The Future of Adult Social Work


I am running late for a training course that I haven’t finished the ‘pre-reading’ for yet – due to an unusually busy weekend (for all the good reasons which involve sunshine and basically being outside!).

But I thought it would be remiss not to mention the publication of the the ‘Future of Social Work in Adult Services’ document on Friday.

It’s a short document that clarifies some of the expectations and directions that will likely be taken in social work in the UK, drawing on the definition of Social Work given by the International Federation of Social Workers and then narrowing it down to not only a more UK centric focus but also an adult-centred perspective.

It is a fairly uncontroversial document that balances some of the future direction of the personalisation and transformation agendas – addressing some of the fears about the dilution of ‘social work’ and ‘social workers’ into unqualified posts where some of the expertise is reduced in order to reduce employment costs saying

Giving people control of their own resources and determining how their needs are met is transforming social services. Services are being personalised. Many people will want to organise all their supports and services themselves, based on good information. Others will want help from peers and user and carer led organisations. However, many will want social work to support them when they feel most vulnerable, to manage risks and benefits, and to build their self-esteem and aspirations so that they can take control or make difficult decisions.

This acknowledges the fear of some social workers about being pushed out of the role however I wonder how it tallies with the workload issues and the reassurances that certainly happened in my borough that some of the increased paperwork that is generated by self-directed support will be farmed to smaller advocacy services. It can’t work both ways – either the professional support is offered and time is allowed for it by management – or it is not offered and independent, voluntary sector advocacy services are employed (very well in most circumstances) and ‘social work’ tasks revolve around managing pieces of paper in an office. Not necessarily by a qualified professional.

The report also expands to explore other aspects of social work within specialist and multi-disciplinary teams. I admit to being concerned at a driving focus on community care legislation and directions but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It emphasises that

Social workers also have an important role in working with people whose rights may be undermined through abuse or neglect, or where the law requires some deprivation of liberty. Social workers can assess and manage risk and balance competing rights in order to protect those in need. Social workers make sure that legal action is taken only where necessary, for the shortest time and with the least restriction.

This distinct approach provides an important contribution to multi-disciplinary teams, to support better outcomes. It also complements the contribution of other professions. Social workers in multi-disciplinary teams bring a perspective of the whole person, rather than just their symptoms or circumstances. Seeing the individual in the context of their family, friends and community, and reflecting their hopes and fears for their own future is where social work can bring an important contribution to the work of the team.

The document needed to address social work as it stands within a legislative framework which often (although not exclusively) allows and demands that social workers play a role. For me, the key to my role as a social worker within a multi-disciplinary team is exactly to ensure that the ‘whole person’ is not lost in the background when the consideration of medical concerns are raised although to be fair, in my team, I would say we are very much pulling in the same direction and by no means would I say that the medics, nurses, OTs, psychologists think in any different way – however the training does shift the focus and I think it is a really important that a person who has not come through ‘medical training’ sits at the multi-disciplinary table.

The document also looks towards the future, setting out a few possible roles that will develop over time

Social Work and interpersonal support: With the development of information, advice and advocacy services, support planning and brokerage, there may be new roles for social workers alongside services led by people using services and their families. This may include services for people who fund their own social care.

Social work and safeguarding rights: Social work could have an important role in community development work and promoting social cohesion, for example where disabled, mentally ill or substance misusing people are victims of hate crime.

Social work with families: Social workers already help to break the cycle of families where generations of individuals are trapped in abusive relationships, crime, substance misuse, poor health, unemployment and other factors. Their role in this work could be strengthened to support the current priorities for local authorities to create safe, healthy and prosperous communities

All possibly interesting ways to go and perhaps each will form a post in its own right. All I will say at present from initial, swift reading of the document is that the its interesting (and very positive, in my mind) that social work with families moves into the broader context than simply being placed alongside ‘childrens’ services. Families are about more than that and without ways of working with and alongside adults, there can be no way of proactively protecting children. One of the reasons I always opposed separation and polarisation of ‘childrens’ training and ‘adults’ training – and ‘childrens’ services and ‘adults’ services.

I expect to read and reflect more on the document over the next week and/or months. In the meantime, it generally strikes me as a positive step. I just wonder why it took so long to come out!

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