Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

The government finally acknowledged
recruitment and retention problems in social work with the launch
of a £1.5m national and radio advertising campaign last
October. Nearly 14,000 calls, 11,000 website visitors and three
months later, health minister Jacqui Smith has declared the first
stage of the recruitment drive a success.

The print advertisements depicting service
users tried to illustrate the depth of social work and challenge
people’s perceptions. But against the backdrop of the Climbie
inquiry, just how successful can any profile-raising initiative be?
And what about the more highly-funded campaigns for teachers,
doctors, nurses and the police? Two out of three social services
departments report recruitment difficulties, while some London
boroughs have reported having vacancy rates of 40 per cent, but the
minister hopes the recent interest will translate into 5,000
applicants for social work training. However, at the other end of
the employment spectrum one in five social care staff are actively
looking for a new job.

Can the government stem the flow?

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel
and Care for the Elderly

“The real test for this initiative will be how many of these
expressions of interest turn into qualified social workers. As well
as recruiting more staff the government needs to act decisively to
clarify the role of social work and address the low morale of staff
and the unrealistic expectations of the general public.”

Julia Ross, social services director
and primary care trust chief executive, London Borough of Barking
and Dagenham

“This is a great start, especially the way the campaign has created
positive images of social work and social workers. This will boost
confidence in the social care sector and increase interest in
social work as a career. All good news. Although I have some
niggling doubts about whether we are sufficiently commissioning for
the future rather than the present. We need to recruit for the
development of multi-skilled, integrated health and social care
models of intervening in people’s lives, as well as thinking more
about improving and developing performance.”

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society
“You can’t measure success in turning round a poorly
resourced and hounded profession by counting hits on a website.
Maybe three years’ training will help raise standards and stop the
cover-ups and self-justifications surfacing in the Victoria Climbie
Inquiry. Surely government could stop blaming the media and give an
unequivocal message about protecting children through banning
smacking and setting up a powerful independent children’s rights
champion across England.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow,
Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds

“It would be churlish to knock what looks like a surprisingly
encouraging response, and at least the government now accepts that
there is a workforce issue to be addressed. The proof of the
pudding has yet to be seen, but even with a good take-up, a
well-trained and qualified workforce will take a decade or more to
put in place. And the focus upon those entering initial training
must not detract from the 80 per cent currently in post with no
formal qualifications or training, or from the high levels of
stress which precipitate high staff turnover.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
Baaf Adoption and Fostering

“I was quite impressed by the information on the website. I remain
sceptical, however, about the viability of the financial support
available for potential recruits not known to a local authority –
and we need those recruits or it will be years before we see enough
front-line social workers! I talk from experience, having just
spoken to my son – half-way through his DipSW and with very young
children, night-shifts in a residential unit to pay the mortgage,
and days in college or on placement. Will many go for this when
they see the pay they can expect at the end?”

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