Social Work Valued

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services
Date: Wednesday 29th May 2013
Embargo: 00.01hrs Wednesday 29th May 2013

Bernard Walker outlines the business case to be made for social work, and the contribution the profession can make to individuals, communities and local governments.


Social work's the only job I've ever had since leaving university forty years ago. Although for the majority of that time this has not been my actual job title it's the way I've always described myself, and still do. After I'd mentioned this during my contribution to a debate on the future of social work in adult services at Community Care Live last week someone came up to me to say it disappointed her how rare this was.   


While I guess that's probably true it's a real shame. I started my career in the heady aftermath of Seebohm. Not only were the majority of directors of social services social workers, until the early 1980s their appointment had to be approved by Whitehall. The situation is very different today when I guess the majority of ADASS members wouldn't describe themselves as social workers.


It shouldn't be assumed that social work's reputation was better in those days when sadly Maria Colwell was a familiar name in the headlines. I remember at a BASW conference in the late 1970s hearing Laurie Taylor, then a radical Professor of Sociology rather than a venerated Radio Four presenter, pose the question why there were never  crises of confidence in other professions such as accountancy and law.  Some things certainly have changed, certainly in respect of the former.


One of the key priorities of the College of Social Work is to describe and develop a business case for social work in adult services. This argues that social work should be seen as the solution rather than the problem. It matters because it not only improves outcomes for people but is also cost effective.


Social work has to retain and emphasise its commitment for social justice, speaking up for people who use services and those who care for them. It's what attracted me in the first place and still motivates me. The College illustrated this commitment, and that it lives in the real world, by publicising the very significant impact the cuts were having on the work of social workers at the time we launched the Business Case in December. The evidence was drawn from a survey of social workers conducted with Age UK.


The Care and Support White Paper was clear about social work having a crucial role to play in the reformed care and support system. Now that the Care Bill has been published we have formed a task group drawn from the membership in order to argue the case strongly for this to be reflected during its passage through parliament.


The arguments in our business case are consistent with the aims of the Bill. These include the importance of good social work assessments in complex cases without which outcomes are likely to be poorer and lead to greater costs to the public purse. Another key social work skill lies in relationship building and conflict resolution, important both for good safeguarding practice and in exploring alternatives to costly institutional care.


The renewed emphasis on the importance of community development, or an asset-based approach to use the contemporary lexicon, is really welcome  For many of us this never went away. But it's role in building social capacity so there can be less reliance on statutory care packages is now recognised. It's good to see a piece on community social work from Roger Green in the current Social Work Matters, the College's monthly on line magazine.  He also remind us of the importance to be aware of several lessons from history.


The next stages in developing our case include a piece of work with Angela Jenkinson and John Chamberlin from Kingston University building on their quality assurance framework, looking to describe what good looks like. We're working with a group of academics who specialise on social work with older people, the G8, to illustrate the components of good practice with this key age group. We're also looking to  build up a series of case studies illustrating the value of social work with adults. So we are keen to hear of more examples if you have any*.


The bottom line is that the statutory responsibilities of local authorities require highly qualified staff in adult social care otherwise the consequences can be serious, not for only for individual citizens and their families, but also for authorities themselves. As Angela Jenkinson puts it: social workers combine specialist knowledge of welfare law with a range of skills in understanding and working with people together with a specific set of professional values.


The workers both individually and collectively through The College of Social Work need to demonstrate that it is a false economy to scrap social work posts without first ensuring that short-term savings are not outweighed by the long-term costs. It's not all doom and gloom, and some places seem to be recognising this. During the Community Care debate Trish Kearney from SCIE quoted from the most recent National Minimum Data Set for Social Care which pointed to an increase of 2% in social work posts. Good news, for the people concerned, for those with whom they work and for the authorities employing them.


Bernard Walker

Transitional Chair,

Adults Faculty

The College of Social Work


* Please send examples to: