Newly qualified social workers from BAME backgrounds experience disproportionally higher failure rates in their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment than their white counterparts, research by Skills for Care has found.
Children’s social work employers have acknowledged that there is work for them to do in embedding proactive approaches to overcoming inequalities and addressing systemic racism.
The Skills for Care report into the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment said: “Organisational responses to the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 have varied. All of the employers that we visited confirmed that there has been a renewed focus on matters of equality, diversity and inclusion but the extent to which this has, in a practical sense, filtered into the ASYE has, in the main been limited,” said the report.
In 2018, Skills for Care were appointed by the Department for Education to manage the support to child and family services with the delivery of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programme.
In 2020-21 a total of 202 different employer organisations registered 2808 newly qualified social workers onto the ASYE programme. Due to the pandemic, 137 of these were registrations of NQSWs commencing prior to 1 April 2020. Taking this into account, there appears to be approximately 10% fewer NQSWs employed during this year.
The report outlined that the period since the 2019-20 report was published has been characterised by trauma and these circumstances have presented a direct challenge for all those involved in the delivery of the ASYE to do things differently in the future.
In this report, Skills for Care has focused on:
1. The impact on NQSWs and their employers of COVID-19
2. Organisational responses to the Black Lives Matter campaign in summer 2020, the impact on ASYE programmes and NQSW experiences.
The report outlined that while 26% of the total number of NQSWs registered are identified as BAME, they account for 53% of the total fails. By comparison, the 60% of NQSWs who are identified as white account for 47% of the total fails.
“The activities of the Black Lives Matter protests have once again highlighted systemic failures which have minoritised, discriminated against and continue to disadvantage Black and other ethnically diverse people in all walks of life,” said the report.
There were good examples of proactive efforts to address inequalities concerning ethnicity which include:
▪ An impact assessment used in all parts of the ASYE scheme, ensuring and open and transparent approach in terms of equality and diversity.
▪ Scrutiny of vacancy rates and data - recruitment focus on males from ethnically diverse backgrounds to try and flatten the bias in the system.
▪ Detailed risk assessments for members of staff from BAME groups.
▪ Positive leadership to consider and promote white ‘allyship’ within an ASYE programme inviting involvement of managers, NQSWs and supervisors.
“Most programmes, however, appear more reactive, offering robust responses when a problem is identified, but not monitoring experience or delving deeply into the causes,” said the report.
Responses tended to be more process driven and procedural. There is a sense that the focus is on equipping NQSWs with the skills and knowledge to work inclusively with service users. While this is clearly vitally important, there appears to be less attention given to the lived experience of social workers from BAME backgrounds going through the ASYE and to pre-empting disadvantages where these may occur.
NQSWS mainly spoke positively about their direct experience and expressed the view that the language skills and cultural knowledge and experience of different team members are appreciated. However, some did raise frustrations about caseload allocations and mistaken assumptions that because a worker is from a particular ethnic community, they are the “go to” expert.
Alongside this there were some positive reflections about the risk and safeguarding issues associated with service users seeing social workers from their own or similar cultural backgrounds.
The report stated that employers should not lose sight of the wider challenges of addressing anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practice within ASYE programmes and to question:
- What else can be done to uncover both conscious and unconscious bias that may result in:
- less representation amongst the NQSW workforce in your organisation
- black and ethnically diverse NQSWs experiencing less successful outcomes than their white colleagues within their ASYE programme.
The report highlights that the past year has not been an “ordinary” year. Yet employers are all focussed on the wellbeing of their staff and the reviewers heard about a wide range of initiatives in place to ensure that individuals feel supported.
However, isolation is a particular challenge for NQSWs who are new to their roles and to their teams.
Most employers have viewed the ASYE – albeit adapted to be online - as an important means of countering isolation and to ensuring their development needs are addressed. But NQSWs have provided mixed reports about the extent to which this has worked for them.
Workload continues to be an important factor in NQSW wellbeing with several of those that the reviewers spoke with reporting an increase in complexity of the work that they are having to undertake – something the Department for Education has previously highlighted. They were also able to identify the mismatch between the reduced workload policy and the actuality. Several of the NQSWs were concerned about the reduced contact with children, young people, and families which is also impacting on their job satisfaction.
Workload pressures have been hard to manage, with some organisations finding it very difficult to maintain the pre-pandemic levels of support for their new workers. Despite the challenges however, NQSWs have proved themselves to be flexible and resilient and many have found new ways of overcoming problems, accessing learning opportunities and generally making a valuable contribution within their teams.
The primary conclusion of this report is that the NQSW’s experience must be at the centre of the ASYE process. The challenge to employers is to enable this to happen. Many of the challenges that NQSWs have experienced in the past year can be eased if NQSWs are able to share their feelings, in the knowledge that their employers will listen and take action to help them.
“The cycle of quality assurance and continuous improvement including the 360 degree evaluation tool provides a framework for building in the feedback loops that will enable this to happen,” the report concluded.
The overall trends it would suggest that around 3000 NQSWs are likely to be employed in 2021-22.