In England the attention given to social work over the last couple of years can only be described as intense. The Social Work Taskforce has led to a Reform Board that is overseeing the implementation of fifteen recommendations. These include putting in place a new set of overarching professional standards. A College of Social Work has been created that has amongst its initial priorities defining the values and purpose of the profession and developing standards.
Meanwhile the General Social Care Council (GSCC) – whose main accomplishment has been the registration of social workers with protection of job title to standards – has bitten the dust in the QUANGO bonfire. Its functions of regulation of social workers move to the Health Professionals Council (HPC) – apparently to be renamed. And what is the first thing the HPC does but announce that it is to establish proficiency standards for its new professional group? Whilst all this is going on, the leading professional association for social workers (BASW) seems more concerned with political positioning than with promoting its code of ethics and making sense of standards for its members.
Why is this important to registered managers in children’s services (and indeed adult services) and what is the relevance to the Institute of Childcare and Social Education (ICSE)? A few points strike.
A Gap to be Filled
First, the debate is all about social workers – the job title – and not about social work the profession with a knowledge base, skills, roles and tasks and needing clarity of standards. Social work, as a profession, is part of social care. Social care itself is unlikely to be considered a single profession but a grouping of several actual and aspiring professions. Many of these – whilst not social workers – draw on social work and other disciplines in establishing their professional expertise.
Among these are registered managers. Registered managers of children’s homes and other services are professional practitioners who practice using social work and other skills and should have clear standards which are upheld by a valued professional body. In England they are regulated as part of service regulation by OFSTED. They were supposed to have been part of the remit of the axed GSCC. They are not part of the thinking of the College, the HPC or BASW. With the demise of the National Centre of Excellence in Residential Child Care (NCERCC) another source of professional support has vanished.
Step in the Institute with the backing of the Social Care Association – a long-standing professional association, setting and promoting standards across the work groups in social care (largely residential, day and support at home practitioners).
Secondly, registered managers of children’s homes have a pretty specifically defined professional role. It has a qualification requirement, there are statutory accountabilities, and there is a knowledge and skill base and an identity. What is lacking are the establishment and maintenance of relevant standards and regulation of the role by a professional body. This is a role for a professional association and should be undertaken and led by peers. Step in ICSE and SCA.
Professional Judgement and Risk
Thirdly, and this is important, registered managers are professional risk takers. They are engaged in continually weighing the benefits and harms to children and young people of actions and inactions – primarily of their practitioner staff. ICSE will be saying more about risk but, suffice it to say here, that it is at the heart of what being a professional is all about – certainly in social work and social care.
The touchstone in law is that the gauging of risk – as either reasonable or negligent – is taken from what a body of professionals say. Not what employers say or bodies that do not have residential work or children’s services as its focus but a body of peer professionals.
All the messages in England at the moment are that registered managers are not professionals. ICSE and SCA say they are and need to be, if for no other reason, because of the risky nature of their roles and tasks.