Two Chiefs are Better than One?

or the Saga of the Chief Social Worker (s )

On Friday came a somewhat mystifying announcement from theDepartment of Health that two chief social workers will be appointed. The position of ‘Chief Social Worker’ had been advertised earlier in the year but no appointment had been made and the somewhat oblique decision was made that two would be better as no one person would have sufficient knowledge and expertise to be able to adequately respond to the needs of social work with adults and with children and families.

I was never particularly enthralled by idea of a Chief Social Worker  as I didn’t see what it would add to the voice of the profession. Some see links with medics or nurses but there is no ‘Chief Teacher’ – a ‘chief’ position doesn’t mean a profession has a better representation and personally I’d prefer the voice of the profession is somehow accountable to the profession either through a role in BASW, the professional association or the College of Social Work.

The ‘Chief Social Worker’ seemed to me to have a quasi-civil service position to rubber stamp rather than challenge government agendas and that has pretty much been confirmed by the way the appointment has been handled.

Yes, social work needs voice but I am under no illusion the voice of the chief appointed  would be different from voice presented by ADASS/ADCS .  The ‘Chief Social Worker’ would likely be someone coming from the top management positions who had proved their worth within local government systems and would be a mouthpiece for management interests rather than social work interests having been unlikely to have been engaged in frontline social work for many years. If that’s the case, I don’t see the purpose but many were in favour so I could be wrong! (It’s known and I don’t always claim to be right – just opinions!).

I was also particularly concerned that with the appointment of a Chief Social Worker, adult social work would be sidelined further. It was clear to me that any single Chief Social Worker would focus on children’s services because that’s where most social work takes place. I was worried that adult social work would be further marginalised.

So I’m not completely against the move to split the role.

What next for Social Work?

However, the announcement does have a number of implications.

1)   Dividing paths of social work into streams of ‘adult services’, ‘childrens services’ and to some extent ‘mental health services’ is irreversible.  As social work students, graduates and practitioners we  are streamlined by sector earlier and earlier with even qualifying programmes asking more for specialisation earlier  and the post qualification programmes encourage this.

Entry to social work ‘Step up’ type schemeswhich focus in pumping out ,children’s social workers encourage this. Local authorities (with government ministers backing them up) are seeking ‘practice ready’ social workers as graduates from universities which means that placements in statutory children’s services have a disproportionate value. I think that’s terrible shame. A local authority wanting a social worker from university should be prepared to accept a generically trained graduate with any placement experience and GIVE THEM the experience to make them ‘practice ready’. There is a mismatch between local authority expectations and universities ability to deliver and I’m 100% behind the universities here.

Employing organisations need to invest in training their workforce from graduation to get the workforce they want.

There are fewer people around who will have substantial experience necessary to cover both children and adult services. That’s a failing of government interference in the profession, the splitting of social services departments and separating agendas.

2)  Equally worrying is that this decision was seemingly taken ‘behind the scenes’ in the Department of Health.  Both BASW and the College of Social Workhave published statements opposing it. There was no broader consultation with social workers so who made the decision?

Why was such a significant decision taken without any consultation and who was responsible for ‘signing it off’. I’d wager it wasn’t a social worker.  This is frankly very insulting to the profession. Unsurprising but it shows how much the government listen to the College they set up and the professional association when it comes to making crucial decisions. It makes me realise more that the Chief posts will be government mouthpiece posts that will not speak for the profession. The government knows what it wants and it knows ‘what’s best’ for us without consulting or telling us until the decision is made.

Two heads of two professions?

We seem to be  moving inexorably towards two professions. This is sad for people like me, who have always passionately supported genericism as being important. While I think there are positives in having separate chief social workers for adult and children’s services, I am desperately concerned about how the decision was made.

What do you think? Do leave messages as I’m very interested.

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12 thoughts on “Two Chiefs are Better than One?

  1. My initial concern is by further splitting adults and children adults workers will fall even further behind in terms of value, resources allocated for training, education, and status. Not a good thing for the adults we work with because the status of social work and those who use services are very much related.

    Thanks for this Ermintrude.

  2. I am not a social worker but a long in the tooth generic nurse who longs for inter-agency, multidisciplinary holistic approach. We have so much to offer each other within our own and allied professions. How can we separate one age group from the other? they are linked in every possible way. Polarisation can only isolate us and them from those links. Isolation is an ever deepening trend in our lives
    As ever, excellent .

  3. …while I’m worried that this decision was made without BASW and the college (although I have to ask, where were they in speaking out against the destruction of mental health social work and the erosion of multidisciplinary working in the name of legitimising cuts/”personalisation”…?), I do think that having two separate “chief social workers” is better than one – adult social work already suffers as an unknown entity alongside the more publicised (sadly usually in the form of rabid witch-hunts) role of child protection social workers…

    …I’ve lost count of the number of times both practitioners and members of the public have assumed that because I’m a social worker I work in child protection, I know about fostering law and procedures and have confidently told service users that I can “sort out” these issues. No matter how many times I and my other mental health social work colleagues have explained that our specialism is mental health social work, this is simply ignored. As if they simply refuse to believe that such a thing exists. As if “social work” is de facto and always will be child protection and everything else is ignored. As if the needs of adults don’t matter and as if social models of understanding simply don’t apply to people with mental health problems.

    I chose early on in my training to specialise in mental health because of personal experience, because I found the subject fascinating, and because I (still, despite the sinister changes that have been forced on us recently) believe strongly in social models of both the cause of and recovery from mental health problems. I find it genuinely terrifying (personally and politically) that mental health interventions are being reduced across the country to pharmaceutical remedies and incarceration. I know nurses receive some training in “social models”, but these are “social models” as defined and explained by a dominant medical model. Social Work is unique in having its roots in the promotion of social justice and maintaining a political stance towards and against inequality and the imbalances of power that (sadly) make up the reality of psychiatric treatment.

    The destruction of mental health social work as a discipline (the disintegration of multidisciplinary teams, the closure of the social work research dept at the institute of psychiatry) is leading us towards generic working. I think it’s important that while we champion holistic ways of working with people we keep alive and vital the difference between “holistic” and “generic”…A generic “catch-all” chief social worker (however that role will evolve) that encapsulated both child and adult social work would, I fear, continue the erasure of specialism within social work. Different roles and contexts requires different skills and pretending otherwise does a great disservice to the people we are employed to help.

    Child protection (particularly in the current climate of news and scandals) understandably receives a lot of media attention. Adult care less so. If the general public’s opinion and knowledge of child protection social work is sketchy as we know it to be (witness portrayals on soap operas, terrifying tabloid coverage and those websites that “name and shame” social workers and encourage “vigilante action”) then the knowledge of adult social work is even worse.

    Appointing an adult “chief social worker” may go some way to raising the profile (or even proving the existence of…?) this specialism, where issues like mental capacity and adult safeguarding are better understood by the public (and by associated practitioners who demonstrate worrying/illegal practice at times). Events such as Winterbourne show that adults are in need of protection as much as children and that this needs to be championed, And safeguarding/protection is the “basic” before we even get into high-falutin’ ideas about personal meaning and identity which are often lost in the pursuit of pharmaceutical remedy and restoring a compliant functionality to people.

    If we’re going to have chief social workers, I’m relieved that we have representatives from both areas of children and adults. We have specialisms for a reasons, our knowledge and skills are specific and we are in danger of losing these.

  4. Unlikely to be a clear-cut answer to whether 2 chiefs better than 1, but I am more persuaded by 2, in order to protect the interests of adult social work, but then my background is in adult services, so I would think that… 123be’s distinction between holistic and generic social work is useful, at least in theory.

    Ermintrude’s argument re the nature of these appointments is persuasive.

    • I am broadly in favour of 2 rather than one for that reason (with above mentioned reservations) and wonder if more social workers in adult services are in favour of two whereas more in children’s services are in favour of one?

      .. Just a thought

    • A Larch. A Larch. And now, for something completely different. A Larch.
      (Monty Python, 1969)

  5. Reblogged this on Parents Rights Blog and commented:
    Yes, social work needs voice but I am under no illusion the voice of the chief appointed would be different from voice presented by ADASS/ADCS . The ‘Chief Social Worker’ would likely be someone coming from the top management positions who had proved their worth within local government systems and would be a mouthpiece for management interests rather than social work interests having been unlikely to have been engaged in frontline social work for many years. If that’s the case, I don’t see the purpose but many were in favour so I could be wrong! (It’s known and I don’t always claim to be right – just opinions!).
    I was also particularly concerned that with the appointment of a Chief Social Worker, adult social work would be sidelined further. It was clear to me that any single Chief Social Worker would focus on children’s services because that’s where most social work takes place. I was worried that adult social work would be further marginalised.
    So I’m not completely against the move to split the role.
    What next for Social Work?

  6. I really fail to see the validity of such an appointment for social work as a profession. Personally, I don’t think having 2 chiefs rather than one is going to do any damage to social work and would hope that the 2 posts have agendas that complement one another. Where I do think it that it isn’t going to help is having yet another authority in social work; we’ve already got The College of Social Work, British Association of Social Workers, the Health and Care Professions Council as authoritative figures in our profession, why do we now need chief social workers? As an independent social worker, I’m all for BASW being the voice for social workers rather than having a government funded post (or 2):I’m not sure that it will help the independent scene. Anyway, haven’t we already got government funded authority as a voice for social work in The College of Social Work? No?

    I’m also concerned about the cost implications: £220k would, in my opinion be better spent paying for 10 practitioners in adult social work teams co-ordinating the efforts of faith and community groups who often provide the services not provided for by the local authority. These services often preventative in nature engage with service users before a crisis hits and ultimately save money by limiting the use of crisis services. There are so many community groups wanting to do something but not sure what to do or where their efforts are best placed. Why not co-ordinate their efforts a bit more?

  7. Somewhat embarrassed to say this but, I don’t actually know what an adult social worker does. I had one, once after being discharged from the mental hospital. She helped me fill out benefit forms, but that was it. Maybe I wasn’t in need of her services, but I really don’t know what those were.
    Not criticising social workers, I’m sure you do a great job, I just don’t know what it is.

  8. Emma, I think that perfectly illustrates everything social work is doing wrong in terms of public face. The most important thing that organisations that represent us can do is explain what we do!

  9. Perhaps Emma illustrates something more important than need for explanations.

    Having had professional relationships for decades as well as being at the ‘receiving end of social work’, aside from the ‘policing function’ now prominent, many now are using adult safeguarding work to bolster their roles in adult social care. There is nothing I have seen a social worker undertake that many others could not undertake with some training / learning. I expect many family carers of the elderly would be experts by experience. Many adult social workers have no experience of old age personally at an intensive level, let alone dementia and fail to understand the complexities.

    We see in Community Care online how they are misapplying the MCA- this I know from personal experience of knowing more about it than any of the health/ care professionals I have encountered to date. One of the posts I held very long ago was subsequently taken up by a qualified social worker from the statutory sector, so I am not coming from a ‘vacuum’.

    I suspect a national survey of users who have had adult social work input would show up Emma’s experience is rather widespread.

  10. Thanks for the comments!

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