[United Kingdom] Survey Finds Almost Half of Principal Social Workers Spend Two Days or Less on Role

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28 Nov 2019
Community Care (UK)

A newly published survey by Skills for Care has unveiled some interesting facts regarding the Social Work profession and the challenges its professionals undertake daily. The survey found that 59% of PSWs are in ‘hybrid roles’, and that they split their working hours between the PSW role and other responsibilities. Moreover, 32% of participants reported spending less than a day a week on the PSW role, 45% reported spending one or two days a week on the role, and 24% said they spend three or four days a week in this role. This means that 45% of all PSWs were spending two days or less in their principal social worker role. These findings are similar to the survey conducted by Daisy Bogg Consultancy in 2017.

Adult principal social workers (APSWs) and principal children and families social workers (PCFSWs) in hybrid roles reported having separate and overlapping roles and responsibilities, and that ‘the other’ role is dominant over the PSW role. Quality assurance and safeguarding, service management and learning, and development were the most common answers regarding the areas of responsibility for hybrid PSWs.

What should PSWs do?

The Statutory Guidance under the Care Act 2014, which was supplemented earlier this year with statements published by the Department of Health and Social Care, sets forth clear expectations for local authorities regarding the APSW role, including: responsibility for leading the practice and development of social workers, overseeing social work quality assurance (particularly in relation to safeguarding), and advising directors on controversial cases and emerging law.

However, there is no statement about the roles and responsibilities of PCFSWs, even though ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children) states that PCFSWs should have a key role in developing practices amongst local authorities concerning direct work and assessment.

Hybrid role ‘unsustainable’

Beverley Latania, co-chair of the Adult Principal Social Worker Network, criticized ‘hybrid roles’ amongst PSWs as ‘unsustainable’. Furthermore, she stated that ‘Having two jobs under one is difficult to manage, the loss of the independence of the PSW role in maintaining high practice and standards [and] being a role model to social workers would be near impossible to do alongside another senior management type role such as service manager or leading operations’.

Combined role ‘can be positive’

PSWs ‘work incredibly hard and contribute to the quality of practice and outcomes for young people, however, their role is not always fully appreciated and adequately supported’, stated Claudia Megele, chair of the Principal Children and Families Social Work Network (PCFSW).
Moreover, she emphasizes the fact that with the absence of a statutory definition, depending on how the role is shaped, and whether it can have an accurate strategic influence and practical impact, a combined role can be positive.

‘We value the important role which PSWs play in adult social care and are pleased that we have recently extended our membership to include PSWs’, Julie Ogley, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said. Furthermore, she mentioned that ADASS is working with PSW members to understand how the agency can support them in their role and be helpful in firming up ADASS.

Jenny Coles, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), mentions the fact that the children and family principal social worker role, or PSW role, finds a different understanding in practice in each local area. According to her, this stems partially from central permissiveness and partially as a result of the local context—from the size of the authority and the workforce structure.

Lack of diversity

As stated by Latania, one of the main areas of concern is the lack of diversity among PSWs. According to the survey, three-quarters of participants were female, 86% were white, two-thirds were aged 45–59, and just 3% had a disability. Moreover, Latania is eager to know why the PSW role is not attractive to males and people from minority groups. She highlights the desire to see social workers in the PSW role from a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs, experiences, and culture. 

Below you can find some of the biggest challenges APSWs and PCFSWs face:

  • Legislative/policy changes/new practice standards
  • Time pressures/competing demands/capacity issues
  • Embedding strengths-based practice
  • Financial pressures/lack of resources
  • Organizational culture change

Some of the biggest challenges PCFSWs face:

  • Time pressures/competing demands/capacity issues
  • Financial pressures/lack of resources
  • Recruitment and retention issues, including not having enough experienced social workers/relying on high numbers of NQSWs


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