What does a new regulator for social workers mean for students?

Date 11.12.2019

Social Work England has been announced as the new regulator for the profession. Robin Sturman-Coombs – Subject Lead for Social Work – talks about what social workers do, why he became one and what he and the team at University of Northampton teach students about regulation.

What do social workers ‘do’?

“To the public social workers are often seen through the prism of high-profile child protection and adult safeguarding cases, often not reflecting what social work is truly about. Whilst decisions to remove individuals from potentially dangerous environments are never taken lightly or in isolation, adult and child protection is just one aspect of our work.

“I couldn’t write down a ‘typical’ day-in-the-life account of our work – none of us could! – because we can do anything from helping someone declutter their home to make it cleaner and more comfortable to live in, helping a homeless person sign on for benefits, to completing direct work with children or giving evidence in a court.

“In a nutshell though, three words sum up the majority of what we do: improving (people’s lives), advocacy (standing up for people and making sure their voice is heard) and safeguarding (literally, making sure people are safe and looked after, by eliminating as much risk to their lives as possible).

“Social work is a relationship based profession, which requires us to be able to use a range of skills to build and maintain a relationship with people. This has to be built on caring about humanity.

“Social work is about caring for, listen to and helping people who need support and or guidance at a moment – or moments – in their lives.”

Why did you become a social worker?

“Initially, I hadn’t planned on going into social work, per se. I was employed as a family support worker and was adamant I wouldn’t go on to be a social worker.

“But part of what attracted me to the Family Support Worker post in the first place was working with people and having a real impact on their lives – making people feel safe, secure and heard.

“Even though I achieved this, it became clear that training to become a social worker would give me more opportunity to influence and bring about change, that my views and suggestions would have a greater impact for the people that I was working with and for.  I saw that Social Work would give me more of an ‘edge’, so to speak.

“I also felt that moving into social work was a natural, professional progression – my experience in family support was already leading me down that path – and it’s a decision I’ve never looked back on.”

Why is social worker regulation important? What do University of Northampton students learn about this?

“Firstly, it is absolutely right we have regulation. To be considered as a profession as a whole and to individually be seen as professional, we should be accountable to codes and standards that underpin how we serve members of the public.

“Right from day one, we tell our students they will soon enter into a regulated profession and that their professional status is protected in law – it’s something that makes social workers quite unique.

“So, we integrate the regulator’s standards into students’ work – whether undergraduate or postgraduate – from the start of their degree. They might not be registered at that point, but we introduce them to the importance and significance of having professional standards. Students are taught to understand the importance of being held to account and that keeping these standards at the heart of all they do ensures that they will practice ethically and legally.

“As a subject area we consider ourselves to be gate keepers to the social work profession and it is incumbent upon us to ensure those passing the social work programs at Northampton are safe and ‘fit to practise’ (i.e. that they adhere to those professional standards and are therefore competent social workers) having gone through a rigorous and robust academic and practice based training.”

Find out more about the University of Northampton’s Ba and Ma degrees in Social Work.

Find out more about Social Work England.