Should social work training be split between children’s and adults’

Let’s wave goodbye

Melanie Valentino is a social worker for the children with disabilities team at Hampshire Council

When I trained as a social worker on what was the Diploma in Social Work, I always stated my preference for child care placements. Instead I was offered adult care management placements. Although very good, this was not the area of work I wished to specialise in once I qualified.

Just before I qualified I was offered a part-time social work post in a family support team on the basis that I passed the DipSW. I was instantly working on child protection cases with little statutory experience behind me. There seemed to be an expectation that once qualified you can manage child protection cases and care proceedings, although most local authorities would have it that newly qualified social workers don’t do this. I was lacking in the confidence and experience that was needed to manage complex child protection cases and care proceedings. The course gave me no real insight into the statutory demands of child care social work. In my view it is one of the hardest areas of social work. The burnout rate is great and the work just keeps coming. I strongly believe that the training should reflect the reality of child care social work, but it doesn’t.

My training was often dominated by adult social work, adult placements and law which was only about community care legislation and the National Assistance Act 1948, neither of which have any real relevance to the work I do today. I also had no idea of the ethos of the Children Act 1989, the Children Act 2004 and the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance.

I am now also a work-based supervisor and my students have come to the team with little knowledge of either the Children Act 1989 or 2004. I have had to explain both to them and detail how they work in theory and practice. This time could have been better spent on working directly with a child and their family.

In my view, child care social work takes place within high risk situations. Ultimately if a social worker is not skilled enough after training the worst case scenario could be the death of a child or severe failings in protecting children.

The demands on a newly qualified adult social worker will be different with ultimately less risk involved, which is why child care social work needs separate training.

If training gave social work students the opportunity to specialise, we might start finding that newly qualified social workers are actually capable of living up to their employer’s expectations when it comes to child protection and care proceedings.

If the training was separate it would give those students studying child care social work extra time to:

* Observe what happens in care proceedings in court.
* Have a placement where they could either carry out joint work or a specific piece of work on a child protection case or gain direct work and therapeutic skills when working with children.
* Learn more about specific theories that are relevant to child care social work such as attachment theory, child development and behavioural social work.

It would also give universities the time to concentrate more on child care law which would greatly benefit newly qualified workers as well as their child care placements and potential employers. I believe that this would better equip newly qualified child care workers to be prepared for the job.

Let’s stay together

Tony Collins is a hospital-based social worker for Trafford social services

Divide and conquer: it’s a long-standing phrase and one that is relevant to the possible division of social work training. We have to be careful that there is no hidden agenda behind it. But what is the rationale behind this idea? Surely there is the possibility of acting in a discriminatory or oppressive way, differentiating between adult and child protection.

We hold the same values for children and adults and we all base our practice around core values that we hold towards humankind, which is then refined and honed during our social work training.

I agree that the emphasis at college and university is on adult work and legislation but I would argue that this is also relevant to children and family social work practice. The need to incorporate children’s and family legislation within the curriculum is essential but I feel that a division in training is extreme.

Before I started my social work course I knew that I wanted to work with adults when I qualified. This was based on my past experience as a support worker/carer within varied social care fields. We make our own choices as adults and familiarise ourselves with the appropriate legislation.

When I qualified I was aware of the relevant legislation in adult social care. Some of my fellow students had chosen child care and requested relevant placements, again taking the responsibility to ensure they had an understanding of legislation that applied to their chosen field.

Once I started to work within a hospital-based team I did initially feel out of my depth but after working alongside my senior practitioner and manager I overcame this and now I am being assigned intensive and difficult cases.

The skills required for social work practice: communication promoting and enabling assessing and planning intervention and providing developing professional competence and counselling skills are requirements on any social work course, and apply equally to both adults and children.

In any aspect of social work we attend college or university to gain an understanding of the theory that applies to the social care field. We then gain experience in practicing refining this theory once we qualify. We cannot differentiate between adult and children’s social care as this could lead to oppression or discrimination. There are abusive scenarios in both types of work, so are we saying that child care should have priority? We are already aware of the preferential treatment and attitudes between the two groups in service provision, where practising in child care is seen as more prestigious and worthy of funding.

As Thompson says in Anti-Discriminatory Practice: “Treating the subject as a separate discrete area runs the risk of allowing it to become marginalised, a specialist subject for those who are interested, but not a mainstream issue. This is unacceptable, for as we have seen, good practice must be anti-discriminatory practice.”

Critical practice is an essential part of social work, we reflect and deconstruct past experience and use this newfound knowledge in our practice. It is important to work with whole contexts and transfer this to a wide range of different contexts. This allows us to practice within uncertainty and respond to the changes that arise.

Marginalising our learning curriculum would isolate us within one experience or training regime, focusing on the micro when we should first look at the macro.


Separation on the cards?

When Social Care Institute for Excellence chair Allan Bowman revealed that the government was considering a complete split in the professional training of adults and children and families social workers, opinion was as divided as the proposal.

Those in favour say that without specialist training, those studying child care social work are not prepared for the realities of the job.

Those against argue that children’s social workers also work with the adults in the child’s life and vice versa, and if training doesn’t remain generic social workers would be less skilled in dealing with a multitude of issues.

Please send your views to We want to hear your opinions on this issue. Should training be more specialised or are generic courses preferable?

This article appeared in the 19 July issue under the headline “Together or apart”?

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