Researching Reform was very kindly invited to the House of Lords by new Social Work England Chair, Lord Patel, to discuss social work in England and what families and children felt about it, as service users.

We met with Lord Patel yesterday, who shared updates on Social Work England’s progress with us, as well as his vision for the sector and his views on the current problems it faces.

Lord Patel also revealed that Social Work England, or SWE (which the sector is pronouncing ‘swee’) began its recruitment drive this week, for several positions within the regulatory body. Amongst the jobs currently available, are:

When we spoke with Lord Patel, we discussed the most significant challenges the social work sector faced. We looked at the problems with social work registration, crucially that anyone engaging in social work with a different official job title to that of ‘social worker’ was able to practice without being held accountable by an independent reviewing body. Lord Patel was also concerned about the number of individuals inside the sector who were practicing without the necessary qualifications. We spoke about the misuse of Section 20 arrangements, the need for there to be better redress processes in place with social workers being able to correct errors they make, and the problems around forced adoption. Lord Patel also confirmed that the vast majority of complaints to the HCPC, the current regulatory body which SWE will take over from, and which oversees several medical and health sectors and not just social care, came from the social work sector.

The issue of social workers in children’s care homes was also raised, with Lord Patel expressing concern about the fact that whilst care workers were essentially engaging in social work, they were not required to be registered with SWE and so remained unregulated by an independent body. Lord Patel confirmed too, that SWE was not responsible for care workers in any capacity and so its powers in relation to this demographic were restricted to gathering data relating to this area.

Lord Patel explained that SWE’s remit was limited to its role as a regulator and only monitored individuals rather than councils or agencies, but he was very keen to hear from all voices inside the system, especially service users. Lord Patel then shared the latest ideas he was hoping to encourage the government to implement:

  • Engagement Officers in each town which service users could meet with to discuss concerns;
  • An online forum for service users to get and share information and offer SWE feedback on its proposals;
  • Thorough data collection across the sector, to better inform social work practice and raise standards across the country;
  • Raising the standard of social work through courses, university degrees and CPD training;
  • Monitoring and maintaining practice standards with a website or portal for social workers and local authority teams to set down what work has been carried out during the year;
  • Addressing the lack of complaints procedures relating to care workers, who engage in social work inside children’s care homes but who are currently not regulated by any independent body – Lord Patel is considering creating a sub-body to deal with these complaints and make sure they are recorded. At the moment, the law does not require regulators to respond to these concerns;
  • Finding a way to quantify care workers – Lord Patel estimated that there were currently over one million care workers.

We broached the subject of forced adoption with Lord Patel, who agreed that most adoptions which took place were unnecessary and could be avoided with the right support. We explained that service users were incredibly grateful when social workers admitted to a failing, and he agreed that this kind of honest approach was beneficial to the sector and helped to rebuild its image.

Lord Patel’s proposals are likely to take anywhere from a few months to several years to come into effect and whilst not all of these proposals may make it to the finishing line, the ideas themselves will be welcomed by children and families, and we would encourage them to share their thoughts on what they want and need as SWE gets going.

Very many thanks to Lord Patel for his generous invitation, and for taking the time to speak with us. You can follow Lord Patel on Twitter, and although not yet up and running, Social Work England now has a shiny new Twitter account, too.