A future for adult social work?


Community Care carried out an investigation a couple of weeks ago which found that vacancy rates in adult and children and families’ teams were roughly equal therefore the news that the Migration Advisory Council have dropped specifically adult social work jobs from their list of ‘shortage professions’ while children and families jobs have remained may seem curious.

Further investigation though makes the move seem a little more nefarious.  The Guardian reports that

The decision to remove social workers involved in adult services from the official shortage list follows the introduction of new initiatives to increase the number of students on social work courses and to improve the retention of more experienced workers.

The decision to ban recruitment of international qualified social workers, however, will not apply to those involved in child and family services, where it is considered that a national shortage remains. The MAC’s report says recruitment difficulties in this area have been exacerbated by the negative media image of social workers responsible for children.

Understandable but it does beg a lot of questions. Are all the proposed new graduates expected to go into adult social work jobs? Or are there just going to be less qualified jobs to go round..

Hilton Dawson the new Chief Executive of BASW (British Association of Social Workers) writes in Community Care that

BASW regularly receives complaints from members in adult services who speak of major reductions in social work jobs and, significantly, of a devaluing and lack of understanding of the social work role. Social workers are beginning to feel excluded from personalisation. The unique and vital contribution that social workers can bring to this crucial agenda is being dismissed and ignored.

The Personalisation Agenda remains largely mysterious. There are a few pilots usually with capable adults who benefit massively from being able to design and determine their own packages of care and where the money should be spent but little of the literature (that I have come across – and I have looked) seems to approach those user groups that were and are poorly served by Direct Payments – namely older adults, adults who lack capacity and those with mental illnesses who have not benefited to the same extent as other groups. It makes the right noises though – user choice is, of course, an incredibly positive goal – more holistic, devolved power and services.

Although the aim of the NHS and Community Care Act was to create a role of ‘care managers’ who could help to pick and choose services from different providers and put together user-centred care packages in a holistic manner – and look where that ended? With councils bidding each other down to provide ever cheaper services from private companies who pay a minimum wage salary to inexperienced care staff to rush in and rush out of many homes and houses on tightly implemented limiting packages where there is no scope for any ‘leisure’ activities apart from local day centres – is that was what envisaged when it was laid before Parliament? I don’t want to be over-cynical but it’s hard not to be.

So where does that leave adult social work?

There is likely to be a continuing need in adult protection but the sizes of teams will not be equivalent. In mental health teams which move more progressively towards generic roles, Approved Social Workers have transmuted into Approved Mental Health Professionals – and although the place of a voice for the social model of mental health care remains more than necessary, there is a move towards job adverts more generically calling for ‘mental health professionals’ rather than Social Workers, or CPNs or Occupational Therapists.

There is no doubt in my mind that a signposting role has significant importance for older adults and some people, even those who might not fit into the criteria for a mental health team, do need more outreach work  but is that a place for statutory services?

Perhaps the future of adult social work is actually in the voluntary sector?

It isn’t surprising that protecting children is seen as more ‘urgent’ but really the levels of abuse of older adults is often overlooked – and although it shouldn’t be a case of ‘compare and contrast’ it is difficult to ignore the push to marginalise further vulnerable adults when honestly, abuse of a person is abuse of a person – cruelty is not dependent on age.

As care services become more tailored to the ‘30 min’ rush-in rush-out visits that rarely last 30 minutes there is a greater scope and need for a more cohesive protective and preventative service in a sector that has almost no lee-way to work on any preventative measures apart from for a very small group of people who might fit into specific criteria in a specific service.

All the focus and interest remains very much in the domain of those who work with children and understandably so – it is more emotive and of more immediate concern to the general public.

I wonder why it is so few people are actually concerned about the services or lack of them, provided for older adults. Personally, I think it’s because we don’t want to think about getting old – young people, children – they are ‘other people’ – older adults, they are our parents, and us – eventually. Sometimes we just don’t want to be reminded but one day we are going to have to be.