BASW Cymru conference and Annual Meeting: Regulatory consultation pledged

A more consultative approach to the regulation of social work has been signalled by the head of the Care Council for Wales.

Speaking at BASW Cymru’s annual conference in Cardiff this week, Rhian Huws Williams said that future regulation of social workers would involve a much sharper focus on practice standards.

“We used to think that being very prescriptive about regulation would solve everything, but now we want to move on,” she said. “We need constructive reflection on what would be helpful in creating the kind of working environment needed for stronger professional governance.”

A Social Work Task Group, led by Robert Pickford, director of social services in the Welsh Assembly government, was launched late last year in Wales to examine the future of the profession. BASW is represented on the Task Group, along with other leading figures in social work across Wales. The group, which has begin its deliberations, is taking a wide look at pressing concerns for the profession, notably newly qualified social worker status, continuing professional development and establishing new advanced practitioner grades, such as consultant social workers.

“We hope that consultant social workers will be able to inform the debate on the regulatory framework,” Huws Williams said. “There will be a consultation and BASW members will be invited to take part.”

She said that the more open approach to regulation would also influence the next stage of the registration process. Staff in older people’s homes and managers in domiciliary care will have to be registered with the Care Council, although no time scale has been set. Social workers and residential child care staff are already required to register. In England, the General Social Care Council has abandoned plans to register staff other than social workers but Scotland has already begun making registration obligatory for a number of care related roles.

Mr Pickford, who also spoke at the conference, cautioned against a pessimistic  view on the UK’s rapidly changing demographics. “It’s easy to say that we’re being swamped by a rising tide of older people, but this is negative and unnecessary,” he said.

“But there are some very big questions about older people’s services. Carrying on as we are is not a viable option and if we don’t come up with some answers, it means that individuals will bear the risk that we would expect society to bear. There are important issues about how we integrate services together and meet changing expectations.”

He said that a new independent commission on the future of social services in

Wales would consider how best to build collaboration and integration between agencies. It is expected to report by the end of November.

BASW Cymru debates future of the Association

A debate during BASW Cymru’s Annual Meeting heard suggestions that the Association’s future hangs on the outcome of the vote on whether to establish a College of Social Work across the UK.

Speaking during a debate on the case for a college in Wales, BASW Cymru Committee member Nick Lovell, who also sits on the Association’s UK Council, argued it could be “a do or die situation for us”.

Outlining the worst case scenario, Mr Lovell, who voted in favour of holding the referendum at a UK council meeting in February, added: “Our survival could depend on a ‘yes’ vote. If we vote ‘no’ to our own UK college, then we could potentially lose 10,000 BASW members in England to the National College proposed by the Social Work Taskforce. [If that happened] BASW could even go bust.”

Delegates to the Cardiff event were divided over the referendum, under which members have until 21 April to vote on whether BASW should set up a UK college led by social workers. Separate plans for a National College, specifically for England, are being discussed in talks within a College Development Group, an offshoot from the Social Work Reform Board, which is working to implement the Taskforce’s recommendations.

Referring to the Welsh government’s uncertainty over whether a college is needed in Wales, BASW Cymru Committee member Gillian Parsons presented the main opposition to the referendum decision, suggesting that the membership was being rushed into a decision. “I fail to understand how we can be voting on a UK college when Wales is still considering its position,” Parsons said.

“We’re voting on something when we don’t know what it means for us.”

It was a view rejected by Emyr Owen, BASW’s country manager in Wales, however, who responded by telling the meeting: “How it’s delivered in Wales is up to social workers in Wales, but if it’s a ‘no’ vote, BASW could fold. The only place you will be able to go to express your voice will be a government-run college.”

Speaking after the event, Mr Owen welcomed the debate and said he recognised that some BASW activists and members in Wales felt more information was needed to clarify the nature of a college in Wales and in other parts of the UK. “That is something we will communicate to members over the coming days,” he said.

He denied that BASW’s UK college would effectively be an “English takeover”, before emphasising the need of a college rooted in the social work profession. “The college should not be a role delegated to a government quango,” he said. “It’s something that we as a profession should have ownership of.”

Social work leaders speaking at the conference which preceded the meeting refused to be drawn on whether they supported the idea of a college. “The social work college is a solution to problems identified in England,” argued Rhian Huws Williams, chief executive of the Care Council for Wales, referring to the recommendation in the Social Work Taskforce report that a college be established. “Until we are clear about the functions of any college in England, we can’t be sure whether it can work here in Wales.”

Robert Pickford, director of social services in the Welsh Assembly government, said the issue was a matter for the Task Group on the future of social work in Wales, which he chairs, to consider over the coming months. “We need to have a debate about how a college would relate to other organisations,” he said. “Until we’ve had that debate, we can’t make any decisions.”