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Latest resources to improve social worker support for autistic adults and adults with learning disability - including during the COVID-19 pandemic

Joint BASW and SCIE press release

Social workers in all fields of practice will need to work with autistic adults and adults with learning disability, whether frequently or from time to time.  But access to professional development in this field is limited.

The latest resources from the British Association for Social Workers (BASW) and their partners the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) will help social workers, employers and educators to co-produce relevant, effective learning and development opportunities, in partnership with people with lived experience.

The resources are available on the BASW website:

These resources help to implement the capabilities statements and continuous professional development (CPD) frameworks published by BASW, and commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The capabilities statements show social workers what they need to know and be able to do, to make positive changes in the lives of people with lived experience. The new implementation resources launched today support organisations and social workers to embed the capabilities statement into social work practice, and provide evidence of continuous professional development - based on the capabilities statement.

The timing of the launch during the COVID-19 pandemic is significant. COVID-19 has revealed many underlying health and social inequalities - including through the tragic excess deaths of people with learning disabilities. All social workers need the knowledge and skills to understand and promote the rights of adults at risk with diverse needs at this time. These resources will support individual, peer and organisational, reflection and learning, and provide evidence of continuous professional development. They have been designed to support best practice and to enable social workers to uphold people’s human rights.

Speaking about the new resources and how they can help during the current crisis, BASW chief executive Ruth Allen said:

“As we move through the different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic we need a greater focus on supporting autistic adults and adults with learning disability in order to prevent further excessive risks. The very practical resources launched today, along with the original capabilities statement and CPD pathways, will enable social workers, their employers and educators to develop a stronger human-rights and person-centred approach. We know that co-production is central to improving care. People with lived experience must be fully and effectively involved in the plans to support them during and after COVID-19, which means that social workers need to have consistent levels of professional skills in working with them. We believe that using these new resources will support co-production, improvement and learning.”

The implementation resources have been developed with the support of a cross-sector Advisory Group, including people with lived experience of autism and learning disability, social workers, their employers and educators.

There are two sets of resources: one on working with autistic adults and one on working with adults with learning disability. Each set includes:

  • Practice toolkits for social workers: The toolkits are designed to support evidence of continuous professional development based on the capabilities statements, using the resources can also provide evidence to contribute wards meeting standard 4 of the regulatory professional standards set by Social Work England. They can be used in self-development, supervision or training. They include:
    • information sheets about the role of social workers to share with people who use services and their families
    • top tips from people with lived experience about what they want, and don’t want, their social workers to do
    • induction resources for social workers at the start of their career or for those working with people with learning disabilities or autism for the first time. The resource includes what to consider before, during and after a visit and focuses on developing a relationship-based approach
    • reflection checklist including points and questions to aid social workers’ critical reflection on their purpose and values, knowledge and skills for effective practice, and their impact on the people they support
    • videos featuring people with lived experience, plus easy read material
  • Resources for people with lived experience: These resources are designed to be used by autistic adults and/or people with learning disabilities to support their involvement in their care, and to enable them to act as ‘critical friends’ to social workers and their organisations. They support co-production and a person-centred approach to social work. The resources include:
    • information sheets explaining the role of the social worker
    • feedback resources focusing on their experience of social work. The tool for autistic adults is in the form of a downloadable questionnaire. The resource for adults with learning disabilities (the Hair Tool), includes a series of questions for people with lived experience and social workers to answer. It helps adults with learning disability to act as critical friends - challenging their social worker in a supportive way to help them to learn and develop.
    • Easy read material explaining how to use the resources.
  • A self-evaluation tool for organisations to enable them to check their policies, procedures and practice to ensure they support the development of social workers’ capabilities and take a human-rights and person-centred approach.
  • post-graduate curriculum outlines for higher education institutions, including how to develop a modular, blended-learning approach.

Chief Social Worker at the Department of Health and Social Care, Mark Harvey, has welcomed the resources saying:

“All social workers, their employers and educators should use the capabilities statements to enhance knowledge and skills in working with autistic adults and adults with learning disabilities. These new resources and tools will help them to put those capabilities into practice. The strong focus on working with people with lived experience as critical friends is particularly welcome. We also welcome the fact that as digital resources, they can be used in our new virtual working patterns – and can support online or blended learning.”

People with lived experience who were involved in developing the products also reflected on the resources and the improvements they wish to see.

Sylvia Stanway, adult autistic voice, and member of the Advisory Group who produced the resources, said: 

“Once you’ve met an autistic person - you’ve met one autistic person. We are all different, but people make a lot of assumptions around working with us. Social workers should look at each individual needs in that current situation at that point in time, don’t make assumptions, always be person-centred and person-led. These tools encourage social workers to take a person- centred approach.”

Watch Sylvia’s video 

Jackie McMorrow, Synergy, Camden Disability Action and Advisory Group member said:

“I feel now that social workers have something they can use that was written and put together by people with a learning disability so I think then they know what they need to do and things can get better. I want the social workers to not judge people before they get to know them, and find out what is really going on in that person’s life, not just make a decision before they even meet the person.”

Jill Huntesmith, Synergy, Camden Disability Action, and Advisory Group member said:

“It's important that people understand what their jobs are and what they're supposed to be doing working with people with a learning disability. It’s important that the people that have done these jobs have the knowledge and teach others for the future to be better social workers. That’s why I think this book is important.”

Watch Jackie and Jill’s video

Practising social workers have also welcomed the development of the resources. Members of the Learning Disability and Enhanced Transition Team at the City of Stoke on Trent Council, helped to review the resources:

Liz Jackson, Senior Social Worker, within the team said:

“The toolkit represents a “go to” guide for social work in this area that connects with the broader frameworks that guide social work more generally.”

Laura Carter, Senior Social Worker said:

“The resources help to bring the capability statement and CPD framework alive. These are useful as there isn’t any other reflection tool specific to this area. It is also value that they have been user-led.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the resources are being launched today, 18 June, via a webinar. A recording of the webinar will be available via the BASW website shortly.