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.