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Concerns remain over government attempt to define adults’ social work

A proposed skills 'checklist' for social workers in adult services risks putting unrealistic expectations on what they should know after their first year in employment, the British Association of Social Workers warned.

The draft knowledge and skills statement is also inconsistent with a similar statement for social workers in children’s services, puts too much emphasis on the statutory sector at the expense of other settings and could create extra bureaucracy, said the Association.

The statement was drawn up by England’s Chief Social Worker for Adults Lyn Romeo in response to Professor David Croisdale-Appleby’s review into the education of social workers.

BASW welcomed changes to the statement made by the Government in response to concerns raised by the Association. However, issues remained, said BASW Professional Officer Joe Godden. “There is much in the revised statements that we would support, particularly the need for NQSWs (Newly Qualified Social Workers) to be seen as just that, people who have completed their social work training. Like all social workers, there must be recognition of the need to embark on a continuous process of learning and development.

“The statement is more sophisticated than just defining social work as ‘social work is what social workers do’, but the bias towards local authority practice must be addressed. If a social worker is working in a non-local authority setting, does this mean they will not be able to meet the assessment criteria at the end of the year?”

Mr Godden added there was a risk of “subjective” assessments of NQSWs which could them in a vulnerable position. 

“Some of the criteria is unrealistic for all to have achieved within a year or so of qualifying,” he added. “Without knowing what it is that a more senior practitioner is expected to know, it is difficult to make judgements about achievements at the end of year one.

“Even those working in a local authority adult setting may not be able to meet all the criteria. For example, NQSWs working in specialist adult settings such as mental health or learning disability would be unlikely to gain sufficient experience.

“The expectations for NQSWs at the end of their first year have not been given any context in relation to what social workers are expected to achieve in subsequent years as there is no overall framework for Continuing Professional Development (CPD).”

Mr Godden said the checklist contained “too many unrelated statements of what it is that social workers should do”.

He added: “There needs to be consistency between the knowledge and skills statement for social workers in adults’ services and the knowledge and skills statement for child and family social work.

“We also have the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), which BASW contributed to, yet we now have what appears to be another set of standards. Members have raised the issue of no guidance being made available as to how the statement fits with the PCF and the potential for additional bureaucracy.”

There was also a danger of seeing social work reduced to a series of tasks, said Mr Godden, warning: “This would leave social work without its strong sense of identity traditionally based on a generic concept of social work that includes the international definition of social work and references the BASW Code of Ethics.

“It is very much the BASW experience that without a strong set of values and a wider understanding of social work underpinned by human rights and social justice social workers will be buffeted by whatever the current policy statement or assessment process happens to be at the time.

“This instability doesn’t help social workers develop resilience and leaves them without a strong compass with which to steer their working lives and careers.”

BASW is continuing debate on the knowledge and skills statements. To express your views email or visit the BASW members web forum.

Click to read BASW's response to the consultation