Posted: 21 March 2017
On World Social Work Day our CEO Sharon Allen reflects on the brilliant and life changing work social workers do.
This World Social Work Day seems the perfect time to call on commissioners and employers of social workers to think radically in planning the services they provide and create different spaces for professionals to thrive in the communities they serve.
Stepping up to this challenge will surely contribute to retaining the very best of our social workers and really make social work in adult services a fulfilling and therefore chosen career destination.
We’ve just held our annual conference with the theme ‘recruitment and retention: the road to success’ and our conversation there made me wonder what the road to success is for social workers in our workforce and their employers at this particular time.
In our social work team at Skills for Care we constantly hear about the pressures and changes affecting the way services are managed and provided across England. Although the overall number of social workers in adult services has remained relatively stable over recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of newly qualified social workers over the same period.
This supports employer concerns that recruiting and retaining experienced social workers remains one of their biggest challenges. So we have to ask ourselves what we need to do to ensure that our current adult social workers want to remain in the profession and develop long term practice based careers.
We’ve been supporting the development of community based services that explore what this means for people with care and support needs and for those charged with providing this care and support. Looking at the strengths and assets that individuals hold within themselves and that communities have collectively has led to a great many examples of innovative work.
This work can be very different from the traditional process driven services we have seen social workers having to navigate for the people they work with. It’s work that often has to break the mould of systems and processes set up to enable organisations to meet their targets and assess and review packages of care. Here’s the point: it is work that constantly evidences good outcomes for people – a strong fit with social work values.
Let me share one of the many examples we have come across.
Suffolk County Council's adult social care services has been trying to find a better way to manage approaches from people seeking social care support via their customer call centre. Their original approach was to deal with calls with minimal discussion or inquiry. A change of approach led to calls at their customer care centre being dealt with by care professionals, including social workers.
The prime focus of the new approach does not involve judgments about whether or not someone meets eligibility criteria for adult social care; rather “what’s the best way to support people resolve their current situation?”.
‘Asset-based conversations’ began to emerge from the new approach, and it was recognised that what was happening between practitioners and people seeking support was not supported by assessment paperwork and processes that tended to be deficit-based and focused on what people couldn’t do for themselves.
For social workers and other staff working with the ‘Supporting Lives, Connecting Communities’ model, the difference is not just about prompting people with questions about their preferences and aspirations, its about responding creatively.
Using Skills for Care's ‘skills around the person’ approach enabled the council to find a way through the multiple layers of process and successfully implement change.
So I think there is a continuing challenge – recruiting and retaining more social workers is as much about the role they are asked to play in our communities as it is about the functions they may have to undertake for their employers, whether this is at a local or a global level. And equally importantly, it is about creating a professional career structure that allows these roles to flourish.
For many years there has been a demand for senior practice roles as an alternative to management. Let’s think about the kind of roles that will work well in supporting individuals and communities to take as much control as possible over their own well-being.
We need to think differently about how autonomous, creative, research-minded, person–centred social workers can achieve outcomes with people and for the organisations they work for. It seems to me that employers and commissioners have to be radical to support the workforce in having real impact on the work being done in communities by empowered workers.
So on this day that rightly celebrates the brilliant and life changing work social workers do, we need a clear vision for a social work role which attracts and keeps the very best of our experienced social workers for the benefit of individuals, families and communities.