From “silo” to “network” profession – a multi-professional future for social work

Publication Date18 September 2017
AuthorNick Frost
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Children's services,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Children/youth,Parents,Education,Early childhood education,Home culture,Social/physical development
From siloto networkprofession a
multi-professional future for social work
Nick Frost
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to argue that the future of social work can be situated as part of a
fundamental shifttowards co-located, multi-disciplinary practice and networking. It is argued that socialwork
has a key role to play in co-located, multi-disciplinary child welfare practice, and indeed can be a leading
professionin this context. Situating socialwork in this way involves re-conceptualisingsocial work as a network
profession, rather than a silo profession. The paper builds on an earlier study of five multi-professional,
co-located teams updated with interviews with social workers currently situated in such co-located teams.
An exploration of the roleof social work in relation to child sexual exploitation is provided.
Design/methodology/approach The first study was an ESRC-funded study and used a multi-method
approach to understanding the work of five multi-disciplinary, co-located teams working with children, young
people and families (Frost and Robinson, 2016). Four co-located teams with eight social workers participated
in the research. This was followed up by a small scale study involving semi-structured interviews with six
social workers situated in co-located, multi-disciplinary teams. The focus of the study was on professional
identity and working practices with other related professionals.
Findings The ESRC study explored the complexity of co-located, multi-disciplinary professional
teams exploring how they worked together and analysing the challenges they face. Professionals felt
that such working enhanced their learning, their skill base and the process of information sharing.
Challenges included structural and organisational issues and differences in ideological and explanatory
frameworks. The follow up study of six social workers found that they gained satisfaction from being situated
in such co-located, multi-disciplinary teams, but also faced some identified challenges. Child sexual
exploitation is explored as an example of the work of co-located, multi-disciplinary teams.
Research limitations/implications Semi-structured interviews with social workers based in co-located,
multi-disciplinary teams have provided valuable insights into the operation of social workers in such settings.
It is acknowledged that all the interviews are with social workers in co-located settings and that further work
is required on the views of other social workers in reference to their experiences and views in relation to
multi-disciplinary working.
Originality/value The paper brings together theoretical positions and policy contextual material with
qualitative research data which situate the social worker in wider multi-disciplinary, co-located settings.
Drawing on qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 14 social workers in such teams, the paper aims to
contribute to an understanding and development of the future of the social work role in these contexts,
arguing that this is fundamental to the future of social work.
Keywords Social work, Child sexual exploitation, Networking, Child welfare, Multi-agency, Multi-disciplinarity
Paper type Research paper
This paper argues that the future of social work is fundamentally as a networkprofession one
that is largely situated in co-located settings and/or in working closely with other related
professionals. The origin of social work as a siloprofession is explored and it is argued that
some re-thinking is required before social work becomes a truly networkprofession.
The history of social work and the range of skills situated within the profession, and the nature of
the social problems faced by professional social workers, mean that networking is both an
existing social work skill and essential to its future. The paper will draw on theory, social
history, policy and two qualitative data sets collected from social workers working in co-located,
multi-disciplinary settings.
Received 26 May 2017
Revised 6 August 2017
Accepted 8 August 2017
Nick Frost is a Professor of
Social Work at the Faculty of
Health and Social Sciences,
Leeds Beckett University,
Leeds, UK.
VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 174-183, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660 DOI 10.1108/JCS-05-2017-0019

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