Why don’t we all have a social worker? The global definition of social work is:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.​*

Sounds great, doesn’t it!

Like we should all have one, on the back seat of our cars, at all times.

We’d all benefit from a regular top up of those things, from a cheerleader for the soul: social change and development; empowerment; social justice; addressing life challenges and enhancing wellbeing...?

Reality is, whatever the reason - we don’t all have one.
Truth is, it’s the last thing we’d want.
Having a social worker turn up on our doorsteps means something has gone wrong...that we need help to cope with life, because we’re struggling to manage even daily stuff.

So how come foster parents have ‘Supervising Social Workers’?

Good foster parents are people who are, by definition, not only coping very well with life - they are doing ​so well​ with life, they have the capacity and skills to embrace enormous additional challenge into their lives. They are doing skilled, sophisticated work, uniquely in their own homes. They do not need a social worker, any more than the rest of us.

And you know that line in many, many job adverts - ‘works well without supervision’ - the vast majority of a foster parent’s work is very unsupervised; late at night, at weekends, every evening...every day...they necessarily make a million and one decisions and interventions, without supervision​.

So ‘Supervising Social Worker’ makes little sense, as a job title. If that’s a bit challenging, you’d better sit down.

Because I’m not sure why social workers are involved with the line management of foster parents at all, whatever their job title.

There is nothing in the social work degree or masters programmes about fostering. Nothing. Nope - not a sausage.

We know the curriculum is deliberately generic, but with the expectation for community engagement, and for development of skills, comes the introduction - locally in each course - of a wide array of different specialist fields...substance misuse; homelessness; working with the elderly; safeguarding; youth justice; mental health issues; child protection - obvs; dealing with a serious case review...

Barely a nod - in our collectively pretty wide experience - on working alongside foster parents, and absolutely nothing we’d recommend.

Culturally, our field appears to be taking for granted, that appointing a social worker to almost any position in fostering - in some roles to the exclusion of anyone else - is a benchmark of ‘good’, despite plenty of evidence, in practice and in research, to the contrary.

Let’s just repeat a nugget of that - ​to the exclusion of anyone else​ - which is even odder. How much of what social workers are taught - the bedrock of their field - was developed exclusively within social work?

Attachment theory? Nope.
Separation and loss? Nope.
Safeguarding? Nope.
Communication skills? Unconditional positive regard? Systems theory? Sociological perspectives? Psychodynamic approaches? Law? Mental Health issues?


Yet practitioners from other fields, including those who - like social workers - intersect many of these skills and theories i.e. police officers, teachers, counsellors, therapists..oh, and call me silly...even foster parents...people who might have something to contribute to the work of foster parents...all those practitioners are excluded from many roles within fostering, because of taken-for-granted acceptance, that only social workers can do it, despite ​no research to say their appointment improves things.

Why we exclude the skills and experiences of all those other folk is beyond me.

Don’t tell me it’s in the fostering regulations - it isn’t.
Using the protected title of Social Worker is in the fostering National Minimum Standards (NMS), but the NMS allow for NOT meeting the ​exact detail​ of a standard, if Ofsted can be satisfied that the headline is being met another way. But this taken-for-granted expectation is so embedded, it would be a bold Inspector who awards Outstanding to a fostering organisation that doesn’t employ social workers.

Great social workers are fantastic. Great non-social workers are fantastic. Why are we limiting our pool?

Looping back to the job title thing, to finish - we prefer the title Link Worker to Supervising Social Worker. We think it better describes the position our amazing social workers hold in relation to our fabulous foster parents, for all the reasons above, and because they provide the vital, critical, essential ‘link’ between our families and the rest of our organisation, and to all the great services we provide.

Some of our social workers get really fed up with that title, they’d rather be called Supervising Social Workers because - they tell us - they’ve never before been so disrespected by other social workers. They tell us that social workers in other organisations ignore emails from our guys, sometimes don’t invite them to meetings, and speak to them dismissively - if at all - because if they’re not called Supervising Social Workers, the assumption is they’re not social workers, and only social workers are really taken seriously, and respected, in fostering.

Which is another reason we will never be calling our fabulous social workers Supervising Social Workers. A fostering system that thinks social workers are more important than foster parents, that social workers are to be taken more seriously than foster parents or indeed anyone who’s not a social worker, is a misguided system, lacking in the excellent social work values described in the definition I started with.

* https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/global-definition-social-work https://www.ifsw.org/what-is-social-work/global-definition-of-social-work/

Jane Keenan, Diverse Care