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Reflections on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Our chief executive Colum Conway reflects on the review published on 23 May 2022.

Reflections on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

5/25/2022 5:00:00 PM

Following our initial response to the publication of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, I wanted to take a moment to address some specific points made in relation to our role as the specialist regulator for social work in England.

As a public body with a unique view across the entire social work profession, we welcome the recognition that social workers play a vital role to support children and families across the country. This is also true for those social workers who support adults. As a profession, social work is one of the greatest assets that the social care system has to bring about long lasting, transformative change for children and families. It is right that this role takes centre stage in the report, in recognition of the potential life-changing impact a social worker can have on a person’s life.

Many of the recommendations set out are complex and will take time to work through to ensure that they are effectively implemented across one social work profession, in keeping with the professional standards. Here are some of my initial thoughts which I hope are useful to set out for transparency at this stage:

The first area of consideration specifically relating to Social Work England is the recommendation that we ‘set standards and regulate residential children’s home managers’. Protecting children and adults regardless of their location is of paramount importance to our regulation. We know that regulating care settings for children in England would better align England with other nations across the UK who already do this. While we welcome the recommendation, we need to understand how this links with the broader changes proposed to residential care, including the registration of all residential children’s home staff. We look forward to working with the Department for Education to understand how we may inform decisions made about regulation of this important part of children’s social care.

The second area for us, is the recommendation that Social Work England should take on a greater role in overseeing practice educators as part of their responsibilities for initial education. We know that practice educators play an important role in the next generation of social workers. There is a real appetite from across the sector to reinforce and bolster the status of this crucial role and the difference it makes to children and families, and we welcome greater oversight of it. We will set out more detail about our intentions in this area in our vision for education and training, which we intend to publish in the coming weeks.

The third area of interest for us is that Social Work England should introduce a requirement that a registered social worker needs to spend 100 hours each year in direct practice in order to remain on our register. While we understand the broad drivers behind this recommendation, there is work we need to do as the regulator to interrogate the risk around social workers maintaining a certain number of hours in frontline practice. We would wish to build our own evidence base which would include engaging with people with lived and learned experience of social work, and testing possible solutions.

Ultimately, we need to be assured that any approach fully considers the breadth of roles and contexts which social workers operate in across both children and families and adult services. Alongside our partners and ahead of any implementation we would wish to explore how the approach would improve both professional practice and consistency of service for children and families while maintaining the proportionality of our requirements on the profession.

The fourth proposal of relevance to us is that there should be an Early Career Framework for social workers. We share concerns with the review that too many newly qualified social workers do not feel adequately supported in their first years of practice, creating poorer experiences for those at the start of their careers and a riskier environment of practice for the public. Adverse outcomes have also been found to disproportionately affect social workers from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and those with disabilities.

The detail contained in the recommendation is largely in keeping with our forthcoming vision for education and training. We are however mindful that this is not solely the role of the regulator to deliver and this proposal requires collaboration with our partners to ensure any solutions are coherent, applicable across the breadth of social work, and are ultimately effective in improving support for social workers in the first years of their careers, and the support they offer to the public.

Finally, it is recommended that social workers should either specialise, maintain in frontline practice, or progress to management after 5 years of practice. We understand that career pathways in social work need consideration to ensure skilled practitioners can progress without needing to leave frontline practice, and social workers can pursue routes into specialisms and management when they are experienced and adequately trained.

We will be considering our approach to post-qualifying social work, as well annotations on our register to ensure that people can better understand the complexity of different social worker roles and have confidence in our regulation of them to ensure safe and effective practice.

Safe and effective social work practice must continue to thrive if we are to improve people’s chances in life. As a professional regulator there is a limit to what we can achieve on our own, without also exploring the shortcomings of the wider system which for too long has threatened to pull social workers away from their primary purpose.

Allowing professionals time and resources to build strong, respectful relationships with children and families is what any social worker sets out to achieve. We look forward to playing our part in making sure that stays in sharp focus, and we are committed to working closely with everyone who has an interest in social work as part of the review’s implementation.

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