qualification experience including working in the USA and Denmark. I have a PhD in Pedagogy and other social work related qualifications. None of that necessarily makes me a suitable candidate for senior posts but I wonder if my accent, my appearance, my being born outside the UK may have also played a part on my lack of success for such jobs in the LA’s I worked in or the quangos I have tried to join. None of us want to be patronised by being appointed to jobs we may be unsuited to but there must be a message in the appointments of 3 staff who were under my supervision getting such jobs. By the way no one person is an authority on anti-racism. We need fewer leaders and more collective action.

  3. Althia October 26, 2020 at 8:59 pm #

    Social Work England has a diversity officer, BASW has a diversity group. What have our leaders been doing in these jobs? No doubt they will be co-opted to show they provide visible leadership too.The same people talking to each other while in the work environment we grind on. The LA’s which take part in the pilot will milk it and then nothing tangible. I am no doubt being cynical. Given their records, trust in our leaders to actually make change is a little hard to muster.

  4. Stephen October 26, 2020 at 10:38 pm #

    The receptionist in my office is a Mozambique born Portugese. The cleaners are from Peru, Chile and Poland. I wonder if my Authority will ask them for their opinions? I suspect not though as this “pilot” will be yet another round of middle class leaders talking to other middle class ‘professionals’ while ignoring the obvious in front of them. We don’t need more pilot sites. We need power to change what is holding us back. What we don’t need is more prevarication in the guise of setting “aside time to learn”. At a guess we will be told there is ” under representation of black and ethnic minority staff in senior positions”, that these staff are over represented in disciplinary hearings, that changes should be made to recruitment processes and the like. All things we already know.

  5. James Appledore October 26, 2020 at 11:11 pm #

    Anyone else remember when this was trailed as an exiting development back in 2018? Let’s meet again in 2022 shall we?

  6. Arthur October 27, 2020 at 9:40 am #

    Will these be the same leaders who bullied us to continue working without adequate PPE while they patted themselves on the back from the safety of their kitchens on how they kept the service running? Most of us have zero confidence in our senior managers and equal disdain for the self aggrandising “professionals” of Social Work England, BASW and the rest of ’em. I am leaving social work and giving up my registration so have no fear of retribution.

  7. Adelayo Y. M October 28, 2020 at 9:51 am #

    Hi, this is a good step at least, a lot has to be done for instance “words/ sentences structure must be constructed to give no room for bias even at its slightest, check this out

    “disparities in experiences between “white staff” and those from “Black and ethnic minority groups”.

    We need to do more

  8. Jamie October 30, 2020 at 8:13 am #

    The average social worker couldn’t name a social work leader if their MBE depended on it.

  9. Andy November 8, 2020 at 7:49 pm #

    For at least the past thirty years, social work training has been literally drenched in codes, ethics, statements, paradigms, models, values, principles and practices which vigorously espouse the terms “anti racist” and “anti discriminatory”.
    Given that the article addresses concerns which are a function entirely and singularly of the actions of trained social work professionals, then social workers are 1. choosing deliberately and specifically to ignore issues of race and discrimination; 2. unable or unwilling to put their social work training into practice; 3. demonstrating that anti racist and anti discriminatory training is ineffective.
    These are questions which only the social work profession (arguably one of the most, if not THE most, self-reflective vocations imaginable) can answer for itself.