Social Work now has a new champion, albeit in the unlikely guise of the new industry regulator.
As part of the 2017 Children’s and Social Work Act, the Government introduced a new regulatory body in the form of Social Work England (SWE).
The new body has powers to implement change quicker and where the previous agency, the Health and Care Professions Council was a statutory regulator of over 344,000 professionals from 16 health and care professions in the UK, SWE will purely concentrate on England’s 96,000 social workers.
The man appointed to pioneer the new agency is Lord Patel of Bradford and he was welcomed in his new role to meet staff, students and local practising social workers at the University of Huddersfield. An invitation he readily accepted.
The University of Huddersfield is not unfamiliar territory for his Lordship who at the age of 28 enrolled and completed his Social Work degree at Huddersfield – an experience he described as “life-changing”.
Lord Patel (pictured) was warmly received and said that he had been using his early term-of-office to travel the country, meet people, fact-find as well explain his vision for his new charge.
As with all regulatory bodies, SWE exists to “protect the public”, he explained, but stressed that we wanted to work with social work professionals for the benefit of the profession as a whole.
Social Work England – Chairman’s objectives
The Chairman is not underestimating the challenges ahead, particularly given the regulatory disruption that has prevailed in the industry over the last two decades.
A recent survey by The Guardian newspaper would appear to bear this out with a third of social workers admitting to coping with unmanageable workloads and half dissatisfied with their work-life balance.
A concern in the profession is that successive governments have introduced changes and that the introduction of SWE may yet be another.
In this respective, Lord Patel hopes to create a more clear, transparent regulatory service and he is aware that stability will be one of the keys to that success.
With his team more or less in place, he identified four major areas on which the new body will concentrate, and this will be driven by providing useful, constructive data that can be used by the general public, employers and those in the profession.
The register itself will move en-masse and Lord Patel wants to see more detail added to it, including additional qualifications gained, language skills and possibly, individual worker’s appraisals.
Education providers will also undergo rigorous scrutiny of their provision, and standards of attainment will be introduced.
As a virtually new regulatory force, the Government is giving powers to SWE to monitor its members’ fitness to practice and introduce faster means of sanction and change. Previously, individual cases and changes could be drawn out over months.
Above all, Lord Patel wants to reassure social workers, and the public in general, that the body he controls will work for the benefit of the vulnerable in society. Changes will be based on evidence and he promises to listen and engage.
As a man who passionately believes in the profession he joined those many years ago, the Chairman of SWE promises to work hard to “protect and empower the vulnerable in our communities”, and he hopes to carry the profession with him.
Social work programme in Huddersfield
Lord Patel was invited to the University by the Subject Leader for Social Work Kim Heaune and introduced on the day by Professor of Social Work, Brid Featherstone.
The University offers an MSci in Social Work – a four-year undergraduate programme with integrated Masters – designed to enhance employment and development prospects and offers students the chance to nurture skills in analysis and criticality.
The University is part of the Yorkshire Urban and Rural Teaching Partnership, a social work teaching partnership between four local authorities and two universities in West and North Yorkshire. The four authorities are Calderdale, Kirklees, City of York and North Yorkshire and the collaborating university is York.