Social work in the spotlight

Social Work England, the new public body set up to regulate social workers, has shared its first reflections on social work and its important role in society.

The Social Work in England: First Reflections report gives a snapshot of the social work profession.

The report considers the impact of key events in 2020, such as how social workers have adapted to COVID-19 and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement. It looks at perceptions of social work as well as how the social workers of the future are being trained.

Millions of people are supported by social workers every day, helping them to improve their chances in life. In the past it was difficult to get an overall national picture of the successes and challenges of the sector because social workers are employed by hundreds of public and private organisations in a vast range of settings and roles.

The new specialist regulator, Social Work England has been able to compile this unique overview because it is responsible for registering all social workers in the country and setting the standards for the profession. It has worked with members of the public, social workers, organisations, employers and education providers to better understand the sector.

Commenting on the report, Chair of Social Work England, Lord Patel of Bradford OBE, said: “As a former social worker, I believe that supporting and sustaining good social workers requires a strong, confident, and effective regulator.

“This report enables us to share our learning with everyone with an interest in social work, including those with lived and learned experience of social work, and to work collaboratively with the profession to not only drive-up standards, but ensure they are evidence-based, rooted in real experience and values, and are fit for the 21st century.”

Key findings in the report included:

  • The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally impacted on how social workers interact as individuals, how they connect as a society, and how they stay safe.
  • Black Lives Matter gave new power to protests around the world for racial justice and meaningful equality. The social work profession, with its values and principles of anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice, is uniquely placed to lead the way in ensuring equality in all aspects of society.
  • Only 24% of social workers feel their profession is valued, compared to 97% of doctors, 92% of nurses and 84% of teachers.
  • Yet 88% of the public recognise that social work is important for helping vulnerable people.
  • 82.3% of social workers are women.
  • Most surveyed students reported wanting to become a social worker to help vulnerable people and to make a difference.

Chief executive of Social Work England, Colum Conway said: “Social work is a crucial public service with a highly skilled and qualified workforce. Over 100,000 social workers serve the public and we are in a position, for the first time, to publish evidence on what’s working and what isn’t.

Tiegan Boynes is a young member of Social Work England’s National Advisory Forum who has lived experience of social work. She said: “It’s a very inclusive report and a great chance to learn about the profession that can be so vital in our lives and have a lasting effect on them. Sometimes this is closed from us, especially as young people. The report is informative but in a simplistic and engaging way.”

Social Work England will further explore the themes of the report at Social Work Week, its virtual event running from 8 to 12 March 2021

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