With Stormont up and running, here are social work's five top priorities for government
It is incredibly welcome Northern Ireland once again has a functioning Assembly and Executive. Undeniably, we need committed and decisive political leadership to address a wide range of problems facing our profession.
The past two years have been bad, both for social workers, and for those who use social work services. Presently, we have an overburdened workforce delivering vital services while teams face shortages both in terms of resources and staff vacancies.
Without an Executive, some significant projects stalled in their progress. A key example is the unimplemented aspects of the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. However, other projects were taken forward without vital political scrutiny, most notably, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services.
On Monday 5 February I wrote to the minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, and Minister for Communities, Gordon Lyons MLA, outlining BASW NI’s five key priorities for the months ahead.
Children’s services reform
To ensure appropriate focus is afforded to addressing the problems facing children’s services, BASW NI has called on the Health Minister to introduce a region-wide children’s and families Arms-Length Body (ALB) in line with the recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. The ALB should include current health and social care trust statutory children’s services and other allied services and professions closely related to children’s social care.
I have also explained BASW NI considers it necessary to appoint a NI executive minster exclusively responsible for children’s social care. To ensure the all-encompassing scope required to transform children’s services, BASW NI believes the minister for children and families should be a newly created junior ministerial role within the Executive Office, reporting directly to the first and deputy first ministers.
The crisis facing Approved Social Workers
BASW NI is acutely concerned by the crisis facing approved social workers (ASWs) with regards to the formal admission of individuals to psychiatric care under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. ASWs are encountering significant delays in the conveyancing of people requiring admission, a situation which causes distress to those in need of care and strain for professionals involved in the assessment and conveyancing processes.
I have called on the minister to address the fundamental issues of a shortage of mental health hospital beds and a lack of investment in community level support for people with a mental health need.
Safe staffing legislation
It is of paramount importance that safe staffing standards are implemented for social work to ensure services are provided in a manner that ensures the best interests of the individuals and families who use services, and those of the social workers who deliver them, are upheld. The current social work vacancy rate of 8.6 per cent points to challenges across the profession.
I have explained to minister Swann that BASW NI would welcome the introduction of legislation to place safe staffing models on a statutory footing.
Increase in social work bursaries
BASW, in partnership with the Social Workers Union, has joined with the Ulster University Stand up for Social Work Society and Queen’s University Belfast Social Work Society in calling for an uplift in the financial assistance provided under the Social Work Student Incentive Scheme.
We have asked the health minister, as a minimum, to uplift the Student Incentive Scheme in line with inflation from its year of introduction and for consideration to be given to the rate of milage allowance payments in light of rising fuel costs.
Call for an anti-poverty strategy
Finally, my letter to the communities minister stressed the extent to which poverty contributes to many problems which require intervention from social services. I explained it is vital that an anti-poverty strategy, informed by the 2022 recommendations of the Expert Advisory Panel, and including practical steps to address the impacts of the universal credit two-child limit, is urgently delivered. I highlighted the strategy should be appropriately funded and that it is essential it receives the backing of all ministers in the NI Executive.
There is undoubtedly a huge amount of work to be done and I and the BASW NI staff team look forward to once again representing members’ interests to a functioning NI Assembly and Executive in the weeks and months ahead.