Social work and end-of-life care

Social work is important in end-of-life care

Social work regulation: the safe and the mediocre

leave a comment »

Someone from abroad asked me what I thought of the shift in regulation of English social workers from their own specialist General Social Care Council to the more generalist Health and Care Professions Council. Here’s what I replied, because it gives a general, if rather jaundiced, view about how regulation is developing at the moment, which I thought might be useful for readers of this blog. I was asked whether there were social work representatives involved and how I felt about it being health profession dominated, and although I do not think this is the main point, I deal with what I think about this at the end. My response also includes some, again fairly jaundiced, views about the development of the use of paid consultation as the basis of regulation, instead of elective representation and the effect of the use of government appointments mechanisms rather than representative processes for regulators; the safe and the mediocre rather than the great and the good I think.

It’s early days with the HCPC, so it’s not clear how it is going to be, and appointments are made, as with the former GSCC, through the government’s appointments commission. There is a ‘registrant member’ of the council for each major profession, of which social work is the largest; the current one for social work is Robert Templeton; the HCPC website gives some details about him: link to the Council members website. As an employee of SCIE, he’s hardly at the coal face of practice and frankly I find it hard to believe that the government’s appointment processes are ever going to appoint anyone who is actually genuinely representative of the profession, and certainly not of the whole range of opinion within the profession; this would be impossible in one person.

However, I think the main point is that this organisation is not intended to be a representative body of any of the professions that it regulates. I know that social workers have tended to see the national bodies as representative of and speaking for the profession. But recent governments (not just the present one) and the HCPC are quite clear that this is not what they are about. Their sole role is to regulate, and their membership (as with the former GSCC) has a high proportion of ‘lay members’ who are independent of professional interests. There was justified criticism of the GSCC that the regulations that set it up and its government financing mixed up the regulatory role with the developmental role that national social work organisations have traditionally had.

Looking at the HCPC lay membership (only one of whom I know personally), I would say that their main experience is of getting the government to appoint them to official committees. I hesitate to say that they are the great and good, but that is how they are often referred to. I think it would be more accurate to say that they are the safe and mediocre.

During the summer, the HCPC advertised a large number of appointments of occasional ‘visitors’ to provide an experienced check on social work courses and members of disciplinary committees for social work. A proportion of these were social workers, but there was also, again, a strong emphasis on lay members, who by definition don’t know a lot about social work from the inside (although many of them are representative of service users and employers, who of course also have particular kinds of knowledge and an interest in regulating the profession effectively). All of these are paid, and people who set themselves up to be independent consultants and do bits of training and research also get themselves into posts like this as part of their portfolio of work; usually people who are employed full-time in practice or management do not have the time to take on extra work of this kind. There is no list of these people, as far as I am aware, but the social workers have usually been middle-ranking professionals with experience as managers in evaluating the practice of professional practitioners; a few of them use these minor paid jobs to gain the experience which makes the government committee appointment process feel that they are safe enough to graduate to the committees. They also make sure that they have reasonable number of people from ethnic minorities, and who tick the boxes for all the other categories of the equalities legislation. This is how the appointment process works in reality, although of course they always advertise these jobs and claim that there is an open appointment process.

But all of this is no different from the previous body, the GSCC, which focused on its government regulation mission. Or any other government body. If social workers want to be represented, they will have to build a career of getting on low level government committees, so that eventually they can graduate to getting on this kind of thing. Representative of or knowledgeable about the profession it is not intended to be.

The government is supporting the formation of a College of Social Work to act as an authoritative representative body for social workers, rather like the medical colleges. This is where social workers can have their voice or professional understanding represented. There is a website: link to the College of Social W0rk website. Social workers will own (and pay quite a lot of money for) and run this, but currently it’s being run for them by administrators from SCIE, some of whom know about social work.

On the point about health professionals, the social care system in Britain at the moment is divided between health and education. There has been a historical battle from the 1930s onwards between these two professional fields to control the social work in their field. I think health is no worse than education as a dominant profession; both fields are more important politically and in funding than the relatively small-scale social care field. It’s important for social workers to be clear and assertive about their role in relation to these fields.

Advertisements

Written by Malcolm Payne

19 September 2012 at 3:48 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s