Chief Social Worker?


A couple of days ago, I noted a that BASW issued a press release stating that their ‘chief social worker plans gain tentative ministerial support’.

BASW (British Association of Social Workers)  have been lobbying for changes in the Health and Social Care Bill to establish, among other things, the position of a ‘Chief Social Worker’.

I have to say I feel more than a little uncomfortable about this proposal. Perhaps it’s because I don’t understand it but I really don’t see how a ‘Chief Social Worker’ position would fit in to the government advisory framework. Perhaps it is a matter that the status issue troubles me. I don’t think we, as a profession and a young profession at that, need to ape the medical model of having a ‘Chief Medical Officer’ or a ‘Chief Nursing Officer’. We have a completely different function and work to different demands. I don’t want social work to become a profession that needs to ape and mimic others figuratively shouting ‘me too.. me too’ and waving its presence in the face of ministers.  One of the criticisms of the medical models is the hierarchical natures of some of their professionals frameworks and if the proposals of the Social Work Reform Board are to take shape, there are going to be more creative and exciting ways to progress as a frontline practitioner other than management. But this position through the name and nature of the role seems to want to perpetuate hierarchy.

A Chief Social Worker would invariably come from a background of working with children as that is where the public perception of social work traditionally lies and possibly where the most ‘media interest’ lies. How would they be able to comment on issues affecting other service user groups with any authority? Would we need three Chief Social Workers? One for Children and Families, one for Adult Services and One for Mental Health Services? If no, who gets the ‘top job’? I think it is a testament to the death of generic social work that I am even able to ask that question but it is an important question to me as already it feels that social work in adult services and mental health is somewhat marginalised. To me, this one position would do so even more.

Is there a ‘Chief Teacher’? Is there a ‘Chief Occupational Therapist’? I’m asking because genuinely I don’t know. I don’t think there are but could be wrong.  I actually see social work as far more closely allied to those professions in lots of ways than doctors and nurses and fail completely to understand how having a single identifiable officer would help.

I understood that a part of the remit of the College of Social Work, when it is established, will be to provide a conduit of communication between the government and the profession. Far better, in my mind, to have a board structure with a group of social workers with wider ranges of expertise than to have one identifiable ‘Chief Social Worker’.

Maybe I’m completely missing the point – it wouldn’t be the first time – so please do comment and tell me why I’m wrong in my scepticism at this role.

Social Work is a plural profession. Social Work is not only practiced in the public statutory sector. I would feel that it is a way of fragmented the profession further to place one ‘sector’ above others in the implementation of this role but I accept that I am one front-line practitioner who has infinitely less experience than those making these proposals. I just want to know how I would benefit from there being a Chief Social Worker and how it would help me in my practice.

I think that by begging for crumbs from Parliament we are approaching the need for the profession to grow in the wrong way. We need bottom up growth, confidence and development much more than top down legislation. For Social Work to gain the respect that we would like it to, we need to take action and support those coming into the profession to grow, be strong and to support and weed out poor front line management which instils poor values and habits and burns out enthusiastic entrants to the profession.

Social Work would have better media coverage if social workers were better supported in the entry level position and given support way beyond the first year of practice in developing more skills and being allowed to advocate and advance the cause of users of social services rather than being turned into Performance Indicator Drones. I don’t deny my own responsibility in that. I have spent the last couple of weeks madly trying to catch up with the end of financial year targets personally.

What we need to do is to draw on the idealism that we felt when we started our social work training and went through university because almost all social work students feel that. We need to think back on those wishes, hopes and dreams we had of really advocating, working to needs-led agendas and on strengths-based models with and alongside users and remotivate ourselves and re-energise our profession rather than rely on those who left the frontline behind years ago to do it for us.

Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes effort.  But it needs collective action of more of the ‘social workers like me’ to stand up and ‘be counted’. To involve ourselves in the organisations that claim to speak for us and explain why we do what we do and how our employers might help or hinder us when we do this.

For me, one of the great failings of BASW is on the local level in London (I know there are active local groups around the country) . Perhaps now is a time for local support groups of social workers to form and provide peer support for each other outside the ‘organisation’ and between ourselves. We see the growth of user support groups and carer groups. How about professional support groups – we are busy people and they don’t have to take place in a physical sense but think how useful it might be to  have a resource of cross-authority or cross-borough local social workers to talk about issues affecting the profession outside the banner of a ‘membership’ organisation.  We have opportunities to make connections and build ideas now that never existed in the past.

Grassroots – that’s the way to go.

So I’m asking you two things. Firstly, have I completely missed the point of a ‘Chief Social Worker’? and if so, tell me because I genuinely want to know.

Secondly – would you be interested in a network of local social workers to support each other – not related to cases or management issues – confidentiality is a big issue – but in looking at ways that we can affect the profession in a ground up way.

I have a feeling that might be an idea I come back to.

13 thoughts on “Chief Social Worker?

  1. Pingback: Chief Social Worker? - Fighting Monsters - Member blogs - Social Work Blog - Carespace from Community Care

  2. It isn’t clear if that’s what BASW mean. Or if they mean the head of the College of Social Work, when it is established. I think it’s the lack of definition that is confusing me so much. there will be a chair anyway so why are BASW demanding a role for a Chief Social Worker? They wouldn’t need specific legislation about the role if it was already going to be present in the new HPC format.
    Very confused 🙂

  3. Isn’t there a ‘blind spot’ in your argument?
    Over a number of years Governments have worked to ‘join up’ local NHS and LA SSD services under the notion of “seamless services”. Whilst many of the client groups Social Workers serve may contain people who have significant ill health, it is a huge mistake to impose once again the “medicalisation” of people’s lives. Disabled People in particular have criticised the ‘individual model of disability’ and therefore view the whole idea of “Social Care” as problematic.

    I understand your argument, but in my opinion the proposal you object to is just another ‘logical step’ on an existing journey down the wrong road.

    • Thanks for adding that really important point. I am sure there are many flaws in my arguments. I want them to be picked up on so I can build better ones.

  4. In Canada, each province has their own College or some form of Association of Social Work. There is a “Canadian Association of Social Work” but each of these organizations, while having an Executive Director for the administrative running of the org, does not have a “Chief Social Worker”. There is no “One” social worker over the social workers as a whole that I know of at all. Which is working just fine for us.

  5. Hi, I guess a couple of years ago Id have jumped at the idea of workers meeting up etc. but really think its too late for that now.
    “Social work” as a profession is being dismantled and qualified workers being replaced by cheaper ones who can do tasks needed.
    There will only be a certain number of level 2 workers, no progression where I work in adults now, and very limited in childrens. All because of cuts!!
    Once Pickles gets rid of statutory responsibilities, then more work can be out sourced/privatised.
    If Social Workers had stood up for themselves over the years, this may not be happening to the degree it is.
    Sorry to be so bleak but thats the reality I see in front of me. A young colleague in adults now will never “progress” , a colleague in childrens,may just by the skin of his teeth progress before they bring in a new system which makes it so hard to progress that many who do now wont. Its not about standards, its about cuts.
    Maybe in mental health social workers will survive and still be needed, but in other areas endangered species we are !
    Think the best thing Social Workers can do now is to work with all who are opposing the dismantling of support/benefits ect.
    I feel desperately sorry for all young people in Social Work, who are now just beginning to realise there is unlikely to be a long term future for them in the work they trained so hard to do, and with grants and loans to pay off after training are finding their pay going down rather than up as theyd expected.
    Its a sad waste.

    • I can understand your points Mary and I am very concerned. My background is that I came into Mental Health from Adult Services and have a lot of contact with people I used to work with. I worry about where things are headed but I think that’s why we need to try and take a stand in any way possible.

  6. As you know I’m no expert on this, but it seems to me that this doesn’t need to be an either/or type situation. Undoubtedly grass roots confidence and support is essential, but on its own it won’t necessary be able to counter politicians and the media when they start to attack social work. I still think there is a place for a more formal ‘voice’ for the profession. It would seem natural that this would be the head of the college, so long as they were genuinely independent. I think having two roles (head of college and chief social worker) could be overkill but maybe it could be made to work.

    In terms of the issue of the person coming from one strand of social work this will of course happen whoever is speaking for the profession – be it head of the college or BASW, or a chief social worker, or a current practitioner. But better that than no voice at all. It would seem inevitable that the role would be supported by deputies who would be drawn from the different sectors. At times it may well be appropriate for the deputies to speak for their section of the profession where there are specific issues. Of course there is a role for front-line practitioners speaking out, but there is a risk that if it was just a case of media/politicians picking any SWer this could become a case of whoever shouts the loudest gets heard, and they wouldn’t necessarily be representative of all the other social workers. At least with a formal role and the support structures around that there could be mechanisms for ensuring that they have heard from lots of front line staff.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents… but as I say I accept that i am speaking from a fairly ignorant position at the moment!

    • You are as much of an expert as I. Generally, yes, you are right about the two strands – I think I might have got carried away but to be honest, that is the effect of the bustling and squabbling between BASW and the College – it really had a deep effect on my ability to trust any organisation truly wants the best for the profession rather than their own interests.
      I think my thought was that someone will be taking the role of predominant interest – whether that is the head of BASW, head of the College or Social Work representative on the HPC. Why do we need another discrete position?
      Of course one strand will always have the primacy – that is the case now – I just didn’t see the point – other than name and status – of having a separate role.
      But it may very well be me not understanding what the role actually is – other than a name!

  7. To clarify here’s the tentative evidence, which seems to suggest that the ConDem coalition may look at related issues once the Law Commission publishes its report on social care law reform.

    “With regard to the chief social worker and the further development of the status of the college, it is our intention to address in greater detail the Government’s policy and agenda for legislation in the next Session in the White Paper that we intend to publish later this year. The reason for that is quite simply that the Law Commission will shortly publish its report on social care law reform, and it seems that the opportunity to look at all aspects of social care law and the role of social workers is not in the Bill, which has a primary focus on health reform.”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/health/110329/am/110329s01.htm#11032969000122

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