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Role of the Social Worker: Protection of Title

UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish Social Services Council Consultation on: The Role of the Social Worker: Protection of Title

August 2005

1. INTRODUCTION

UNISON Scotland welcomes the approach being taken by the 21st Century Review to the question of protection of title. We support the need to be clear about the tasks that a Registered Social Worker and only a Registered Social Worker can carry out. At the same time we support the principle that the Registered Social Worker should be responsible and accountable for their own professional practice. Reference is made to the knowledge base and to the professional training of Social Workers in the paper. It would be useful to expand on this to give a brief explanation of the breadth of the pre-qualification education and the post-qualification continuous professional development. It may be useful to refer to other sources for details.

5. GUIDING PRINCIPLES

The primary responsibility of the Registered Social Worker

UNISON accepts that the primary role of Registered Social Workers is the protection and promotion of the welfare of children, vulnerable adults and the promotion of the welfare of communities in accordance with the Scottish Social Services Council's Code of Practice for Social Service Workers. However, we believe it is important to emphasise that this responsibility is shared by all Social Service workers and should be recognised as a responsibility of society as a whole. This would include Government, political parties, other professionals, the media and the general public.

At the same time Registered Social Workers have a responsibility to empower individuals, even when this involves a degree of risk. Registered Social Workers must be protected in these circumstances and be empowered themselves to challenge the "risk averse" culture of various agencies including their own.

Accountability of the Registered Social Worker

We support the principle that Registered Social Workers must take personal responsibility for their practice and be professionally accountable. However, it is important in this context to note that the Registered Social Worker often cannot be held accountable for the outcomes of a particular care plan or strategy as these are dependent on a range of other factors - available resources, additional training, the inputs of other professionals and service providers, users choice etc.

In order to be able to be professionally accountable, and therefore take responsibility for practice, a Registered Social Worker needs to be enabled to use their knowledge and expertise to make judgements and decisions for which they are to be held accountable. This includes a variety of measures such as acceptable workload (possibly measured through formalised and negotiated workload management schemes), professional support (separate from workload management) and training as well as a management culture that encourages reflection rather than blame. This requires management (and politicians) to be equally accountable for their decisions and supportive to staff.

There is concern that Registered Social Workers are already held to be solely responsible when things go wrong and that they are held to account when other professionals have been involved, or when resources were in short supply, when cuts have been made and where management has failed to ensure reasonable workloads.

Professional Supervision of Registered Social Workers

We welcome the clear statement about the access to professional consultation, etc. from appropriate, experienced Registered Social Workers. However we believe that it is important to emphasise that effective professional supervision is essential to empower Registered Social Workers to fully develop their role. Professional Supervision would include professional consultation, support and advice but would also include guidance on attaining personal targets for professional development, clarification on organisational policies, procedures and resources. It would allow opportunities to monitor the Registered Social Worker's workload with an ability to vary this if appropriate. In certain circumstances the Registered Social Worker may require to be offered professional consultation separate from supervision.

Level of complexity and responsibility

We fully support this statement and believe that there are opportunities presented by the 21st Century Review to develop a national framework for pay linked to continuous professional development and the recognised role of a Registered Social Worker.

6. ACCOUNTABILITY AND THE REGISTERED SOCIAL WORKER

In regard to the role of a Registered Social Worker as Accountable Officer it is accepted that the Registered Social Worker will be accountable for cases they are responsible for including where assessments and decisions have been based upon information received from colleagues and other professionals. However all other colleagues and professionals must continue to be responsible for the information and assistance they provide to the Registered Social Worker. It is not always possible for the Registered Social Worker to check information from others, particularly other professionals.

Accountable Officer

It is accepted that Registered Social Worker will be accountable for "cases" they are responsible for including where assessments and decisions have been based upon information and assistance from colleagues and other professionals. A part of the role of the Registered Social Worker is to co-ordinate and oversee the contribution of others. However, all other colleagues and professionals must be responsible for the information and assistance they provide to the Registered Social Worker. It is not always possible for the Registered Social Worker to check information from others, particularly when working with other professionals.

Lead Officer

We would emphasise that designating a Registered Social Worker as a Lead Officer does not mean they would take a line management responsibility for other professionals.

The emphasis on employing organisations having effective systems, training, support and resources available is welcome.

7. DUTIES THAT SHOULD BE CARRIED OUT BY A REGISTERED SOCIAL WORKER

Care and Protection

This heading should read "Child Care and Protection"

We agree that the duties listed in the paper are the correct ones.

However within Adult Community Care we believe that there should be some more explanation in relation to "most vulnerable adults" in the context of risk. We believe it would be more helpful to refer to at "risk of abuse" rather than "significant harm" as harm can mean due to environmental factors or physical disability when it would be more appropriate to involve an Occupational Therapist or other professional than a Registered Social Worker.

Children looked after and accommodated

We require clarification of whether this includes children under home supervision

8. ADDITIONAL PROTECTED FUNCTIONS OF THE REGISTERED SOCIAL WORKER

We agree with these proposals in relation to the positions of Chief Social Work Officer, as a role that can prevail within local authorities on matters of professional social work, and the Chief Inspector of the Social Work Inspections Agency and the proposals in relation to education and training.

CONCLUSION

UNISON agrees with the view that clearly laying out what only a Registered Social Worker should do will strengthen the professional identity of social workers. However, it is important that when discussing the position of Registered Social Workers in work settings - within Social Work teams, joint and integrated working and specialist roles, care is taken not to restrict Registered Social Workers to the tasks which are to be protected. Registered Social Workers' abilities and the contribution they make are far wider.

Stephen Smellie
Chair of Social Work Issues Group

Diane Anderson
Organising Assistant

August 2005

 

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISONScotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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