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Fast-track schemes ‘address shortage of social workers’

Fast-track training schemes will not address the shortage of social workers professor Ray Jones has warned.

In his written submission to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into Social Work Reform, Jones said curtailed fast track schemes would not provide the required workforce nor address the current issue of a shortage and instability in the front-line practice workforce.

Jones, a professor in social work at Kingston University, who has 45 years’ experience in social work, said: “The initial qualification degree should provide a rounded education in social work concentrating on competency development and with a focus and exposure to adult issues as well as children, recognising that children live in families with adults and adult needs and behaviours impinge on children.

“The intake of social work students should require strong evidence of intellectual capacity through high ‘A’ level (or equivalent) scores and 1/ 2.1 degrees,” the former director of social services added.

In his submission to the select committee, Professor Jones highlighted that social work is a “demanding intellectual task”. Social workers, he said, have to make complex, crucial and sometimes dramatic judgements about the welfare and safety of children and vulnerable adults. They have to take decisions and to act on the basis of what will inevitably be incomplete and partial information, based on their own observations and on information provided by other professionals and members of families and communities.

While the Social Work Reform Board, recommended that recruits to the profession have a good ‘A’ level score (or equivalent) or, for post-graduate degrees, a 1 or 2.1 first degree, Jones warned that “following a social value of being inclusive, candidates have sometimes been selected who have considerable relevant life experience but not the intellectual capacity required of social workers”.

He warned that the Department for Education’s response to shorten the initial qualifying education was giving individual exposure and responsibility too early to students who have not built the confidence to have difficult and distressing discussions, and challenging conversations, with children and adults.

Fast-track schemes, he added, meant that students will not have acquired the practice experience and wisdom to be the “wise and informed service and professional leaders of the future”.

Whilst thinking about change, novelty and innovation, it is also important to think about what is known about what already works well in assisting children and families, and taking action where necessary to protect children, said Jones.

However this would not be achieved through “fragmentation, distant management, and ownership of social work services by international venture capitalists and hedge funds, with profit-focussed private out-sourcing companies such as G4S, Serco, Virgin Care, Amey and Mouchel engaging in discussions with the DfE about how to develop a market place for children’s statutory social work services – and with these companies not to be inspected, registered or regulated when they provide statutory children’s social work”.

Jones recommends:

  • aggregating up for those too small local authorities to shared larger but still local services with joint governance boards established between local authorities.
  • a re-building of local residential children’s home and foster care provision within the direct management of local authority children’s social services.
  • a recognition that local authority children’s services are now essentially focused on children’s social work and social care, with the schools and education functions of local councils significantly reduced, and that the top managers should have a competence and expertise in the services they are leading.
  • reducing the number of hand-overs between social workers and teams within the unnecessarily complex organisational arrangements within many local authorities with the history of children and families lost and relationships never developed and maintained.
  • creating capacity for more intensive work with children and families to assist families and to generate change by making the ‘troubled families’ programmes a part of  mainstreamed children’s services rather than marginal and separate.
  • the creation of community children’s services teams, which should also include social workers who specialise in working with adults with mental health, drug and alcohol, and domestic violence issues.
  • consideration of locating these children’s services teams within secondary schools.
  • the refinement and reduction of key national performance indicators, but a national comparative data set should be maintained and publicly reported.
  • a national development service for children’s social services, with regional teams, to work with local authorities to promote best practice, to keep up-to-date with the evidence-base, and to assist with responding to new and changing legislation.

“The crux is to make it all less confused and complex, rather than more, with strong local and wise senior management grip, a workforce which is confident, competent and stable, building local knowledge and relationships with children, families, communities and other agencies, and with transparency and clear accountability. It is a difficult task, but it is not rocket science,” said Jones.

“Greater fragmentation, distant leadership, a focus on competition rather than collaboration, and loss of expertise is not a good or sensible direction of travel,” he concluded.

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