Chief social worker to step down after decade in post

Lyn Romeo will retire in January, having served since 2013 as England's first chief social worker for adults

Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults
Lyn Romeo (photo: DHSC)

Lyn Romeo will step down as England’s chief social worker for adults in January after just over a decade in the post.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said Romeo was taking retirement.

“Lyn Romeo CBE will step down as chief social worker for adults at the end of January as she is retiring,” said a DHSC spokesperson. “We are hugely grateful for Lyn’s leadership over the last 10 years, which has ensured that social work in adult social care is well placed to support people to have better lives

“We will update on her successor in due course.”

Romeo qualified as a social worker in 1977 in her native Australia and, after moving to the UK, worked in a series of social work and management roles in local government, along with a stint at the former Social Services Inspectorate.

First chief social worker

In 2013, when assistant director of adult social care at the London Borough of Camden, she was appointed as England’s first chief social worker for adults, within the DHSC.

The role was originally designed to be a two-year secondment but Romeo has been in post ever since, save for a period of just over 18 months from autumn 2019, when she took leave to care for her mother in Australia.

Throughout that period, she has worked in tandem with chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler, who is based within the Department for Education.

Their role has been to advise ministers on social work, represent the profession nationally, provide leadership for principal social workers (PSW) and act as a conduit between practitioners and government.

But while Trowler has helped the DfE develop significant reforms to children’s social work over the past decade, Romeo’s role has been more focused on raising adult social work’s profile, developing practice guidance and helping practitioners respond to wider government policy.


Key achievements during her tenure include:

Her absence, from autumn 2019 to spring 2021, included the first year of the pandemic. This meant her temporary replacements, Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra, oversaw the profession’s response to Covid-19, including through producing guidance on how ethical practice could be maintained during the pandemic.

Social care reform reversal

Within months of her return, then prime minister Boris Johnson announced the government would implement a version of the cap on care costs – and associated adult social care charging reforms – that had been ditched by his predecessor, Theresa May.

The policy was due to come into force in October 2023 and would have necessitated a significant expansion in the social work workforce in local authorities, to deal with a significant rise in the number of assessments, care and support plans and reviews councils needed to carry out.

Under Romeo’s influence, the subsequent adult social care white paper, Putting people at the heart of care, published in December 2021, included a commitment to providing new routes into adult social work, in order to help increase workforce capacity.

However, a year later, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a two-year delay to the charging reforms and the DHSC subsequently ditched the pledge to introduce new training routes.

‘Champion of strengths-based practice’

Throughout her time in post, Romeo has been popular with social work leaders, who have praised her championing of the profession and of strengths-based practice, and her collegiate approach.

The Adult Principal Social Worker Network chair team said the network was “very sad” to hear the news about Romeo’s.

“Lyn has transformed social work with adults over the past ten years – she has championed a return to relationship-based, strengths-based and rights-based social work, moving us away from a care management approach and back to the values and passion of social work practice,” they said.

“She has also championed the PSW Network and it’s status within adult social care – PSWs are now proud members of Assocation of Directors of Adult Social Services and through Lyn’s leadership have the confidence to show national leadership and strengthen the voice of the social work profession”

The chair team added: “Lyn has also worked relentlessly to raise the profile of research-informed practice and supported and encouraged many social workers to become research practitioners, write books and raise the profile of social care within academia.  Most of all Lyn exemplifies kindness and compassionate leadership, she listens hard to people and is always passionate about improving the lives of the people we serve.”

Warm tributes

Romeo’s popularity was also reflected in a number of warm tributes on X (formerly Twitter) after news broke of her retirement.


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10 Responses to Chief social worker to step down after decade in post

  1. Yeah right October 1, 2023 at 8:46 am #

    “We will update on her successor in due course.”

    Let’s see how transparent the recruitment process is and who the Government undemocratically cherry-pick for a 10 year ornamental tenure this time round.

  2. Prem October 3, 2023 at 7:44 pm #

    10 years in post yet achieved very little. Not sure if this role is needed.

    • Violet October 5, 2023 at 2:41 pm #

      PSW seem to have noticed positives and as we all know in social work only the opinion of ‘leaders’ has legitimacy. Anything the average social worker might have an opinion on is way down in the listening league as apparently we just moan and are drenched in cynicism all the time.

    • CAG October 6, 2023 at 12:59 am #

      How cynical and disingenuous- her main achievement in my opinion is Ito have raised the profile of adult social workers across the country and to articulate to government the values of our profession- no easy task with a succession of Tory governments. Happy retirement Lyn- enjoy?

      • Pauline October 7, 2023 at 12:31 pm #

        The cynicism word strikes to reinforce that in social work debate must only be conducted within prescribed parameters.

  3. PaulineSergeant October 6, 2023 at 4:43 pm #

    Thanks for all you have contributed to social work over the past decade, Lyn Romeo. I’m hoping the baton is carefully passed to someone whose character and leadership capabilities will truly benefit all hard working social workers and the people we serve.

  4. Coral October 7, 2023 at 2:01 am #

    10 years in post- nothing has changed at the coal face.
    LPS hangs in the balance; A New Mental Health Act – shelves! So many opportunities and none of them capitalised on! Adult social work is in a worse place than ever. We have zero standing with other professions and no status whatsoever in terms of professional recognition. We have a regulatory body that’s failing all social workers – what happens to every £90 sent to them??? Racism experienced by social workers is at an all-time high and nothing is being done about it! We don’t need a “chief Social Worker” – we need a team to lead social work development. We don’t need these half baked transition to social work courses – we need properly trained social workers who know what they’re doing! The whole thing is a farce!

  5. Kieran October 10, 2023 at 8:24 am #

    Only in social work would the truth Coral describes be deemed cynicism and pals congratulating pals not be deemed sycophantic. The sorry state of honest practitioner experiences being ignored and traduced summed up in the exchanges here. Our leaders would do themselves a great deal of good and learn grace too if they understood the difference between a cynic and a sceptic. Celebrating the retirement of a colleague while ignoring how the post left contributes to improving the experiences of practitioners and users of services is hardly an endorsement of a learning nor a listening profession. By all means enjoy the tea and celebrations but know too that we are the bread and butter of this profession and without us no amount of MBEs and the like would sustain it.

  6. Tahin October 11, 2023 at 12:37 pm #

    The trouble with thinking that ascending PSWs from their already power infused positions to the high table of ADASS is progressing social work is that it willfully ignores the bureaucracy mired, budget driven reality of our practice. It’s not Directors or PSWs who determine what we do but our employers whose priorities aren’t investing in an adequately staffed, proactively supervised and supported workforce. Every cut to our staffing levels and resources, at least in my part of Yorkshire, has been met with the “not ideal but we have to make it work” defeatism by our managers. Ask any social worker what their experience of placement panels, supervision, the direction of our practice being determined by managerialism is and the rosy picture presented by the PSW Network will be laughed at. Policies, taking tea with Ministers, platitudes only mean something if they make a practical difference to practice and user experience. On all objective levels the chasm between what we experience and what our leaders think we do is huge. Everybody does their best, tries their hardest but to pretend tangible improvements are being made to our daily experiences is frankly insulting. No coherent recruitment strategies, vacancies, endemic racism, supervision practically non-existent, post qualifying training a distant memory. How have the past 10 years been “glorious”?

  7. Penny October 12, 2023 at 1:20 pm #

    Coral, Kieran and Tahin describe my experience and my increasing disillusionment with the current state of social work. I have been a qualified social worker for 27 years. I used to know I was a social worker, now I’m just a bureaucrat trying to salvage something of what social work should be and increasingly failing