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Blog Jon Rouse


Improving social work: the vital role of Principal Social Workers

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Social workers have one of the most difficult jobs in society. Working in often challenging circumstances, they bring a unique set of skills and knowledge to help improve the lives of vulnerable people, their families and carers. Despite this, however, when things go wrong, we are quick to lay the blame squarely at their door, while their successes and achievements too often go unrecognised.

That is why I welcome the very real progress we are now seeing to acknowledge the valuable role and contribution social workers make in adult social care. With a Chief Social Worker for adults now in place, social work has a professional voice at the heart of government for the first time. And the College of Social Work is providing a centre of excellence for the profession.

social work
Principal Social Workers are helping refocus social work, reducing bureaucracy and the amount of time spent on process-driven activities

But if we are to raise standards of social work practice and create conditions where excellent social work can flourish, progress on the frontline is equally, if not more, important. That is why the newly established role of the Principal Social Worker is so vital. First recommended by the Munro review in 2011 for children’s services, Principal Social Workers are now also in place across the majority of adults’ services, helping facilitate feedback between frontline staff, management and the Chief Social Worker.

For example, in Hertfordshire and Dudley, the Principal Social Workers are helping refocus social work, reducing bureaucracy and the amount of time spent on process-driven activities, freeing up social workers to return to the core skills and interventions which make a real difference to people. Meanwhile, in Greenwich, the Principal Social Worker is embedding practice improvement through leading monthly reflective supervision. By providing opportunities for experienced and newly qualified social workers to come together to share their experiences and approaches, she is helping to create strong, evidence-based practice across adults’ services – another key strength of the role.

A national network for Principal Social Workers has been set up to provide support, exchange knowledge, challenge and improve practice and help inform national policy. And regional networks are starting to develop to further drive practice improvement locally.

There are still some local authorities who are yet to appoint a Principal Social Worker for adult care which frankly I find perplexing. Why wouldn’t you, given the benefits that such professional leadership can bring?

Principal Social Workers represent an opportunity for the profession to be led and inspired by senior practitioners in their own organisations, with the College and the Chief Social Worker providing an important national focus.

We have a window of opportunity to achieve a step change for social work. The role of Principal Social Worker is fundamental to that process of change.

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  1. Comment by Steve Allinson posted on

    Thinking (Integrated) Care Organisations and a shift toward a social model of care supporting people to flourish in their communities: this is such an important step giving a powerful professional voice alongside their clinical professional colleagues