The Big Picture: We’re wise to specialise

Apparently thought is being given to splitting social work training into children’s and adults’ degree courses. Not before time I say. It is accepted as a given that graduates emerge from social work training ill-prepared for case work. Employers devote considerable resources to correcting this deficit. Social workers find the transition from course to work unnecessarily difficult.

I graduated almost 30 years ago from what was considered to be a good post-graduate course, and found myself completely at sea. So did a number of my contemporaries, and we formed a support group to help each other come to terms with the challenges of social work.

As a director of children’s services one of my pre-occupations inevitably is finding enough of the quantity and calibre of child care social workers that we need to staff our front line.

And it comes as no surprise, does it, that the Department for Education and Skills discovered, when it consulted children in care for its Care Matters green paper, that the reliability and continuity of their relationship with their social worker was a central theme.

In fact Care Matters ducked the issue of the social work supply. Instead it deferred to the impending Options for Excellence paper which in turn flattered to deceive.

But it does seem that at last there are stirrings in Sanctuary Buildings. The DfES has in fact a proven track record of success in addressing skills shortages. It should draw upon its experience, and the stratagems it deployed in improving the supply of teachers. What this experience should tell us is that professional training arrangements are only part of the solution – but that they are an essential component.

Undoubtedly the training of social workers has improved. The introduction of the degree requirement has had a marked impact. The calibre of recruits is higher. The demand for places has risen with the provision of grants. We must capitalise on this renewal of interest in the profession.

Children’s social work is a complicated business. As we assemble more multi-disciplinary teams, we need to be confident of the particular and discrete skills that the child care social worker brings to the party.

All this, it seems to me, points to better and more specialised training. Children at risk have the right to expect this.

Andrew Christie is director of children’s services at Hammersmith and Fulham Council

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