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Updated employer standards deliver clarity for social workers

Source: Public Sector Executive June/July 2014

Sarah Messenger, head of workforce at the Local Government Association, talks about the re-launched standards for employers of social workers and the impact they are likely to have. David Stevenson reports.

The re-launched standards for employers of social workers better reflect the changing context within which public services are being delivered, with a greater focus on partnership working, PSE has been told.

Sarah Messenger, head of workforce at the Local Government Association (LGA), said the standards aim to benefit every social worker in a local authority, health organisations or the voluntary sector by clearly identifying the development opportunities, resources and accountability arrangements that employers should have in place. This is to better ensure employers are providing the right level of support to social workers for their everyday work and continuing professional development.

The revised standards, developed by stakeholder partners of the Social Work Reform Board, bring together an updated set of eight core values: Clear social work accountability framework; Effective workforce planning; Safe workloads and case allocation; Managing risks and resources; Effective and appropriate supervision; Continuing professional development; Professional registration; and Effective partnerships.

Applicable to all employers of social workers, the standards are incorporated within self-regulation and improvement frameworks for public services used by regulators including Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Messenger said: “In terms of what the revised standards are doing, there are a number of key points. Firstly, it’s evidence that we didn’t just write the standards, plonk them on a piece of paper and shove them on a shelf, with nobody bothering to look at them and check that they are still exactly as we would want them to be.”

With regards to partnership working, PSE was told that by creating strong partnerships and good collaboration between employers, higher education institutions and other training providers, something we are seeing more and more of in the public sector, will lead to better qualified and developed social workers. That will then result in improved services for children, young people, adults, families and local communities, and help support the professionals of the future.

Messenger added that the standards have also incorporated the five key questions that the CQC asks when it is inspecting services: Are you safe? Are you effective? Are you caring? Are you responsive? Are you well-led?

“Even though they not are written in the standards explicitly, they are woven into them,” she said. “So, again, adopting and applying the standards should help an organisation feel more confident about being able to meet some of the key criteria the CQC is going to be looking at.”

The Social Work Reform Board partners have also incorporated a useful resources element to the standards, which will be constantly refreshed with examples of good practice – so organisations can quickly and easily access information that will help them reflect on their own practice.

There is no official deadline for implementation of the standards by employers, because circumstances vary between each organisation. But it is expected that they will be adopted as soon as possible. “Clearly, the re-launch of the standards in itself is the first motivation for organisations to refresh and review their practice,” said Messenger. “And, actually, one of the things we’re proud of is that the standards have really taken hold and that organisations aspire to be applying them.”

The LGA hosts, but doesn’t own, the standards and so far all the Social Work Reform Board partners have signed up.

Jo Cleary, chair of The College of Social Work, stated that the new standards set out explicitly what employers must do to ensure their staff are able to deal with the demands of the job to secure the best possible outcomes for the adults, children and families with whom they work.

Messenger added that the long-term aspiration of the revised standards are, more or less, the same as when the standards were first envisaged. It is about creating clarity for employers, and about knowing what will work best to deliver the best possible outcomes for those that are being looked after, she stated.

“We know that will be achieved through a combination of the right environment provided by employers and the professionalism and expertise of social workers,” Messenger noted. “That aspiration hasn’t changed.”

She added that one could argue that “we know we’ll have absolutely cracked this issue the day we don’t need standards anymore because it will be absolutely explicit and implicit in everything that people do”.

But, for now, the standards provide the reference point for both employers and social workers on what they are entitled to expect from each other and what they bring to the equation to meet the ultimate goal of “excellent provision of services” and providing “support to the people that they work with”.

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