Tuesday 29 July saw the first ever joint national conference in London for Principal Social Workers (PSWs).
It was fantastic to see so many people attending from across the country - particularly with the holiday season in full swing - with over 150 delegates evenly split across children’s and adult services.
The event captured the real passion and enthusiasm for improving standards of social work practice and creating the right conditions for excellent social work to flourish – strong organisational leadership, commitment to professional development and space for reflective practice and supervision.
It was a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements we’ve seen over the last year, with PSWs now in place in the majority of local authorities in adults’ services and increasing numbers of Mental Health Trusts, helping facilitate feedback between frontline staff, senior managers and the chief social workers.
As well as acknowledging and celebrating the progress we’ve made, the event was a chance to showcase models of excellent social work practice, highlight opportunities for collaboration across children’s and adults’ services and demonstrate how we can embed whole family approaches to working with people of all ages.
A number of things stood out for me during the course of the day; the increasing profile and impact social work is making throughout organisations, alongside increasingly innovative approaches to commissioning and delivering social work services. An inspiring presentation by Focus from North East Lincolnshire, a Community Interest Company delivering Adult Social Work services was a great example of empowering social workers to deliver some imaginative solutions to meet outcomes for their clients.
It was great to hear examples of ‘Think Family’ approaches, where social workers are moving away from traditional boundaries to work holistically with families, individuals and the wider community to achieve lasting outcomes. As integrated, multidisciplinary working becomes increasingly the norm in health and social care, the ability of social workers to lead and influence, both beyond their direct authority and across professional boundaries, will become ever more important.
PSWs are already doing this through their influence at management and strategic level and are encouraging and empowering their social work colleagues to do the same. Implementing approaches and frameworks to embed strong social work practice shows a growth of professional confidence, as well as providing an essential counterbalance to the more managerial approaches to social work.
To date, PSWs have played a key role in helping drive improvements in social work practice and in influencing and shaping key national policy and legislation – most recently, they have contributed to:
- Consultation on the Regulations and Guidance in the Care Act
- Development of guidance for social workers to better support people with dementia and other cognitive impairments; and
- Statements of skills and knowledge for social workers.
My colleague Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children, has published a knowledge and skills statement for social work with children and families and I will be publishing a similar statement for social work with adults shortly.
In adult social care, over 17,000 social workers are working in vital but often low profile roles, supporting around 1.5 million people with complex, challenging needs to achieve the better lives. Often they are the only social work voice within integrated, multidisciplinary teams, applying excellent knowledge and skills in working with people in relation to safeguarding, capacity, mental health and long term conditions.
The implementation of the Care Act in 2015 will bring new responsibilities for social workers, including ensuring the social care needs of prisoners are met. Increasingly, there is a need for all social workers to work with individuals at the end of life, not just those in specialist palliative care services. These changes highlight the varied, challenging but rewarding landscape for social workers practicing in adult social care.
We need to grasp this window of opportunity to achieve a step change for social work. Social workers have a vital role to play in a changing health and social care landscape, ensuring people’s well-being and the outcomes which matter to them are at the heart of every decision that is made.
To do this, we need to ensure all social workers are delivering high quality practice, wherever they are based. I will write again to set out my plans for strengthening both the initial assessment for social workers after their first year in employment and a framework for continuous professional development which will enrich and deepen practice for all social workers.
For those who are off on their summer holidays, I hope you enjoy your well-deserved break. I am looking for forward to mine…in the Lake District, just as the weather turns from sun to rain!