On Friday I had the pleasure of spending the day with the Chief Social Workers (CSWs). Isabelle Trowler (CSW for Children and Families) and Lyn Romeo (CSW for Adults) spent the day in York to meet with social work students and lecturers at the University of York, and practitioners and senior social work managers from the Yorkshire and Humberside region.
From left to right: Me, Isabelle Trowler (CSW for Children & Families), Lyn Romeo (CSW for Adults), Nick Ellison (Head of SPSW Department), Pat Walton (MA Social Work Director) and Koen Lamberts (Vice-Chancellor, University of York)
The Office of the CSW was created in the wake of the Munro Review of Child Protection. After much discussion two separate posts were established, one for social work with children and families, and one for adults’ social work, but Isabelle and Lyn work very closely together. Their role is to provide professional leadership to social workers in England and to represent the profession to Ministers and the media.
The session with the social work students at the University of York focused on their concerns, hopes and fears for the future of the profession. Balancing the expectations and needs of employers, and the heavy bureaucracy associated with statutory social work, with the opportunity to practice as a social worker and build meaningful relationships with service users and carers, was a key issue for students. Additionally, negotiating changing social work roles and identity, and coping with the fall-out of the Age of Austerity, were at the forefront of students’ minds. While the CSWs did not have all the answers to the big questions, they were mostly in agreement with the concerns behind the students’ questions. They were pleased to see the students’ passion about social work and their political motivations to bring about social change.
Isabelle and Lyn find themselves in a difficult position sandwiched between social work professionals, largely unhappy with the coalition government, and the Ministers in the Departments of Health and Education at whom social workers’ fury is directed. They explained how they continually raise issues with Ministers to put social work on the agenda and promote the profession in a positive way, whilst maintaining a positive working relationship with them. It doesn’t appear to always be an easy balance to achieve, but it is clear that they are powerful advocates for the profession representing our interests as far as their roles permit.
Over lunch with social work lecturers at the University of York conversation turned to issues about student placements and the research interests of team members. Both Lyn and Isabelle appeared keen to resolve the supply and demand issues with social work placements. They would like to build stronger connections between social work employers and universities to develop a significantly more integrated system of practice learning. This will be very much welcomed, particularly if it also facilities research partnerships and two-way knowledge transfers between research and practice.
The afternoon was spent in a joint International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (ICMHSR) and Making Research Count event for social work practitioners and senior managers in the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. After a brief introduction to ICMHSR, Jonny Lovell and Tracee Green spoke about their research projects. Both are experienced social workers whose research is derived from, and feeds into, practice. Jonny, a full-time PhD student in ICMHSR, is exploring self-disclosure in mental health services, which you can find out more about on his blog. Tracee, a social work practitioner working in London is a part-time PhD student evaluating forensic parenting assessments (PAMS). She spoke about how her study has enhanced her practice, including the similar methods she uses when undertaking research and parenting assessments.
These presentations appeared to make an impression on Kersten England, Chief Executive of the City of York Council, who emphasised the importance of practitioner research in the welcome she gave to Lyn and Isabelle. When they spoke, the CSWs echoed this and talked about how they were keen to see research findings integrated in practice, and welcomed the work of groups such as Making Research Count.
Similar to the meeting with students, practitioners shaped the agenda with issues of importance to them including the future of adult social work; integration of health and social care; the increased complexity of practice in the context of austerity; balancing the needs of child protection with safeguarding and empowering adults; balancing shrinking budgets with innovating practice; and the role of the Principal Social Workers. The CSWs engaged with these issues, whilst acknowledging that there are no simple solutions. They showed a good awareness of the problems facing the profession and discussed some of the steps they are taking to resolve them with Ministers.
We also took questions from our Twitter wall (see below for the Twitter feed from the event), including how diverse sources of social work knowledge – such as that created and discussed by the Social Work Book Group - can be harvested and shared to promote good practice. Isabelle foregrounded the work of the College of Social Work as providing a repository or gateway for professional knowledge and expertise. Lyn is engaging with research findings in adult social work to assist in making recommendations to Ministers and is interested to learn more about the latest findings.
My impression of the CSWs was overwhelmingly positive. Both are genuinely passionate about social work and keen to develop the profession. They are under no illusions about the challenges inherent in their roles and are aware of their responsibilities to the profession, Government and society as a whole. They appear to be powerful advocates for the profession, but need our critical engagement to ensure our concerns are heard around the ministerial table. Please do get in touch with them to share your thoughts about the important issues facing social work in England at present.