Social Work England (SWE), the new body set up to replace the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) which regulates social workers in the UK, will take over on 2 December.

SWE, (which is pronounced ‘swee’), will be responsible for ensuring that social workers are registered, regulating the social work profession and overseeing fitness to practice complaints.

Lord Patel, who is SWE’s Chair, told Researching Reform last year that he was concerned about the number of social workers inside the sector who were practicing without the necessary qualifications, and said the overwhelming majority of complaints received by outgoing regulator the HCPC came from the social work sector.

SWE has its work cut out. The registration process is not water-tight, and current loopholes allow individuals to practice as social workers without being registered, and without the necessary skills.

Because registration with SWE is not mandatory for every individual providing social care, the exact number of social workers engaging in care work in the UK is not known. This knowledge gap also dangerously affects the regulator’s ability to monitor the quality of social work being carried out.

Care workers can also exempt themselves from registration by avoiding the use of “protected titles” like “social worker”, and using unprotected titles instead. This phenomenon is hugely concerning because some of the titles which are unprotected include senior positions that require a deep knowledge of social care and years of experience.

Lord Patel addressed our concerns over the registration process when we interviewed him, explaining that he would like to see a more robust registration system for care workers inside children’s care homes. Patel also set out a list of initiatives he hoped to implement while acting as Chair for the new regulator. Patel said he would like the government to implement the following:

  • 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 wish SWE luck.

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