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.