The Standards for Employers of Social workers in England 2020 - accessible version


Why do we need the Standards for Employers?

Good social work can transform people’s lives and protect them from harm. In order to achieve consistently high-quality outcomes for service users and their carers, social workers must have and maintain the skills and knowledge to establish effective relationships with children, adults and families, professionals in a range of agencies and settings, and be the key connectors in communities. 

Employers should implement a whole systems approach to supporting the social work profession. These Standards set out the key components of whole systems approaches, and employers can use them, along with an appropriate supervision framework, to help develop a working environment where social work practice and social workers can flourish, in turn supporting recruitment and retention. 

What are they?

These are Standards, which set out the shared core expectations of employers which will enable social workers in all employment settings to work effectively and safely. These expectations are being incorporated within self-regulation and improvement frameworks for public services. All employers providing a social work service should establish a monitoring system by which they can assess their organisation’s performance against this framework, set a process for review and, where necessary, outline their plans for improvement. 

Strategic lead social workers/principal social workers must understand and manage the organisational responsibility across all Standards. Employers should ensure their systems, structures and processes promote equality and do not discriminate against any employee.
Who do they apply to?

The Standards are relevant to all employers of social workers. They relate to all registered social workers employed within an organisation, including managers and social work students. Though the landscape in which social work is delivered is changing, it is expected that these Standards will be relevant in all settings and however social workers are employed as well as applying to social workers within the education and training sector. More information on how these Standards apply to health and care organisations is available from Health Education England.

How were they developed?

Partners across the sector developed these Standards between 2009 and 2012 as part of the Social Work Reform Board. The LGA hosts the Standards on its website on behalf of the sector and continues to work with stakeholder partners on their regular review through the Standards for Employers Working Group. The Group membership in March 2020 is listed in the Stakeholder section. The Standards have been refreshed in May 2014 and March 2020.

Standards at a glance

Standard 1 - Strong and clear social work framework    
Standard 2 - Effective workforce planning systems    
Standard 3 - Safe workloads and case allocation    
Standard 4 - Wellbeing    
Standard 5 - Supervision    
Standard 6 - Continuing Professional Development (CPD)    
Standard 7 - Professional registration    
Standard 8 - Strategic partnerships

Standard 1 – Strong and clear social work framework

This Standard is about promoting a clear statement about the principles that constitute good social work practice, and how those principles function across the full range of social work settings.

It outlines the ways in which each organisation can achieve and maintain the theories, skills, research and evidence that underpin it at strategic and operational levels.

Employers should have in place a strong and clear social work accountability and assurance framework that promotes reflection and learning from experience, evidence and research of outcome-focused social work practice and from the voices of children, adults and families.

Social work is a difficult and challenging activity that involves working with uncertainty and complexity. Social workers need a supportive environment in which to work where learning and reflection upon practice is fundamental.

Strategic accountability

All employers should:

  1. develop, maintain and review regularly a statement setting out the purpose, vision, values and outcomes sought for social work in the organisation
  2. establish  and communicate a clear model for social work practice based on evidence of what works, setting out how the organisation will work.
  3. ensure the model considers issues such as balancing strengths, needs and uncertainty and how social workers are supported to exercise professional judgement and creativity
  4. ensure that this approach is developed and regularly reviewed with its workforce and with those who use its service.
  5. ensure the approach is shared with, discussed and understood by partner organisations and by people who use the services
  6. ensure that leaders and senior managers are held to account for ensuring that the right conditions exist in the organisation to support and allow the delivery of excellent social work in line with the agreed approach. 

Operational accountability

All employers should:

  1. ensure that the culture of the organisation promotes learning and accountability through high support and high challenge that encourages a safe place for reflection and continual improvement
  2. put in place a system to gather, collate, analyse and act upon the views of children, families and adults who experience social work intervention so that learning and feedback about impact and outcomes informs continuous development, refinement and improvement of practice and services
  3. ensure that mechanisms are in place to listen to and respond to the views of practitioners on a regular basis, including undertaking an annual health check to ensure the organisation remains a place where the right environment and conditions exist to support best social work practice
  4. ensure that there is a principal social worker or similar senior leader who promotes and develops best practice while ensuring that employer standards are maintained and enhanced, and can report concerns or barriers to good social work direct to senior leaders
  5. ensure a strong focus on social work recruitment, retention and workforce planning and development so that the organisations seek  the necessary social work skills, capacity and expertise to meet the needs of those it serves
  6. ensure that systems are in place so that regular performance data (qualitative and quantitative), learning from case audit, peer review and inspection, as well as the voices of those using the service and practitioners are considered and acted upon by senior leaders
  7. ensure that there are effective opportunities for social workers to learn and develop including bespoke ASYE support and a career progression scheme based on evidenced good practice
  8. promote understanding about the unique and complex role of social work to partners, politicians, the public and practitioners in all public services such as schools, NHS and Police
  9. support social workers to access courses and development opportunities, including time to undertake CPD (Standard 6), and support them to engage with professional bodies and trade unions
  10. provide planned support to help social workers return to work after a period of long absence 

Useful resources 

KSS Children
KSS Adults
Social Work England

Standard 2 – Effective workforce planning systems

This standard is about using effective workforce planning systems to make sure that the right number of social workers, with the right level of skills and experience, are available to meet current and future service demands. Employers should have a strategy to promote, and take concrete steps to improve, diversity across all levels through the organisation.

Employers should be able to show that they have appropriate workforce planning systems in place in order to meet the needs of local communities now and in the future. 
Effective workforce planning systems should both determine immediate staffing requirements and help to ensure that sufficient numbers of social workers are trained to meet future demand. These should be based on an understanding of the factors that influence need and demand, including the size and specific circumstances of the local population. Workforce planning procedures should be regularly monitored and reviewed.

Employers should:

  1. undertake an assessment of current and future need and feed this data into local, regional and national workforce planning
  2. ensure that workforce planning systems involve strategic partnerships with higher education institutions and other agencies
  3. ensure that social workers have the right knowledge and skills at practitioner, practice supervisor and practice leader levels, as required under the Post Qualifying Standards for Social Work in Adult Social Care and the post-qualifying standards: knowledge and skills statements for child and family social workers.
  4. build a clear practice methodology based on an up to date understanding of the required knowledge and skills base for social workers
  5. provide good quality practice placements and practice educators as well as other types of practice learning, and effective workplace assessment to help ensure that the right numbers of new social workers of the right calibre are trained 
  6. engage the social work education sector in order to facilitate exchanges of personnel and expertise
  7. facilitate further learning and development across partner agencies.

Useful resources

Practice Educator Professional Standards Refresh
Social Work England placement guidance
Guide to integration

Standard 3 - Safe workloads and case allocation

This Standard is about ensuring employees do not experience excessive workloads, resulting in unallocated cases and long waiting times for individuals.

All employers should:

  1. use a system which has been agreed jointly with social work practitioners and line managers to set transparent safe working levels in each service area and enhances more direct relationship-based practice
  2. ensure each social worker’s workload is regularly assessed, with the social worker, to take account of work complexity, individual worker capacity and time needed for supervision (Standard 5) and CPD (Standard 6)
  3. ensure that cases are allocated transparently, with prior discussion with the individual social worker, and with due consideration to experience and existing caseloads.
  4. ensure that a social worker’s professional judgment about workload capacity issues is respected in line with the requirements of their professional registration (Social Work England professional standards) which refer to the requirement for a social worker to declare to the appropriate authority anything that might affect their ability to carry out their role competently to avoid affect -their fitness to practise 
  5. take contingency action when workload demand exceeds staffing capacity and report regularly to strategic leaders about workload and capacity issues within services.
  6. publish information about average caseloads (and their complexity) for social workers within the organisation as part of the SW Health Check (Standard 1)

Useful resources 

Workload Management for Social Work
BASW: UK Supervision Policy
Social Work England Standards
Whistleblowing - UNISON Factsheet

Standard 4 – Wellbeing

This Standard is about promoting a positive culture for employee wellbeing and supporting social workers to have the practical tools, resources and the organisational environment they need to practice effectively and safely.

Employers should create and encourage a culture of wellbeing and self-care that is available for all social workers, including preventative strategies, information about a range of wellbeing tools and work based wellbeing activities available to them. Induction, team meetings and organisational communication sources should be used not just to offer support when difficulty arises but also to signpost what is available to support social workers to thrive.
Employers should be committed to breaking down mental health stigma in the workplace and managers should use wellness action plans or alike that offer the possibility of discussion about what helps people keep well, what supports their wellbeing and resilience at work and where to get help.
Employers need to be consciously aware of the emotional demands inherent in social work and how they can affect wellbeing. Employers need to understand the ways in which work-related stress can impact on employees’ emotional resilience when working within complex systems and with people, children, families and carers at times of crisis.

Reflective supervision can enable staff to process the complex emotional demands that they may experience and can be used to understand which cases or circumstances may be impacting on the social workers wellbeing. Supervision should be utilised to encourage open conversations with consideration of action, appropriate adjustments and an offer of support.

Employers need to champion wellbeing in the workplace and develop a culture where open discussion about the emotional demands of the work is normalised and peer to peer support activities are facilitated. Employers should develop policies that support those with mental health problems and support them to come forward and offer appropriate support. Initiatives such as the introduction of Wellbeing Champions and peer support groups in the workplace have been used in other sectors to great effect.

Strategic accountability

All employers should:

  1. foster a culture of openness and inclusion in the organisation that empowers social workers to make appropriate professional judgements within a supportive environment. (Standard 5)
  2. be responsive to workforce needs and be proactive and creative by working with social workers and others in their organisation to develop a wellbeing framework that supports social workers to thrive at work.
  3. enable social workers and managers to raise concerns about inadequate resources, operational difficulties, workload issues or their own skills and capacity for direct work with children, adults and family without fear of recrimination.
  4. enable social workers to engage with their professional association, regulator and trade union (if a member)
  5. put in place and support flexible working arrangements
  6. promote learning and development opportunities including, for example, secondments with relevant partner organisations

Work environment

All employers should:

  1. make quality time and a confidential, private space available for formal supervision, informal confidential professional discussions between colleagues, break-out areas and team meetings (this includes how you operate telephone and video-conferencing)
  2. have a suitable space for confidential interviews with adequate safety measures to protect practitioners. 
  3. have in place caring and effective systems for reporting and responding to concerns raised by social workers and managers so that risks are assessed, and preventative and protective measures are taken to ensure the social worker is keeping safe and well. 


Employers should provide a safe and effective working environment for social workers where the safety and welfare needs are met. They should:

  1. have robust violence, aggression and lone worker policies and guidance to ensure that social workers can do their jobs safely. Employers and managers along with social workers should ensure that the risks of violence, harassment and bullying are assessed, minimised and prevented. Where such instances do occur, there should be clear procedures in place to address, monitor, resolve and review the situation so that social workers are aware of how to raise and report concerns.  (Social Work England Professional Standard 6)
  2. ensure awareness of violence aggression and lone working so that social workers know the local policy and steps needed so that employers can protect employees from exposure to foreseeable violence and aggression at work and other risks arising from lone working.
  3. ensure that support services, such as Occupational Health, Employee Assistance programmes and Human Resources are available and that social workers who fall victim to violence and aggression at work are actively signposted to these services recognising that the extent of that support will depend upon the particular circumstances of the case. 

Tools and support to do the job

All employers should:

  1. provide social workers with appropriate practical tools to do their job including effective case recording systems, business support, access to the internet and information and communication technologies, and ensure that social workers are trained to use them effectively. 
  2. work with social workers to identify ways in which they can deliver better support to people using digital services, both through training and through the adoption of digital technologies by employers.
  3. ensure social workers have safe means of transport for visiting service users and for field work and are aware of safe social media policies. 
  4. provide administrative support to social workers and help to maximise the time social workers can spend working directly with the children, adults and families who use services. 
  5. provide social workers with access to fellow professionals including legal advisors, translators and interpreters.

Useful resources 

LGA Wellbeing guide for managers 
Toolkit by Bath Spa Uni and BASW 
One you - resources tips, tools, support and encouragement to help improve your health
University of Bedfordshire Organisational diagnostic wellbeing and workbook and action plan
Wellness Action Plans by MIND
Time to Change -  Breaking down mental health stigma in the workplace
Working alone – UNISON health and safety guide
Suzy Lamplugh Trust - tips and advice on personal safety issues 
HSE tools for stress
See Social Work England Standard 6.6
BASW - The Code of Ethics for Social Work The Code of Ethics states the values and ethical principles on which the profession is based
BASW/IFSW Policy on Effective and Ethical Working Environments for Social Work 
International Federation of Social workers Ethical Principles (IFSW 2004)
BASW Human Rights Policy
HSE tools for stress
BASW: UK supervision policy
Its not part of the job – UNISON Health and Safety Guide on Tackling Violence at Work
Bargaining on hot desking policies – UNISON guide 

Standard 5 - Supervision

This standard is about making sure students and qualified practitioners can reflect critically on their practice through high quality, regular supervision being an integral part of social work practice. This will start with students on placement, continue with the ASYE, and then throughout the individual’s social work career. Supervision should challenge and foster an inquisitive approach to social work.

Supervisors’ practice and skills should adhere to the Post Qualifying Standards for Social Work Practice Supervisors in Adult Social Care or the Post-qualifying standard: knowledge and skills statement for child and family practice supervisors. Practice Educators supervising student social workers should adhere to the Practice Educator Professional Standards (PEPS).

Frequency of supervision

All employers should:

  1. ensure that supervision takes place regularly and consistently and lasts for an uninterrupted duration of at least an hour and a half.
  2. make sure that supervision takes place:
    • for students on placement - as agreed with students and programme providers
    • for newly qualified social workers - at least weekly for the first six weeks of employment of a newly qualified social worker, at least fortnightly for the duration of the first six months, and a minimum of monthly supervision thereafter
    • for social workers who have demonstrated capability at   ASYE level and above - in line with identified needs, and at least monthly
  3. ensure that they have a policy in place which governs supervision, and which
    • locates responsibility for that policy with the Principal Social Worker or other appropriate senior manager
    • requires the actual frequency and quality of supervision to be monitored against clear expectations.

Quality of supervision

All employers should:

  1. ensure that social work supervision is not treated as an isolated activity by incorporating it into the organisation’s social work accountability framework. (Standard1)
  2. promote continuous learning and knowledge sharing through which social workers are encouraged to draw out learning points by reflecting on their own practice in the light of experiences of peers. (Social Work England professional standard 4)
  3. promote the use of supervision as an opportunity for social workers to critically reflect on, and identify their learning needs, using evidence, research and other social work frameworks where appropriate.
  4. actively use Social Work England’s professional standards as the basis for supervision, including evaluating capability and identifying development needs, ensuring that social workers are able to draw on and use additional resources such as the Professional Capabilities Framework and Knowledge and Skills Statements to develop their day-to-day practice and skills base
  5. ensure that supervision supports students and qualified social workers to meet Social Work England’s Professional Standards.
  6. encourage social workers to plan, reflect on and record learning activity, including logging CPD on their Social Work England online account.
  7. ensure that coaching and action learning opportunities are core components of the supervision offer to social workers.
  8. provide regular supervision training for social work supervisors.
  9. assign explicit responsibility for the oversight of appropriate supervision and for issues that arise through supervision
  10. provide additional professional supervision by a registered social worker for practitioners whose line manager is not a social worker.

Useful resources

Post-qualifying standard: knowledge and skills statement for child and family practice supervisors  
Post-qualifying Standards for Social Work Practice Supervisors in Adult Social Care   
SCIE supervision guides
BASW supervision policy
SCIE Research briefing 43: Effective supervision in social work and social care
Reflective supervision: resource pack

Standard 6 - Continuing professional development (CPD)

This standard is about social workers being provided with the time and opportunity to learn, keep their knowledge and skills up to date, and critically reflect on the impact this has on their practice. They are required to demonstrate this learning as part of their regulatory requirement to meet Social Work England’s professional standard relating to CPD. (Social Work England professional standard 4).

Employers should provide opportunities for regular and effective CPD

CPD is the reflection and learning activity that social workers undertake throughout their career to maintain and improve their practice. It is an important part of a social worker’s professional standards. By undertaking and recording CPD, a social worker demonstrates to the public, their regulator and their employer that they uphold those professional standards.

It is important that employers provide their social workers with time and opportunities to carry out regular and effective CPD, fostering an open learning culture where social workers are supported through supervision to carry out learning activities that they feel benefit them and their practice. 

Supporting staff development

All employers should: 

  1. have effective induction systems for all social workers
  2. put in place tailored support for newly qualified social workers through an Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) programme, including protected development time, a managed workload, tailored supervision and personal development plans
  3. have an appraisal or performance review system which assesses how well professional practice is delivered, that includes the feedback of people with lived experience of the social worker’s practice, and identifies a learning and development plan to support the achievement of objectives
  4. provide dedicated time, resources, opportunities and support for social workers to carry out CPD and record their learning in line with Social Work England’s regulatory requirements
  5. have fair and transparent systems to enable social workers to develop their professional skills and knowledge throughout their careers through an entitlement to formal and informal CPD, specialist training and development as appropriate
  6. provide support and information to enable social workers to progress through post-qualifying specialist training and access national funded development and support programmes that will allow them to develop their knowledge, skills and practice and, in some cases, annotate their registration to reflect a specialism 
  7. encourage social workers to work towards and maintain professional accreditation where it is available
  8. encourage social workers to think creatively about their CPD activity, consider learning they already undertake, online resources, and to draw from their work towards post-qualifying frameworks and accreditations
  9. encourage social workers to consider their ethics and values in relation to their practice (Social Work England professional standard 4) and emphasise the importance of reflecting on the impact of their learning. 

Useful resources 

Social Work England continuing professional development guidance for social workers 2019
Workload Management for Social Work
BASW Professional Capabilities Framework


Standard 7 - Professional registration

This Standard is about supporting social workers to maintain their professional registration with Social Work England so that they can continue to practice as a social worker.

All employers should: 

  1. be familiar with Social Work England’s professional standards for safe and effective practice, and understand a social worker’s regulatory requirements to maintain their professional registration
  2. recognise that carrying out and recording CPD (Standard 6) is a condition of a social workers registration renewal with Social Work England
  3. support social workers in upholding Social Work England’s professional standards, which are specialist to social work, ensuring effective CPD opportunities and supervision are provided
  4. take appropriate steps to inform the regulator, co-operate with investigations and hearings carried out by the regulator, and respond appropriately to its findings and decisions if there are concerns about an employee’s fitness to practice
  5. be clear about the circumstances in which social workers should be referred to the regulator, and when they shouldn’t
  6. promote and encourage ethical practice so that social workers have the support and confidence to challenge unsafe practice and report concerns, in accordance with Social Work England’s professional standards. 
  7. proactively engage Social Work England’s regional engagement leads.

Useful resources

Social Work England professional standards for social workers 2019
Social Work England professional standards guidance for social workers 2019
The Social workers Regulations 2018
Social Work England (registration) rules 2019
Social Work England – regional engagement

Standard 8 – Strategic partnerships

This Standard is about creating strong partnerships and good collaboration between employers, higher education institutions and other training providers. Strong partnership working will continue to support the training of high-quality social workers, resulting in improved services for children, young people, adults, families and local communities.

Developing strategic leadership and existing staff

All employers should:

  1. engage with local, regional and national social work partners, including regional alliances, safeguarding partners, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and national social work bodies, to encourage and implement continuous improvement across the organisation.
  2. ensure that strategic lead social workers/principal social workers who are appointed, understand and manage the organisational responsibility for this standard PSW
  3. implement formal partnership arrangements with social work education providers that promote and enable effective joint planning (in particular for the provision of placements in a statutory social work setting), shared communication and activities to further the delivery of social work education and (Standard 6)
  4. engage in networks to promote and share best practice and develop opportunities for joint research and evaluation, and which enables social workers to participate in research-based activity, grounded in the principles of the UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research.
  5. have a clear policy for recruiting, training and supporting practice educators and practice supervisors.
  6. support staff to access qualifying social work programmes.
  7. provide support to newly qualified social workers, ensuring their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) programme is subject to robust quality assurance processes

Developing future social workers

All employers should:

  1. provide high quality placements and support for social work students on those placements.
  2. contribute to the recruitment and retention of social work students.
  3. work collaboratively with partner organisations to develop the skills and knowledge required to deliver high quality social work education.

Useful resources

UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research

List of stakeholders

  • The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS)
  • The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS)
  • British Association of Social workers (BASW)
  • The Department of Education (DfE)
  • The Department of Health (DHSC)
  • Health Education England
  • Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JucSWEC)
  • Local Government Association (LGA)
  • SCIE
  • Skills for Care (SfC)
  • Social Work England
  • UNISON the Public Service Union
  • What Works Centre
  • The Adult Principal Social Worker Network
  • The Children’s Principal Social Worker Network