Named social worker pilot – Interim report launched

15 February 2017

People with autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues – and their carers – often have to face the challenge of having a lack of continuity of social workers. It can be frustrating and it can lead to bad physical health. A new initiative – the Named Social Work pilot scheme – is addressing this by creating the role of a single named social worker. An interim report on the project’s progress is launched today.

The project is being piloted in six sites, concentrating on learning disability, as part of efforts to improve choice, control and outcomes for service users. Critically, the plan is to do what’s known as ‘preventative work’ by supporting people to avoid unnecessary hospital appointments and referrals to assessment and treatment units, to a minimum. The six areas are in Calderdale, Camden, Hertfordshire, Liverpool, Nottingham and Sheffield.

In some sites councils have brought in extra capacity to support the adult social work team. In Camden they are developing the Independent Reviewing Officer role for people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health issues. The trick is to strike a balance by using existing capacity to achieve immediate outcomes and by experimenting with how social workers might be used to achieve longer-term, transformative outcomes.


Providing a dedicated caseworker, who has an ongoing responsibility for someone’s support, means the worker can be the primary point of contact for care and treatment, and they can use their professional voice to challenge decisions and advocate on someone’s behalf with all of the agencies and organisations providing support.

Whilst the pilot does not give social workers any new powers, it does give them a chance to understand how to change the experiences and outcomes for people with autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues, by introducing a new set of relationships with staff. The six sites are free to develop and refine their own approach to a having named social workers.

The different approaches taken by the sites include:

  • Putting human rights at the core of the relationship between the person and social worker
  • Building the skills of the team to collaborate with other services - with a focus on preventing someone’s situation from deteriorating
  • Giving social workers the freedom and responsibility to experiment with new practices - and to challenge existing practices.

SCIE’s chief executive Tony Hunter says:

Sometimes people can feel like they’re passed from pillar to post and so it’s great that the NSW pilots are building continuity into the lives of people most in need of care and support. It seems like common sense to have a named worker but in busy organisations where there’s a natural turnover of staff it can be difficult to get this right. The NSW pilot opens new possibilities for co-production and better outcomes.

Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department of Health, Lyn Romeo, says:

This is a chance to develop effective social work practice approaches that will make people’s lives better and support people to have the best possible outcomes. It is an opportunity to focus on social worker practice and different social work conversations when working alongside people and their families, keeping the relationship at the heart and centre of their practice to make a positive difference.

Senior Programme Lead at Innovation Unit, Lizzie Insall says:

The Named Social Worker is about creating the space for purposeful and empowering relationship building, built on a deep understanding of individual need and capacity. Work across the pilot sites emphasises that making this happen looks different everywhere, but the end goal must be the same.

About the project

The Department of Health has commissioned the Innovation Unit - in partnership with the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) - to support Local Authorities to pilot the Named Social Worker project. Each site will be responsible for developing, implementing and evaluating their plan, with assistance and coaching from the Innovation Unit and SCIE team.

The Innovation Unit creates new solutions for thriving communities: solutions which build, support and recognise human potential and the critical importance of thriving relationships - within families, between individuals, and across personal and professional boundaries.

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