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One profession, two new chiefs

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The government has put the icing on the work of the Social Work Reform Board by appointing two chief social workers.

The board was set up following Eileen Munro’s 2011 study of child protection after the death of Baby P. Professor Munro recommended a single chief social worker to co-ordinate approaches to social work at a national level. The role was intended to prevent local variations resulting in inter-authority incompatibilities, to advise the government and drive professional development.

But now there are two chief social workers. This may be a pragmatic decision. But far from solving council incompatibilities, it exposes intra-government differences.Indeed the announcements were made on different days and with differing tones.

Care services minister Norman Lamb hailed Lyn Romeo’s appointment as putting in place “a strong and effective advocate for people who use services, their carers and social work practitioners working with adults”.

Ms Romeo will need to work through where social work sits after the provisions of the Care and Support Bill are likely to come into force in 2016. Councils will be responding to a new legal framework for safeguarding and a wider point of entry for those looking for public support.

Education secretary Michael Gove described Isabelle Trowler’s appointment as “to lead our reform programme, to challenge as well as to champion the profession so that vulnerable children and families are better protected”.

This announcement was overshadowed by that of the fast track training scheme, Frontline, to bring the “brightest graduates” into social work.

The new College of Social Work will also need to manage these diverging paths and different routes of entry into the profession.

I suppose 30 years ago I might have qualified for Frontline. The route I took was through a settlement set up by Fabian women at the turn of the century, to help expose the realities of slum life and respond to them creatively.

I learned that social work was not just thinking about and applying big ideas. It was also about checking whether there was food in the house and sheets on the bed.

I wish both chief social workers well. I hope they will work together to bring the best of social work to the heart of government.

Andrew Cozens, chair, Carers Trust

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