Indeed there is a real and urgent need for improvement, as the challenges facing social work today are enormous. Despite an impressive degree of diligence, professionalism, excellence, compassion and care displayed by most certified social workers of today, it is generally felt that social services sector in the UK is not delivering its full potential.
As the scope and extent of social work evolves, there seems to be a rekindled interest in the discussion about its nature. This is reflected in the two major conferences held already this year at Nottingham Trent and Liverpool universities, attended by thousands of social workers and social work students (Jones, 2006).
Also notable is the fact that the membership of the British Association of Social Workers is constantly growing. BASW's public and media profile is undergoing an enhancement, even as the association continues to champion the contribution that social workers make to the society. BASW is also increasingly commenting on the policy and practice issues that particularly relate to the roles and tasks of social workers. Of late, BASW has been vehemently challenging policies that negatively impact on asylum seekers and users of mental health services.
Social work has changed greatly since the early days of philanthropists and 'do-gooders'. It is now a large-scale enterprise in the UK, and by 2001 there were over 1.25 million people - that is approximately 5% of the total workforce in the field of social work(University of Edinburgh, 2001). And it is growing. Today, there are more social work tasks to be undertaken than ever before, because the goal is to create a better society that is healthy, tolerant, safe, fair and inclusive.
Social work services strive to achieve this by providing help and support to a wide variety of vulnerable, disabled, and disadvantaged people, and by protecting those at risk, as by a psychiatric illness, from bringing harm upon themselves and others. Further, social work agencies work with authorities and general populace to create better opporutnities for their clients.
At a basic level, the responsibilities of a social work agency include resourcing employees to deliver quality services, and actively promoting excellence by constantly learning from good practices as well as from mistakes and unfortunate incidents of the past. Social work agencies should also be in a position to trust their employees to practice safely and effectively (Scottish Executive, 2006).
In the United Kingdom, a majority of social workers are trained professionals with recognised social work qualifications, generally employed in the public sector by local authorities.
In England and Wales, the main statutory employers of social workers are
1. local authority social services departments, which also employ social workers in the health service
2. local education authorities, which employ social workers in the education welfare service and in special schools
3. and the probation service provided by local probation committees
In England and Wales, the designation "social worker" can only be given to a person if he or she is certified with the General Social Care Council in England, or the Care Council for Wales or