Policy reference Policy product type LGiU/csn essential policy briefing Published date 08/10/2009. This covers England.

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1 Page 1 of 5 Training of children and families social workers Policy reference Policy product type LGiU/csn essential policy briefing Published date 08/10/2009 Author Laura Corben This covers England Overview Children s lives are put at risk when social workers are lacking the vital skills, experience and support that they need to carry out their role effectively. The House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee has published a report that specifically discusses the frameworks in place for training new social workers and establishing robust post-qualification training schemes that ease new social workers into their role. The immense pressure that social work teams are working under, following the Lord Laming reports on child protection, is jeopardising the Committee s aim of establishing education and training as the core parts of supporting the social work task. Local authorities and other relevant agencies are aware that heavy caseloads and a high turnover of staff results in practitioners and managers not being able to spare the time needed to participate in training. The Committee recommends a more strategic approach rather than radical reforms that could be damaging to the social work profession in the long run. With this in mind they have made a number of recommendations to the Social Work Task Force and the Government with regards to the establishment and running of a Social Work Development Agency. The most significant recommendations will be highlighted in this policy briefing. The Committee s report addresses topics that cover the broad areas of entry into social work, children and families social work training and post-qualification career progression. The specific chapters cover: social work training in England entry to the profession initial training practice placements post-qualifying training and careers social work in practice. Briefing in full The House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee published a report in April 2009 (see related briefings ) based on their inquiry into looked-after children. In that report they collected evidence on the relationships between children in care and the social workers that were responsible for managing their care. The Committee found that high vacancies, high turnover of staff and impossible caseloads were putting immense pressure on social workers. This meant that building a lasting relationship between the social worker and the child or young person became increasingly difficult. This latest Committee report covered in this policy briefing looks at the social work profession, specifically discusses the frameworks in place for training new social workers and identifies ways that post-qualification training can be reformed.

2 Page 2 of 5 Social work training in England In 2003, a three year Bachelor s degree in social work replaced the two-year diploma (DipSW) as the main qualification route for the profession. There is also a two year Master s degree for those with a first degree. The degrees produce a generic basis of knowledge in social work. The social work degree has successfully encouraged more people to train as social workers: since 2003, a 37 per cent increase in student numbers has occurred. However, not all students on these degree courses go on to practice as social workers. The Social Work Task Force was set up in December 2008 to advise the Government on the content of a comprehensive programme of reform for the whole social work profession. The Secretaries of State for Health and for Children, Schools and Families have stated that they would be willing to introduce radical reform of the social work education system if the Task Force recommended it. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has also announced 58m funding for a new Social Work Transformation Fund that will increase capacity to train and support social workers. The Committee remains concerned about the plethora of new initiatives that have been announced before the Social Work Task Force have published their findings and recommendations. With regards to the Lord Laming s report on child protection, the Committee feels that a strategic approach should be pursued rather than a rapid response with no long term direction. The Social Work Task Force has reported that many social workers are unclear about the roles and responsibilities of the many organisations involved in social work. The General Social Care Council (GSCC) has also admitted that there is confusion about which body does what in relation to the funding of social work education. As a consequence of this confusion there appears to be a sense that the social work profession lacks leadership at a national level. The Committee recommends streamlining of the national sector bodies and rationalisation of their remits as an urgent priority. The report urges the Social Work Task Force to consider reform that replicates the impact that the Training and Development Agency has had on the teaching profession. The key recommendation of the report is the introduction of a Social Work Development Agency that should unite the functions of recruitment, workforce development, and funding and commissioning of training. The report also recommends that the Government should prioritise the research necessary to establish a model that estimates the future demand for graduates. This should partially address the high vacancies and retention problems that have plagued children and families social work by giving employers the ability to influence the supply of graduates. Entry to the profession A representative for Universities UK has outlined the qualities needed to be a good social worker. A high level of competency is required in three dimensions of skill, on each of which the Committee has made recommendations. Intellectual skills Almost half of the students entering social work undergraduate programmes in had fewer than three grade Cs or equivalent at A-level. Although A-levels are an imperfect measure of potential, they are a proxy for intellectual ability. The Committee would like to see an increase in the average grades required for acceptance to undergraduate social work training. Universities should have a means to offer places to applicants who may have an abundance of personal experience but lack an academic background. Emotional skills Social workers should be emotionally prepared to deal with complicated and sometimes devastating situations. Knowledge and practical skills Practical work experience should be taken into

3 Page 3 of 5 account. Previous experience in related fields is a valuable attribute to bring to study and practice of social work. The committee proposes that consideration should be given to making it a mandatory requirement. Compressing the content of social work degrees into a short, fast track package may be too attractive to dismiss. The Committee feels that there may be some scope for this with regards to students with relevant experience, especially if they know the area they wish to specialise in. Non-traditional routes make a valuable contribution to increasing opportunities for some applicants. Initial training Social work courses should not be seen as difficult to fail. Degree funding arrangements need to be changed to ensure that unsuitable students are not kept on a course. The Committee advises that funding should be channelled through a sector specific body to reflect that the degrees are a test of fitness for professional practice and not just an academic course. Either the GSCC or Ofsted should play a more active role in quality assurance of degree courses; this should not be delegated to universities. Statutory and voluntary sector employers have argued that the degree courses are failing to prepare students adequately for employment. Particular deficiencies were highlighted: using IT for daily tasks; knowledge of multi-agency working; and communicating with service users. The report recommends that the current requirements for social work degrees should be rationalised and combined to form a basic common curriculum. However, the Committee mentions that the adoption of a common core curriculum should not preclude flexible and innovative delivery. Close collaboration between employers and universities would help bring mutual benefits to social work education. Requirement of these formal partnerships should be pursued by the Government. Practice placements Students studying for either a Bachelor s or Master s degree in social work must undertake 200 days of assessed practice (previously 130 days under the diploma). This must include placements in at least two contrasting practice settings with two different client groups. This degree requirement has generated an under-supply of suitable placements. Finding placements within local authorities has been a challenge. Pressure from high vacancies and heavy caseloads makes it difficult to accommodate students in local authority work places. The report emphasises that the training of future and current social workers must be seen as a core part of the social work task. Employers should commit to providing placements as part of a comprehensive partnership with higher education institutions. The report argues that overseeing the development of practice placement quality and supply could be a key responsibility for the Committee s proposed Social Work Development Agency. Consideration may need to be given to shortening placements in statutory services to ensure that all students have a placement. The Committee recommends that all placements should be supervised by qualified and experienced social workers who either hold or are working towards specific qualifications in practice teaching. The expectation that current social workers contribute to the training of future generations of social workers should be supported by reforms to pay scales and structured career progression. Practice teaching should be built into job descriptions so that it does not become a burden on top of their normal workload. Post-qualifying training and careers The debate on whether social work degrees adequately prepare new social workers for employment pivots on the period immediately after degree qualification. During this time, employers need to realise the limitations of inexperienced, new social workers. 58 per cent

4 Page 4 of 5 of children s social workers surveyed by Unison in December 2008 said that newly qualified and unqualified staff are more likely, compared to 2003, to be doing child protection work for which they are insufficiently experienced. The degree in social work is an entry level qualification that needs to be supplemented with years of training and experience. The Committee recommends that new social workers should be exposed to fewer complex cases and have better supervision. The Newly-Qualified Social Worker (NQSW) programme was introduced to provide a bridge from initial training to confident and competent practice that is based on the firm foundation of skills and knowledge. This pilot programme was launched in September 2008 to support a cohort of 1,000 new social workers. The Government have announced that the NQSW programme will be expanded to include all children and families social workers in statutory services and the voluntary sector from September The Committee advises that Post-Registration Training and Learning (PRTL) requirements should be made more stringent. The GSCC launched a new Post-Qualifying Framework in September This framework is divided into three levels: Specialist Social Work, Higher Specialist Social Work and Advanced Social Work. There are five specialisms within this framework: mental health; adult social care; practice education; leadership and management; and children, young people, their families and carers. However, this principal vehicle for specialisation is not mandatory. As the framework develops a clear pathway of career progression it should require compulsory participation. The report identifies that pay plays a significant role in the recruitment and retention difficulties faced by local authorities. The Committee believes that pay should not remain the responsibility of individual employers. They recommend that a national pay structure for social work should be introduced with allowances for regional variation. They advise that the pay structure should have a system of spinal points incorporated into it for extra skills and responsibilities held by social workers. Social work in practice The Committee was encouraged by the restructuring of social work teams carried out by some local authorities. They were particularly impressed with the improvement in levels of administrative and para-professional support for social workers. It was also indicated in the report that even though agency workers provide an important source of flexibility and skill, they also potentially lose out on supervision and development opportunities. This is especially true if new social workers join agencies immediately after graduating. The Committee also recommends that the Government establish a formal pilot of Chief Social Worker roles in local authorities. This person would act as the lead professional for all social workers employed by the local authority. Comment The proposed establishment of a new Social Work Development Agency is a key component of the Committee s plans to overhaul the current social work training system. Newly qualified and established social workers are currently under immense pressure to exact change without additional support and representation. A lack of national leadership for the social work profession during the current climate, following the Baby Peter case, is likely to generate even more pressure that the current social work training system can not handle. Social workers both need and deserve a high quality national training body that will ensure the sustained coordination between potential employers and universities offering social work degree courses. It is encouraging to hear about the 58 million Social Work Transformation Fund for training and supporting social workers. It is also reassuring that the Government is willing

5 Page 5 of 5 to make big changes, but it is unnerving to hear that they have developed radical initiatives before the Social Work Task Force have published their findings and made their wellresearched recommendations. It is of high importance that new social workers are exposed to difficult cases in a manner that does not overwhelm but still gives them experience. Extending the qualification period to four years is a useful tool for helping ease new social workers into their role. Requiring that new social workers gain one year of supervised experience after graduating is vital for developing a confident workforce. It is essential that the Government recognises that confidence and career progression will come from experience and extended training. External links Training of social children and families' social workers - CS&F Committee report Downloads Related briefings Looked after children - CS&F Committee report Related events

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