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The Changing Nature of Social Work in Britain

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0


The changing nature of family life, and factors such as economics and politics, mean that social work as a profession is constantly  changing. It has changed a great deal in the last 50 years in particular, due to organisational change and the change in dynamics of family life.  There is also an increase in service user involvement.

For anyone entering the profession, it is important to understand how and why it changes so frequently. 

Organisational Change

Organisational change is evident within the increase of different ways of measuring standards in social work, targeted at services and service providers (Cree, 2002). Within the UK, The General Social Care Council (GSCC) now regulates the profession and social work education in England. It is a government body funded partly by the Department of Health, and partly by registration fees. The GSCC maintains a compulsory register of social workers and issuing and enforcing the codes of practice for the profession.  This is in accordance with the Care Standards Act 2000 and the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 (Cree, 2002). 

The codes of practice are there to ensure that employers, colleagues and service users know what standards they can expect from registered social workers.  The GSCC also is responsible for monitoring and investigating allegations of professional misconduct against a registered social worker.   If someone is found to have breached the codes of practice, the GSCC can take action, the strongest penalty being removal from the register. The GSCC also promotes high standards in social work education and training by inspecting and approving the quality of social work courses and qualifications, regulating more than 80 universities and colleges in England that offer the social work degree. In addition, the National Care Standards commission is responsible for the inspection and regulation of almost all forms of residential care in England (Cree, 2002).

Demographic Changes Impacting on Family Life

In the last 50 years, demographic changes have had an impact on families and family life, which in turn has impacted on the way that social work is practiced and the issues that social workers deal with. Increased divorce rates mean that many children are living with a single parent and coming to terms with the psychological and social impacts of divorce. There are a higher number of reconstituted families, where step-parents take on a parenting role. Fewer couples are getting married, and therefore co-habitation has increased. Whilst there are high teenage pregnancy rates, middle class and educated families are having children much later in life. 

The concept of ‘shift parenting’ has been used to describe situations where both parents are in paid employment, often working complimentary shifts and sharing responsibility for the children around their working lives and shift patterns. These families rarely spend quality family time together as their lives are based around their employment and childcare. As there is a growing aging population, grandparents are increasingly taking on a caring role for their grandchildren, particularly when both parents work.

This means that children’s centres and social workers need to take into consideration the role of the grandparents in the family when providing provision and doing assessments.  In addition, the amount of parents who are also carers for their elderly grandparents is on the increase.  Social work is dynamic and has to adapt to these changing needs.

Changes on a Global Scale

The new constitutional arrangements in the UK have clearly led to the possibility of greater diversity in social work.  Yet social care will also be developing on a global scale, within industrial countries as a whole.  For example, the functioning of a global economy now means that developed countries cannot act in isolation with regards to social work developments.  An example of this is the adoption of the UN convention on the rights of the child in 1989, which resulted in legislative changes for all member states that signed the declaration (Cree, 2002).

Service User Involvement

My learning about service user involvement was gained through independent study, a service user presentation and discussion and canvassing of service user views at a children’s centre.  During the service user presentation from the UK charity ‘A national voice’, I learned a great deal about service user involvement and the two-way relationship between the social worker and service user. 

The children’s centre where I worked during placement offered regular opportunities for service user involvement including evaluation forms, a fortnightly parental forum and feedback books.  This is a every positive way to involve service users according to Youll and McCourt Perrin, who argue that service user and carer participation in social work practice requires established and regular opportunities for involvement, as well as informal or occasional opportunities (Warren, 2007).

Critical Perspectives on User Involvement
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