Speaking at the Future of Social Work Summit in London organised by British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Isabelle Trowler, who was appointed as chief social worker for children and families in September 2013, said her role provided a “conduit between frontline practice and government”.
She added: “I don’t pretend I am the voice of the profession. I am a civil servant.
"I see my role as offering advice to ministers based on what others – children and families and social workers – tell me about the system.”
But Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said Trowler, and chief social worker for adults Lyn Romeo, were being used by government to support controversial reforms to social worker training, assessment and practice standards.
He said: “In 2008, I suggested there should be a chief social worker that would bring expertise and wisdom into government.
“But I'm concerned it is been rescoped so that it is a way the government comes out to tell us what we should be doing.
“We can leave it to other civil servants to tell us what the government wants us to do. I don’t think that should primarily be the role of the chief social workers – we shouldn’t be asking them [chief social workers] to be spokespersons for central government.”
His view was supported by Peter Beresford, emeritus professor of social policy at Brunel University London.
He said: “We’re not getting what Ray Jones hoped for. Maybe there are issues here about the meaning of being a social worker which could apply to attaching that label to the chief social worker.
“The truth is we are getting people within government telling social workers what they are going to do from the perspective of government.”
Ruth Allen, who is to take over as chief executive of BASW from April, said she wanted the profession to have greater influence on the chief social workers in the future.
“We’re right to want to shape the chief social worker role going forward,” she added.
Trowler, who was assistant director of children’s social care at Hackney Council and co-founded the Reclaiming Social Work model used there, also told delegates that a consultation would be launched in the next few weeks on the government’s proposed new accreditation and regulation scheme for social workers.
Last week, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced that all children’s social workers would be assessed against the children and families knowledge and skills statement test by 2020. This was despite previous pledges to consult over whether the system should be mandatory or voluntary.
But Trowler suggested a final decision was yet to be made, saying that while the government’s “ambition” is for the assessment to be “rolled out”, the introduction of a mandatory system would require legislation or statutory guidance.