12:36, May 03 107 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-03 12:36:09
Social work’s future lies in specialisation

Louise Tickle deserves support for her brave piece (Stop the state kidnapping our children, 3 May). I have worked in the field, at all levels, for 40 years. I carry my own responsibilities for not effecting enough improvement, for I recognise her descriptions, in gross form, from 1968 and I feel some shame that they remain recognisable in 2018. Yet they ring true. This raises serious questions. Is social work fit for purpose? Is it fit enough for change? Are local authorities the best place for such major life-effecting responsibilities?

These debates have been a little subterranean but they have been going on. They are quite scary to address, but we can hide from them no more. One of my great regrets from my 15 years as chief inspector for social work in Scotland was that I did not win the argument for specialisation. I should have devoted more time to it for without specialisation the profession has no viable future. Social work before the 1990s was not obsessed with child abuse. It was focussed on understanding individuals and families and on helping them survive, if possible thrive, through all of life’s traumas and experience its joys.

The sector has come to rely too heavily on regulation and inspection. I played a part in that by centralising these functions, then held by local authorities, into the Care Commission. I had not anticipated, and certainly did not seek, the growth in inspection and regulation that threatens to over-topple social care. Audit is vital, but it is no way to lead an enterprise. Social work has much to offer. It is grounded in taking a holistic view and, at its best, a long-term view. It needs to work with others – that is fundamental to its good practice.

So where do we go now? There are plenty of inquiries under way across the UK. Will ministers in any parts consider shifting the responsibility for social work from local authorities to health? I argue that they should. 

Will academics and social work leaders embrace specialisation? Seismic changes. High time.

Angus Skinner

(Chief inspector of social work, Scotland, 1991-2005), Edinburgh

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