On World Social Work Day, The College of Social Work calls for more support for adult social work
Social work is one profession.
‘Improving adult safeguarding should be as high a priority as improving child safeguarding over the next few years’
Social workers work in a wide range of settings and with all sorts of people so to behave as if there are only two sorts of social work – “children” and “adult” (or three, if you add in “mental health”) – does a disservice to the profession and, more importantly, to people who need social work support.
I remember working – back in the “good old days” of generic social work – with families where there were issues to do with child neglect, alcohol abuse and mental illness.
I believe that it would have damaged the service the family received had different social work agencies been involved.
The basic skills, knowledge and values that social workers deploy are common to all the settings in which they work; the specialist elements ought to be the product of accumulating experience and effective continuing professional development.
And that development ought to be a career long commitment made by the social worker in the pursuit of excellence and for the benefit of service users. That is the context in which any discussion about social work with older people needs to take place.
There had to be a “but” on the way. The reality of the world in which most social workers have to operate is one of agency boundaries that never seem to stabilise for very long. Sometimes it seems as if we have struggled with a tide that sweeps us toward a fractured profession.
In response, as one profession we have to construct our professional identity around the common skills, knowledge, and values that unite us.
The College of Social Work aims to do that in a range of ways and the new professional capabilities framework helps to set the stage for a comprehensive review of the CPD options social workers need to be able to access to ensure they can offer the best possible service to those who need our support. The college endorsement scheme will help to ensure that.
‘Continuing professional development ought to be a career long commitment made by the social worker in the pursuit of excellence’
In the current climate where much of the political spotlight falls upon child protection, social work with adults generally gets little attention while social work and older people gets virtually none.
The evidence suggests it should be the other way around. Despite the media image, there is no evidence that child protection work in England is, for example, less effective than in other comparable countries.
Of course, we could and should aim for higher standards but we should get a sense of proportion.
Social work with older people needs just as much attention. Everyone knows the facts about our ageing population and everyone knows that dementia is on the way to becoming “public health enemy number one”.
Developing medical strategies to deal with the healthcare consequences is important but so is finding social work strategies to deal with the impact on wellbeing and dignity.
Improving adult safeguarding should be as high a priority as improving child safeguarding over the next few years.
We are contributing to that in a number of ways. We are campaigning for social workers to have a right of entry when they have reasonable grounds for believing that they are being denied the opportunity to talk directly to a vulnerable adult.
We have trained expert practitioners to participate in the peer review process that the Local Government Association runs for adult safeguarding services. We are developing an evidence based business case to demonstrate the value of the contribution that social work makes to adult services generally.
The college has two fundamental aims: to raise professional standards and to explain social work to the public. I have never met a social worker who is satisfied with just providing a “good enough” service.
All too often that is what happens because of external circumstances but social workers know that we ought to be doing better. One way of doing this is to ensure that continuing professional development is better organised, better delivered and acknowledged by everyone as “non-optional”.
‘We are developing an evidence based business case to demonstrate the value of the contribution that social work makes to adult services generally’
The college has developed an endorsement scheme that aims to ensure that CPD training and trainers are of high quality. I hope that eventually social workers (and their employers) will rely on college endorsement when choosing CPD provision.
Where social workers are employed they can remind managers that reserved time for reflection and learning is not a dispensable luxury despite high caseloads. And independent social workers must also build high quality CPD into their own career development plans.
A strong professional identity, together with high quality CPD, fair representation in the media, a strong voice in the policy-making process and good management support are all essential to ensuring that social workers are provided with the tools they need to carry out their role to the best of their ability. The college has made some impressive progress in all these areas, but there is still much to be done to ensure that social workers are properly supported in their work, and we would invite all social workers to join the college as members and play their part in building a strong future for social work.
Owen Davies is policy adviser at The College of Social Work