Social work leaders have questioned Lord Laming’s radical recommendation to effectively split the social work degree into children’s and adult specialisms after a generic first year.
In his report on child protection last week, Laming called for the creation of a specialist children’s social work degree to address what he said was the inability of the current training system to prepare graduates to work in child protection.
Laming said students were currently “covering too much ground without learning the skills and knowledge to support any particular client group well”.
No experience of child protection
He said the lack of placements in frontline children’s services meant some graduates were taking on a full child protection caseload without any experience of working in safeguarding or even in a local authority.
Laming said that in future no graduate should enter children’s social work without completing a specialist degree, including a placement in a statutory team, or undergoing specialist post-qualifying training following a generic qualification.
The government has accepted all 58 of Laming’s recommendations and is drawing up an action plan to take them forward.
However, his proposal has been met with widespread opposition from across the sector, reflecting historic concerns about the need for a generic qualification to maintain the integrity of the social work profession and provide graduates with a rounded picture of families and communities.Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and former chair of the British Association of Social Workers, said that specialisation at undergraduate level would be a “mistake”.
He said: “There is a very real danger in specialising in the basic qualification too early which could lead to newly qualified social workers having a blinkered and limited understanding of adult social care. My concern is they will lose the ability to undertake rounded assessments and help families in the whole.”
Instead, he would like to see mandatory post-qualification training for newly qualified social workers within the first three years of joining children’s or adults services.
President of the Association of Children’s Services Maggie Atkinson said ADCS was not opposed to specialism at some point within an undergraduate programme, but expressed surprise at Laming’s choice of specialisation after one year.
Children not living in a bubble
“There is a real need to remember that children don’t live in a bubble. At the same time I think there is a need to find a balanced way to allow undergraduates to explore specialisation and begin to focus on the age group in which they will be working. But I am surprised he said this should happen after one year. There needs to be a conversation with partners on how this will work before the end of April,” she said.
She conceded for specialisation to work, the association would have to redouble its efforts to ensure there were enough children’s services placements in statutory teams. “Laming’s challenge is every reason to get ADCS and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in further discussions with higher education providers,” she said.
Mike Wardle, chief executive of the General Social Care Council, which has long opposed a degree split, said it would be meeting to discuss how degree reform could work with the associations and the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee. “We need discussions with employers and higher education institutions about how best to ensure people receive a generic understanding of social work and how families and communities interact and then develop a specialist route through the degree.”
Adass against a split
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services remains against a split degree. Responding to the Laming review, president John Dixon commented in his blog: “Where people might be trying to divide a profession, might it not be equally proper to urge colleagues and partners right across the public sector to stop, pause, think… And try to remember why those professions were brought together in the first place.”
One adult services social worker echoed his views in her blog, “Fighting Monsters” . She said: “Separating children’s social work from adult social work after one year – possibly including people who have no previous experience – is desperately damaging to the profession as a whole. We need more cohesion, we need more focus on societal factors, theoretical knowledge – we need the common academic background.”
Evaluation rejects splitting qualification into specialist children’s and adult care courses