As another year draws to a close and many of you take a well-earned rest over Christmas, it feels like a good moment to take stock of where we’ve got to in the ongoing reform of social work education and practice and consider what’s ahead for the profession as we move into an election year.
2014 has seen significant progress across the spectrum of social work – Professor Crosidale-Appleby’s review of social work education made a number of recommendations for improving the education, training and continuous professional development of social workers and I am working with the department and the sector to take these forward, alongside work with DfE and Isabelle Trowler to take forward shared priorities across the social work landscape. Social work is practiced in many settings and it is imperative that in all areas, we can explain what we know and do, are seen as skilled and capable, safe and valued and making a real difference to those we serve.
Getting a real voice for social work in the Care Act regulations and guidance has been a significant achievement, influencing policy development to reflect the value and contribution of social work. The challenge now is to ensure local authorities and providers are prepared for implementation from April 2015 – particularly, ensuring that social workers are empowered to lead in helping identify and connect people to support, which can prevent or delay the need for further interventions.
And, while the increased number of people being brought within the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) due to the Supreme Court ruling in the Cheshire West case, presents real challenges for social workers as they respond to the backlog of cases (and I am working with ADASS to look at how we can address those pressures), the feedback I’ve received from social workers, points to a real appetite in the profession to raise awareness of the Mental Capacity Act and to take a leading role in modelling great practice, supporting people to make their own decisions, reduce restrictive practices and make best interest decisions.
So, what can we expect for social work in 2015? If we are to realise the ambition in the Care Act for integrated health and care, we need to be more ambitious about what social workers can bring to improving outcomes for people using services, their carers and the wider community. We know the pressures on local authority budgets are set to continue for several more years, whoever wins the election in May. As a profession, we need to start looking at working more innovatively and creatively alongside people, their carers, other professionals and the wider community, to harness capacity and achieve best outcomes.
TCSW and Royal College of GPs have started to identify opportunities for social workers and GPs to work together as local professional leaders, helping relieve the pressure on primary care and working co-operatively with people in ways best suited to them. The government’s considerations in relation to strengthening independent living for people with learning disabilities, offers an opportunity for an enhanced role for social workers, to ensure that a person-centred approach to the individual and their family is at the heart of every decision made. I also think that social workers can make a vital contribution to ensuring people with dementia and their carers get holistic responses to their care and support needs at every step along the journey, and I will continue to work with policy leads and the sector to develop excellent social work practice in dementia and also end of life/palliative care.
So, if I can make one prediction for 2015, it’s that it will be another busy year for the profession as we work together to challenge and improve practice, so I hope you enjoy the Christmas break and come back refreshed and ready for the year ahead. Very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.