In England public attention given to social work over the last couple of years can only be described as intense. In response, the Social Work Taskforce has set up a Reform Board that is overseeing the implementation of a wide set of recommendations to improve the situation.
Central to the proposed reforms is a new set of overarching professional standards. A College of Social Work has been created that has amongst its initial priorities defining the values and purpose of the profession as well as creating those standards.
Meanwhile, the General Social Care Council (GSCC) – whose main accomplishment has been the registration of social workers with protection of job title to standards – has bitten the dust in the QUANGO bonfire. Its functions of regulation of social workers are being moved to the Health Professionals Council (HPC) – apparently to be renamed. And what is the first thing the HPC does? Announce it is to establish proficiency standards for its new professional group.
Meanwhile, the leading professional association for social workers (BASW) seems more concerned with political positioning than with promoting its code of ethics and making sense of standards for its members.
This is not just an internal turf-war – this important to registered managers in children’s services (and indeed adult services) and what relevance to the Institute of Childcare and Social Education (ICSE). Why?
First, the debate is all about social workers – the job title – and not about social work the profession with its discrete knowledge base, skills, roles and tasks and needing clarity of standards. Social work, as a profession, is part of social care. Social care itself is unlikely to be considered a single profession but a grouping of several actual and aspiring professions. Many of these – whilst not social workers – draw on social work and other disciplines in establishing their professional expertise, e.g. registered managers.
Registered managers of children’s homes and other services are professional practitioners that practice using social work and other skills and should have clear standards which are upheld by a valued professional body. In England, they are regulated as part of service regulation by OFSTED and were supposed to have been part of the remit of the axed GSCC. So as it stands, they are not part of the thinking of the College, the HPC or BASW.
Meanwhile, with the demise of the National Centre of Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC), another source of professional support has vanished. Step forward the Institute with the backing of the Social Care Association – a long standing professional association; setting and promoting standards across the work groups in social care (largely residential, day and support at home practitioners).
Second, registered managers of childrens homes have a pretty specifically defined professional role. There is a qualification requirement, there are statutory accountabilities, and there is a knowledge and skill base and an identity. What is lacking: establishment and maintenance of relevant standards and regulation of the role by a professional body. This is a role for a professional association and should be undertaken and led by peers. Again, this could be a role for ICSE and SCA.
Third – and this is important – registered managers are professional risk takers. They are engaged in continually weighing the benefits and harms to children and young people of actions and inactions – primarily of their practitioner staff.
ICSE will be saying more about risk but, suffice it to say here, that it is at the heart of what being a professional is all about – certainly in social work and social care. The touchstone in law is that the gauging of risk, as either reasonable or negligent, is taken from what a body of professionals say, not what employers say or bodies that do not have residential work or children’s services as its focus but a body of peer professionals.
All the messages in England at the moment are that registered managers are not professionals. ICSE and SCA say they are and need to be, if for no other reason, because of the risky nature of their roles and tasks.
We need clarity.
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