The practice of management in social care and the contexts in which managers operate have been the focus of much recent interest. Standards are being developed for managers in particular settings (such as residential care homes), and training for managers in registration and inspection services is a current government preoccupation. The papers Modernising Health and Social Services: developing the workforce (Department of Health, 1999a) and Modernising Health and Social Services: national priorities guidance (Department of Health, 1999b) require investment in training, especially for managers to implement the related Quality Protects Programme. As a result of these and other initiatives, the role of the first line manager is being scrutinised. At the same time the role is changing rapidly as managers seek to find ways of responding to a spate of new policy agendas. For example, as social work mental health teams join with colleagues from health to form new multi- and inter-disciplinary teams, professional alliances and identities are being questioned. In children’s services, managers are seeking to respond creatively to improve services for looked after children and those in the community. Such creativity requires changes to structures, networks and ways of practising. Writing in Community Care recently, Frances Rickford (2000) suggests that managers are ‘first in line for blame…but not always first in line for training’ and as one of our interviewees remarked managers have ‘responsibility without power. There is a growing realisation that effective services require managers to be better at what they do and better equipped to do it. Many first line managers have no management training, and it can also be argued that some management training that is available does not equip them for the challenges of delivering social care in current contexts.

The transition from practitioner to frontline manager is probably the most difficult career transition in social services – people struggle with how to do the job and we would strongly argue for formal pathways

(Kearney, 1999).