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Children and Social Work Bill: Nine out of ten social workers want an independent regulator for the profession and unequivocal protection of children’s rights

Nine out of ten BASW England members responding to a recent survey said social work regulation should remain independent of Government. Social workers expressed major concerns about unprecedented state control of the profession, which remains a risk despite amendments to the regulation proposals in the Children and Social Work Bill.

BASW’s survey of more than 1000 social workers found nearly 9 out of 10 (87 per cent) of members in England agreed that the regulation of social work should remain independent. 74 per cent supported a bespoke regulator for the profession, with 24 per cent wishing to remain with the current regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The survey asked just four questions regarding proposals within the Bill, including the proposed new regulatory body ‘Social Work England’ and controversial ‘power to innovate’ clauses enabling local authority opt out from children's entitlements.

BASW's poll shows members are also opposed to the ‘power to innovate’ clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill. Over three quarters (76 per cent) believe local authorities should not be permitted to opt out of some of their statutory duties to children and families in the name of ‘innovation’. Just 16 per cent agreed with the Department for Education’s (DfE) proposals for selective relief from meeting certain statutory provisions for children - which would be decided by the Department for Education, undermining the decades old cross-party parliamentary consensus on universal children’s rights legislation.

In additional commentary, members revealed a range of major concerns about independence, long term affordability, governance and undermining of sustainable, profession-led Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and the development of standards. The lack of prior consultation on the bill by Government was also felt to be a real and problematic issue. 

Members were also asked what they thought successful innovation might involve and what is really needed to improve children’s services. Almost 20 per cent of respondents wrote about the need for professional ownership of improvements and innovation. One social worker said: “What is needed is acceptance and valuing of social work, its professional status, and its values. The profession has always innovated, but has not been listened to."

The key word cited most in narrative responses was ‘families’. In almost every case this was in reference to the importance of being able to work in partnership with families. Over a quarter of respondents (27 per cent) made reference to this, a timely reminder of what social workers see as an essential role. Almost a quarter of respondents (22 per cent) mentioned time, specifically the need for more of it in order to do their work properly.

Words such as ‘cuts’, ‘funding’, ‘money’ and ‘resources’ came up in 38 per cent of responses, adding weight to BASW's view that many of the most pressing issues of quality in social work now cannot be addressed in the context of crippling austerity funding reductions affecting many adults and children's services and the communities they serve.

Commenting on the survey findings, BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen said: “The survey shows very starkly that the majority of social workers see key proposals in the bill as unwelcome impositions. They want professional respect. A regulator independent of undue government interference is essential. The bill was brought forward without prior consultation and subsequent related consultation efforts and amendments to the bill have been rushed and released at unfortunate times of the year - such as Christmas or during August when people are often away from work. 

“The profession cannot and will not accept a lip service approach to engagement that keeps the majority of the profession marginalised and silenced. This cannot be productive. Imposing reform on the profession without proactive discussion and due legislative process cannot lead to successful, progressive and sustainable change. BASW will continue to push for positive, inclusive developments and we will stay ahead in this political environment so our members are not disenfranchised.”

The survey ran from October to November 2016 and received 1,100 responses from BASW members in England.

Key statistics

1. Social workers were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement on innovation: “local authorities should be permitted to opt out of some of their statutory duties to children and families in order to pilot innovate ways of working?”

  • 16% Agreed
  •  76% Disagreed
  •  8% Didn’t Know 

2. Social workers were asked if they agreed or disagreed that “the regulation of social work should remain independent from Government?”

  • 87% Agreed
  • 9% Disagreed
  • 4% Didn’t Know

3. If they agreed regulation should remain independent, members were then asked which options they would support:

  • 24% said regulation of social work should remain with the current regulator, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)
  • 74% said social work have its own independent regulator, specific to the profession
  • 2% Didn’t Know 

4. On the question of who should lead the post-qualification framework for social work; 

  • 14% wanted a regulator to lead
  •  82% wanted the profession to lead
  • 4% Didn’t know 

Social workers in their own words

“What is needed is acceptance and valuing of social work, its professional status, and its values. The profession has always innovated, but has not been listened to.”

“Children social work staff have no thinking time to innovate - time to reflect on cases is already a luxury. A radical overhaul of how time is carved out for staff to think beyond the here and now.”

“Successful innovation would involve freeing social workers up to work directly with children and families in a relationship based way. This would include smaller caseloads and more practical support for the tasks that don't have to be performed by a social worker.”

“Innovation would ensure that social workers are not desk bound and that their morale is improved by being actively involved in research and training.”

“Successful innovation is built on co-creation and collaboration with those who are experts by experience, who use the services and a skilful and professional workforce who are enabled by having the right resources to work with them.”

“I agree with the need to develop change and innovate, however, the answer for this is not in privatisation of children's needs. There should be less process driven and more person led delivery of services.”

“I think the statutory duties should remain with local authorities with more flexibility in working practices and much less bureaucracy, so workers can do the job they studied for and actually spend time with children and families.”

“Children's services need the right level of capacity in the workforce to deliver child and family centred services, supported by well commissioned resources.”

“Improved training that ensures social workers graduate with specific skills allowing them to practice to a level of competence that builds confidence in the profession, moves it beyond risk management and frees up space for creativity.”

“High quality education, training and CPD resulting in the social work profession being held in the same regard as other professions that require degree qualification.”

“To be successful, innovations need to improve social opportunities for children. Outside of education, children's social opportunities are very limited, compounded by the rise of web based social media. Children's services would be improved by a return of community development initiatives and direct face to face youth and community work.”