It was reported over the week that the Government is to appoint a Chief Social Worker. This is apparently a response to recommendations in the Munro Report and pressure from BASW (British Association of Social Workers). I have previously mentioned by concerns about the appointment of a Chief Social Worker. I think the obsession with professionalism and status doesn’t help social work practice and what will actually help practice is a wider and broader input in education and research roles, higher ethical conduct and a greater role as advocates for those who may not have the louder voices so we can support and assist as well as control and dominate.
The idea of the appointment of a ‘chief’ makes me uneasy. It makes me uneasy that the impetus for change in social work started in Childrens’ Services and remains in Childrens’ Services. The information comes from the Department of Education. Munro was a lost opportunity for the social work profession as a whole because the changes that take place in childrens’ services will likely have a knock on effect as adult services are ignored and proverbially hung out to dry as we can’t pull the heartstrings in the same way. The issues are not the same but poor delivery, training and systems can have equally tragic results. While it might not be obvious to most people, a dysfunctional social work profession leads to increased managerialism and bureaucracy and a quieter voice for those who do need support and assistance through difficult periods of their lives.
People are not ‘children’ or ‘adults’. They don’t have ‘learning disabilities’ or ‘physical disabilities’ in isolation of the families,societies and communities they live in. By specialising, I fear that we, as a profession, have lost too much and have narrowed our collective focus to become less professionally and more functionaries of our employers. Divide and rule. Drip feed our professional knowledge and awareness and we become more malleable tools.
Programmes like ‘Step Up To Social Work’ seem to ignore any kind of genericism in the degree and in the profession and are placed in the ‘Children’s Workforce Development Council’. I think it offers and presents social work poorly as a profession in its entirely which has one facet when in fact there is so much richness that is lost by having just one focus.
Placements in Childrens’ services are often seen as the ‘gold standard’ and certainly in our local authority, the pay is higher on exactly the same grade between a social worker in adult services and one working in childrens’ services. This is a demand/supply issue, I suspect. It’s harder to retain social workers in childrens services or at least in child protection teams.
I truly think that my practice would be enhanced by a broader brief. I have a particular specialism, working in mental health, but I think that there are so many issues that I work with that would be valuable if I worked in a less siloed manner – if I could get more experience in childrens services.
The tide has been rolled out too far now and we are being increasingly compartmentalised as professionals. Children and Adults. Physical Disabilities and Mental Health. Academics and Practitioners.
Someone asked me a while back, via Twitter, I think, why they should be ‘forced’ to do a placement in adult services when they KNEW they wanted to work with children. They seemed to resent any part of the course which wasn’t wholly focused on the needs of children.
Is that really the kind of training and profession that society wants? I think it is. I hear about universities increasingly forcing social work students to specialise and I think that they those universities have lost the ethos of the profession and the reasons that the course is in place. The courses should not need to spit out ready-to-practice social workers, but it is the first step along a long journey of professional education. We become ‘the system’ that we are fighting if we follow the narrow career paths that it defines.
Equally, with people who move from University, to NQSW, to Consolidation Module to Advanced Practitioner (or whatever the equivalent Post Qualification Framework is called now) without any break – one PQ course after another without pause for work experience and reflection – lose the entire purpose of a post-qualifying framework but because local authorities tie post-qualification modules to pay and to ‘status’, it forces people through these courses without any hint of consideration for professional development over a career.
It’s just a race to who can get their PQ award quickest. Picking up qualifications and being marked and scored on everything seems to have an overemphasised value in this society. These kinds of processes damage practitioners who become moulded too quickly without the time to gain experience and practice knowledge. Everything has to be examined and assessed and reflection becomes something to be resented as it is always assessed, rather than a part of a practitioners personal toolkit to use to inwardly build practice without ‘reward’.
I feel quite resentful that the current framework has forced me to choose between modules on the Adult Services path and those on the Mental Health path. As for childrens services, I’d never get a look in. So my specialisms narrow further and further and the ability to move between services also diminishes.
Back to the Chief though. This ‘Chief’ will only have one ‘path’ that they have taken ‘to the top’ or maybe, they were fortunate to have worked in a generic manner as was before I qualified. Maybe they will have just moved between different management and executive posts on their way ‘to the top’.
I worry that there are already too many attempting to be Chiefs and this is just a way for the government to absolve itself from political responsibility for decisions made in social work. We will have a Head of the College of Social Work, a CEO of BASW. Why would what a ‘Chief Social Worker’ have any relevance to me, as a front line social work practitioner? It is bound to be someone who last saw front-line practice at least a decade ago if not longer – maybe was involved in some kind of management or academic ‘get out’ clause so they didn’t have to get their ‘hands dirty’ with the real work and systems that are currently in place.
I don’t understand BASWs promotion of the idea above all the other issues that affect social work.
If someone can explain to me how having an English Chief Social Worker will help me and the people I work for, I’ll be happy to concede but currently it seems to make absolutely no different apart from the ego and salary of the person appointed.
As for a lament for lost genericism, I know it is a call into the wild that will never be answered. We have travelled too far along that path and seem to be specialising more and more rather than broadening our knowledge bases and our briefs. I think we have lost a part of our collective voices in the process though.
Chief or no Chief, I can’t see that being regained easily.