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BASW Cymru Blog - National Director

There have been a couple of events in recent weeks that have sharpened (my already sharp) focus on the identity of social workers in Wales and how the profession communicates this. It’s as important a time as ever for the profession to be clear and confident in stating what it is we do - that no-one else does - and the difference this makes, both quantitively and qualitatively to the lives of children, adults and carers who use social work services.

The first event has been responding to the consultation on a joint workforce strategy for health and social care in Wales. This consultation has been supported by several webinars hosted by the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, which we shared widely and encouraged members to participate in. There are two important reasons for your participation, firstly;  to get a clearer understanding of the policy drivers that have led to the development of a joint workforce strategy and secondly; to ensure the professions voice is heard loud and clear to influence what this ten year strategy will ultimately look like.

The second event was a meeting at Social Care Wales (attended by representatives from ADSS Cymru, Welsh Government, social care workforce development and the 3rd sector) to discuss concerns around the attrition rates for social workers undertaking the continuing post education and learning framework (CPEL), why this is happening and what we can do to reverse this trend.

These events have commonality of issue and are inextricably linked by working conditions for social workers in Wales, the relative power differential between social work/social care and health and how the profession is perceived and valued by those who use services and the general public.

The last ten years have been especially difficult for the most vulnerable in our society and this has a direct impact on the profession whose role it is to safeguard, support and promote human growth and development. In order to undertake this incredibly important and challenging role, social workers need to feel safe, nurtured, valued and developed. Our 2017 and 2018 working conditions research (https://bit.ly/2mPd40n) reveals a picture which is at odds with these needs.

We know from Social Care Wales, workforce planning data that there has been a decrease in children’s services social workers employed by 2.1% with recruitment into those posts a challenge. Can it really be the case that after ten years of austerity measures, entrenched poverty and the looked after children’s rates in Wales continuing to rise, that we don’t need more social workers? At the risk of appearing controversial, I would suggest that social care workers in family support type roles, are occupying roles that should be undertaken by social workers. Only social workers have the skills, training and knowledge to support sustained behaviour change in families with complex needs.

Turnover in adult services is 11%, vacancies at 6% and agency staff usage at 2% with turnover in children services at 15%, with 12% of posts vacant and agency staff usage at 4%.

The numbers of students applying to undertake social work training has also decreased significantly, set this against an aging (mostly female) demographic currently in practice. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to conclude that the profession in Wales is going to be in real trouble if significant action to understand, address and reverse the current trends isn’t taken soon.

This is the context which has informed my completion of the joint workforce strategy and my involvement with the CPEL programme. Social care is becoming a contested environment, with the proliferation of ‘team around the family’ type roles, ‘social prescribers’ and ‘community connectors’ It is imperative that social workers in Wales are able to articulate confidently, clearly and unambiguously what it is they do, what their unique skills and knowledge is and the value they bring to those who use services and the wider integrated workforce.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be consulting with you to answer these vital questions and ensure that responses are led from within our profession.

Allison Hulmes

National Director for Wales

Further information