02 August 2012

The end and the beginning: Social workers in England have a new independent regulator

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new chapter in the regulation of social workers in England. From 1 August, all practising social workers in England have to be registered by the re-named Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This follows many months of preparation by HCPC in collaboration with the outgoing regulator, the General Social Care Council (GSCC), to ensure a smooth transfer.

What this change means for all social workers in England is that they are required to sign up to a new set of standards. These describe not only the ethics and conduct of their work, also the knowledge and skills expected of them. The HCPC will also require social workers to sign up to new standards on CPD, which are focused on the outcomes of learning, rather than the hours or points system which social workers have been used to. There will be more of a focus on personal responsibility for undertaking learning activities, and a requirement to undertake a wider range of activities, both formal and informal, which contribute to the process of keeping up to date and fit to practise.

The benefits of this new system of regulation are in part to do with HCPC's legislation. We have a wider range of standards, describing social worker competencies as well as conduct. We have stronger powers for dealing with concerns and complaints, which will make the process of investigation more efficient. We have a broader range of sanctions when dealing with concerns about a social worker’s fitness to practise, for example we can impose conditions on a social workers practise, ensuring that they receive supervision or re-training if their practise falls below our standards.

Taken together, these new standards, powers and sanctions will allow us to protect the public from poor practitioners and affirm the high standards in the profession. However, regulators do not operate in isolation. We will be building on the achievements of GSCC, working with the profession, with professional bodies, service users, advocacy groups and unions, as well as with educators to ensure that registered social workers in England are practising safely and effectively.

Over the last two years I have learned much about social work practise from listening to social workers and service users. Society has high expectations of those who practise as social workers. The work of a social worker is frequently challenging, often complex, and rarely acknowledged. For every one social worker who falls below national standards, there are many hundreds whose commitment and service to children and adults bring lifelong benefits and significant improvements. A huge amount has rightly been invested in the profession in recent years and the work of the Munro team, the Social Work Reform Board, and most recently, the new guidance on safeguarding children and the Social Care White Paper, are all promoting the vision of a stronger, more confident profession for the 21st century. HCPC, as the newly appointed independent statutory regulator of social workers in England, is looking forward to contributing to this vision. We will be working closely with our colleagues in the Care Councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose experience and insights have already proved invaluable to us.

Yesterday also marked the end of an important chapter in the regulation of social workers. The outgoing regulator, the GSCC, has made a significant contribution to the profession. It established the first statutory register of social workers in England 11 years ago, developed the first standards and redefined the entry requirements for education. Perhaps most significantly, GSCC was far sighted in its approach to involving service users in decision making. Their legacy work on ensuring that the lessons learned during this important period will be disseminated and carried forward have been very well received, and will continue to influence social work practise into the next decade and beyond.

On behalf of HCPC, I would like to thank the Council and Executive at GSCC for working with us over many months, and pay tribute to their professionalism and commitment.

Anna van der Gaag