There was a real sense of anticipation at the launch of the final report of the Social Work Task Force last week. A gathering of the “great and the good”, government ministers and a sprinkling of celebrity. Goldie, the singer who appears in the social worker recruitment campaign “Helpgivethemavoice.com” spoke powerfully and movingly about his own experiences of being in care and the importance of social workers in his life.
It was always going to be a difficult balancing act – addressing the problems of today whilst presenting a vision for tomorrow. The Social Work Task Force are to be commended on producing such a thoughtful and considered report within a relatively short time scale. The extensive consultations with numerous stakeholders are reflected in the commentary and narrative of the Report. It is radical in the sense that it coherently addresses the concerns expressed by social workers and social users over many years about the cultural change needed to improve social work services.
“Building a safe, confident future” has fifteen recommendations which have the potential to rebuild and reposition the social work profession.
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Health Secretary Andy Burnham announced the Government’s acceptance of a radical package of recommendations from the final Social Work Task Force report, to transform social work and the public understanding of social workers’ crucial contribution to our society.
Under the package, every social worker will benefit from:
Reforms to initial training, so all students receive good quality education and practice learning placements, equipping them for the challenges they will face when they begin to practice. A change in the number of placement day is proposed to balance the new assessed probationary year.
1.45 Serious consideration should be given to reducing the minimum number of placement days to be undertaken within the social work degree from 200 to no less than 130. Such a reduction would help to
●● release more time to deliver important elements of the curriculum which may not be currently covered sufficiently
●● ensure a sharper focus on what the placement is meant to achieve in terms of the student’s learning and development
●● enable all students to have better quality placements
A new ‘licensing’ system which will introduce an assessed probationary year in employment for new social work graduates, during which they will receive extra support. The assessed year in employment would also allow social workers to increase their expertise in specialised areas of social work, building on the improved grounding provided by the degree and creating a solid platform for further career long development. Responsibility for assessment could potentially be shared between employers, higher education institutions and the regulator.
A revamped framework for continuing professional development, underpinned by a practice-based masters qualification, so all social workers can keep their skills up to date and develop specialist knowledge.
3.6 The current post-qualification (PQ) framework of nationally accredited courses, in effect since 2007, includes some excellent provision for both the adult and children’s workforce. Where there are strong partnerships and good collaboration between employers and HEI – for example in commissioning, planning and developing current PQ courses – this has led to a more strategic approach to ongoing learning and the exchange of knowledge, more sharing of resources; and positive steps to develop and update practice.
(I would like to see a national research project commissioned which evaluates the impact upon practice of the current PQ framework before making any substantial changes. Moving towards a masters level is good news but consideration also has to be given to the 90,000 plus existing social workers on the GSCC Social Care Register who may not be in a position to undertake a masters programme). http://http://shirleyayresconsulting.co.uk/post-qualifying-learning-and-education/what-to-do-about-pq
A career structure so that experienced practitioners can progress in front line roles as well as in management. (Hackney’s reclaiming social work initiative is an excellent example of promoting the advanced social work practitioner).
A new standard for employers to ensure all employers put in place high quality supervision, time for continuing professional development and manageable work loads. In a Guardian article published 2nd December 2009 Moira Gibb encouraged employers not to wait for the standard to be in place but to publish NOW the caseload ceilings they work to locally, how they are achieving against them and engaging their front line staff in those discussions. (If your employer has already published guidelines do let me know)
The Task Force Report recommends the presence of a senior manager who is also a qualified social worker and who oversees the overall health of professional social work in the organisation; advises it on how the standard for employers can be upheld; and is accessible to frontline staff21. (This manager would also be the person who oversees the framework proposed below for assessing of the “health” of their organisation on a range of issues affecting workload).
Pay reform – unions will work together with employers in local government to ensure social workers receive the appropriate pay for their work and that the pay reflects their career development and progression.
A new and independent College for Social Work led and owned by the profession, which must establish a stronger voice for social work and exercise appropriate influence over national policy making and public debate. Ministers will support it to become the first Royal College of Social Work as soon as possible. (it is interesting to contemplate the future roles of the GSCC, Skills for Care, Children’s Workforce Development Council, Social Care Institute for Excellence, BASW and the National Skills Academy for Social Care)
All of this is in addition to the reforms to the Integrated Children’s System which the Task Force has already proposed and the Government has accepted. Over the next few months, as local authorities implement the changes they should significantly reduce the bureaucracy social workers experience on the front line.
Social worker supply
6.9 We do not have a system for analysing or forecasting the overall demand for and supply of social workers in England. There is a lack of reliable ‘real time’ data on the characteristics of the workforce and trends within it (e.g. vacancy rates). Equally, there is no agreed model for estimating and influencing the number of social workers needed in local areas.
6.10 As a result, workforce planning at local level and national levels, and the planning and resourcing of education and training, are severely hamstrung. This situation is not tenable in the long term.
Workforce Planning has to be a key element and it will be helpful to have some joined up thinking with the current systems for workforce planning which include: the Skills for Care National Minimum Data Set, the CWDC One Childrens Workforce Tool, LeARNS and Adass InLAWS.
The Task Force have recommended that the public description of social work originally developed for the interim report should be adopted, finalised and used by the national college to improve the public understanding of social work.
The £58 million Social Work Transformation Fund has included:
• sponsoring 200 university places from September
• starting a new recruitment campaign specifically targeting social workers who may have left the profession to give the current workforce a boost
• rolling out the successful Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSW) pilots to all new children and families’ social workers joining statutory and voluntary services from this September
• funding a practice-based Masters in social work to start in early 2011 so that all social workers can continue to develop further their knowledge, skills and expertise
• introducing a new Advanced Social Work Professional Status programme to create senior practice-focused roles to keep excellent and experienced social workers in children’s services
• coaching and development for frontline social worker managers to boost leadership and management skills.
Ed Balls has stated that this will involve tough choices and one of the big questions is how we can get better results from the money that has already been invested in improving social work. There are risks and challenges – social work needs innovation and creative thinking but will employers focus on saving money and potentially missing out on investing in the workforce. I think that there needs to be greater transparency and accountability about how the £58m Social Work Transformation Fund will be evaluated. As with so many of the initiatives funded in the past few years there is sometimes a lack of clarity about outputs, outcomes and the real impact upon the delivery of front line services.
Task Force chair, Moira Gibb, will continue her work by setting up a Social Work Reform Board and an implementation plan will be published in early 2010.
It has to be acknowledged there are some actions that will not cost a lot of money but will require a change in “mind set”. I was particularly struck by the Task Force statement that employers must act now to ensure that they are listening to their staff and putting in place the support that they need. However, the issue of how the recommendations will be resourced has yet to be addressed. The article on the Community Care website highlights the concerns of Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass). “reform will not be “quick, cheap or easy” and the new responsibilities for employers must be matched by cash”. ADCS and Adass have warned that funding the Social Work Task Force’s reforms will not be possible from current budgets. access the article here
The full report and government response can be downloaded here
Shirley Ayres Consulting are committed to the promotion of integrated working in care services through workforce development and effective communications.