Monday November 17 2014
Full marks to the chief social workers for adults and children and families. In their respective consultation documents on the role and tasks of social workers they have crossed a no-man’s land wider than three or four decades, littered with barbed wire, broken arguments, fiery debates and long-forgotten academics.

Indeed, perhaps the good spirit and confidence with which both have embarked on their journey reflects the altogether more upbeat, limited and pragmatic – dare we say realistic – view of itself that the profession has come to adopt. Whatever, Ms Romeo’s consultation is a document to be welcomed: it is an articulate and accurate assessment of the knowledge and skills required to be an effective social worker with adults in today's world.

Some parts of the document are excellent. Take a look, for example, at Section 7.  One succinct paragraph sets social work and its activities firmly within an organisational context;

“Social workers must be able to operate successfully in their organisational context,reflecting its legal frameworks, obligations, structures and culture. They should be able confidently to fulfil their statutory responsibilities and work within their organisation’s remit and contribute to its development.

“Social workers must be able to demonstrate effective time management, caseload management and be capable of reconciling competing demands. They should work effectively in inter-agency, multi-disciplinary and inter-professional groups and demonstrate effective partnership working particularly in the context of health and social care integration and at the interface between health,children and adult social care and the third sector.”

Elsewhere, though, other sections raise questions, but don’t necessarily give full answers to them.

Section 3, for example, while talking about the Mental Capacity Act does not acknowledge the difficult path social workers have to tread in supporting a service user with capacity to make seemingly illogical or unpopular decisions. It happens, grown ups are grown ups, and adults sometimes live like that.

Equally, and perhaps more problematically, the consultation doesn’t acknowledge that some people, with a full understanding of the situation they are in, its risks and its implications for them, will still go ahead regardless. Confronted with a set of sometimes haphazard options, they will choose not to engage with social workers and/or other professionals. And they have a deeply-based right not to do so. Section 3, by itself, simply seems to imply that social workers (and by default local authorities) have powers they do not possess.

Meanwhile Section 4 highlights, but doesn't reflect the practical issues which might arise if it was deduced from it that social workers should be all things to all people. It speaks of the social worker having to “ensure the individual service user’s views, wishes and feelings are included as part of their full participation in decision making, balancing this with the wellbeing of their carers”

It does not, however, consider the dilemmas of balancing the wishes and fears of family members - and other, well-intentioned members of the community - with the wellbeing of service users. As discussed above, their fundamental right is to make seemingly illogical decisions. Many social workers admit that this area of their work is the most time-consuming and frustrating, with family members and others expecting `someone to do something’. Colleagues in our health and police services frequently express the same views: but `someone’ is not always a social care professional.

In fact, there is this central question about how we get consistency in the use of this definition. It is by no means clear how successfully it differentiates the social worker role from others. A lot, even all of these tasks, could and would be expected from anyone doing an assessment in an adult social care department.

Furthermore, the section as a whole implies that social workers should be the font of all knowledge. It argues that social workers should understand the impact on other people of a variety of things. We’d argue instead that they should have an understanding of these impacts, and be able to liaise with other professional as appropriate.

We still await further information from the National Skills Academy/Skills for Care and The College of Social Work about the National Assessment Framework. But first impressions suggest that it will require a level of administrative support and organisation to Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) assessors that is probably not currently available.

Striving to make sense and the best use of observations, written work submitted, and others’ comments as they build a portfolio of evidence for their assessment will place a burden on an already overstretched workforce. Indeed, it seems – as written - to expect the assessors to provide the portfolio of evidence themselves rather than the person being assessed. It is also worth bearing in mind that the ASYE is not mandatory…

These are very much our first thoughts on the consultation. Final submissions are due at the precise hour of 11.30 am on December 12. But Lyn Romeo and her chief social worker colleague for children and families have made a welcome, much needed and stimulating contribution to an ongoing debate…

Joan Beck
Phil Porter
Joint Chairs, ADASS Workforce Network