New grade of staff to support social workers in mental health

Unqualified staff should be recruited to play a greater role
working with people who have mental health problems, says a new
report, writes Anabel Unity Sale.

The document, from the workforce action team set up by the
government to examine the implications of the mental health
national service framework, calls for fundamental changes in the
way the workforce is organised.

One of its key recommendations is the creation of ‘support,
time, recovery workers’ (STR), an entirely new grade of staff who
could provide mental health service users with “companionship,
friendship, regular and practical support”.

STRs are also expected to promote independent living among users
and help them gain access to services and resources such as housing
advice, employment, complementary therapies or intensive short-term

The new initiative would, according to the report, increase
recruitment of people from a variety of backgrounds into the sector
and free up the time and workloads of social workers and other
qualified professionals.

The report states: “We expect STR workers either to have a small
caseload with intensive activity or a large caseload of more
general support depending on the service setting and user

David Joannides, a member of the action team and Dorset director
of social services, told Community Care: “Establishing the STRs
will give an extra dimension to the workforce that has not been
explored before.”

He said STR workers could be one way of establishing longer-term
relationships with users of mental health services: “The one
commodity teams at the moment do not have to give to people with
mental health problems is time. STRs could provide contact, time
and friendship and… more specialised support to help people.”

He added: “If we use the STR workforce responsibly they can
provide support to approved social workers and community practice

But Joannides warned that a STR workforce was not “a soft
option” and had to be developed sensibly and responsibly.

He said: “If we try to create a new workforce without addressing
issues of training, skills, supervision and ensuring the level of
responsibilities we are asking them to assume are commensurate with
their abilities it will not work. If we get this right it can be a
way of improving services, if not we are into risks and STRs could
lose credibility.”

Other recommendations in the report include establishing a
senior practitioner mental health social work grade to stem the
flow of ASWs going into management.

It says: “The overall shortage of ASWs and the limited
incentives to retain ASW status encourage some of the most
competent practitioners to pursue their careers in management.
Hard-won skills are then lost to practice.”

Chairperson of the workforce action team Sue Hunt writes in
report: “I believe that under the direction of the WAT an excellent
foundation has been laid to take forward what is a complex and
inter locking set of issues affecting workforce, education and




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