Adult social work continues to demonstrate its vital role and ability to specialise across the health and care system. I am therefore very pleased to introduce this guest blog from Dr Ruth Allen, a great practice leader in mental health social work. She has been involved in producing resources to improve, develop and sustain effective, high quality social work across the mental health sector. We are proud to launch these resources today.
"There are positive winds of change blowing through mental health and social work across England, judging by the growing interest in the ‘Social Work for Better Mental Health’ initiative (SWfBMH) amongst local authorities, social work leaders and NHS Trusts.
This Department of Health backed innovation provides improvement tools and resources to help organisations and professional social work leaders shape and support clear social work roles in mental health. It also seeks to involve service users and carers in this process through finding out what they most want from great social work and involving them in change.
The resources for SWfBMH also make the strategic case for excellent social workers collaborating with commissioners and employers across the mental health system. The overall aim is to enable social workers to be the best they can be – and reinvigorate a social and citizenship approach to mental health.
Since the millennium, social work and social care in mental health have seemed to get lost, falling down the cracks between local authorities, NHS organisations and, indeed, an increasingly diversified system of provision and commissioning. Social workers have been managed by NHS Trusts in many localities and local authorities have sometimes taken a step away from working directly with their citizens with mental health problems.
The progress around personalised support planning and direct payments in mental health has been slow, and slowed further with the impact of austerity. The enabling ethos of the Care Act 2014 has been harder to promote in mental health, perhaps because social workers have often become steeped in the ‘case management’ model of the care programme approach.
Many social care and NHS leaders have become increasingly aware of these problems. There is a lot of concern to make sure the long term need for joined up, personalised, empowering and accessible support is not compromised by lack of attention to excellence in social work. Likewise, embedding support around mental health within the wider social inclusion, public health and equalities responsibilities of local authorities must continue.
If we are to fulfill national policy aims of effective ‘integration’ - defined by the experience of individuals and families rather than by structures and processes - we need to optimise the offer of all parts of the workforce and make sure all services, professionals and peer supporters can work together well.
However they are managed – whether within the NHS, by separate health and social care organisations or in other ways – the social work offer must be the best it can be. This means enabling the best outcomes and – crucially – focusing on the human rights and empowered citizenship of people who are so often socially excluded and stigmatised. For social work in mental health, this may be our point of modernisation for the 21st Century."