Colleges struggle to find statutory placements

100 social work graduates lose out on training in statutory settings, Community Care finds

More than 100 social work ­students who graduated last year completed their training without ever having worked at a statutory agency, Community Care can reveal.

Our exclusive research has found that students who ­graduated with a social work degree in 2008 had not had a practice placement in council social services or any other statutory setting.

A survey of 77 universities and colleges in England, which received 34 responses, found that 45% had not provided a placement in a statutory agency for all their students.

Of the 1,391 students who graduated from the 34 universities and colleges, 107 (7.6%) had not done a placement in a statutory agency as part of their training. It is likely the number of students who have graduated without doing a statutory placement is likely to be much higher.

Our findings come as MPs start an inquiry into the training of children and families social workers, which will look at the quality and content of the social work degree.

The chairman of the children, schools and families select committee, Barry Sheerman, who is leading the inquiry, said the preparation that social workers received to do their “very difficult job with children” was of great interest.

Our investigation comes after comments by Lord Laming last month, following the publication of his report on child protection, that no graduate should be able to enter social work without having had a placement in a statutory team.

He said the lack of placements in frontline child protection teams had resulted in some new social workers taking on a full caseload without any experience of safeguarding or even of working in a local authority.

In a recent interview with Community Care, Michael Leadbetter, chair of the Children’s Workforce Development Council, criticised universities for filling their courses due to financial pressures and failing to select students of the right calibre.

GSCC regulations

Under the General Social Care Council’s regulations, students must complete “statutory social work tasks, including legal interventions”, but they are not required to complete a practice placement at a statutory agency.

“I am disturbed the GSCC is not taking this more seriously and challenging the universities,” said independent children’s services consultant Bill McKitterick. “I think the public would be as shocked as I am about this.”

“Many of these placements in the independent sector do not offer the opportunity to do ­substantial social work. If ­someone is placed in a school as the only social worker then they are not learning from other social workers.”

Jonathan Parker, professor of social work at Bournemouth University, which had statutory placements for 21 of its 35 graduates, said there were concerns about the number of the university’s students who had not done a statutory placement but he added that placements were intended to develop transferable skills.

Professor Ray Jones, of Kingston University (pictured), which provided placements for all its 45 students last year, said it was “atrocious” that some universities were having difficulties finding enough placements.60x60

He said councils had once valued students because they provided a chance to recruit new social workers who had spent time with them on placement, as well as a chance to inform what was taught on local courses.

Valuable experience

He added that they were also valued by social workers themselves who had their first ­experience of supervising other workers. But, increasingly, statutory agencies had gone into “survival mode” and anything viewed as additional was dropped, Jones said. He pointed out that some agencies no longer saw themselves as responsible for developing the next generation of social workers.

“It is inappropriate that statutory agencies are then complaining about the lack of preparedness of new social workers,” Jones said.

Figures in the GSCC’s report for 2007-8 showed that 23% of graduates were unemployed.

Last month, McKitterick said newly qualified social workers were being turned down for jobs because they had not done statutory placements.

DH responsibility

The GSCC declined to comment directly on our findings and, when asked whether it planned to change the training requirements, the regulator said this was the responsibility of the Department of Health.

“It is important to note that students do not have to work in a local authority in order to gain statutory experience, said Mike Wardle (right), chief executive of the GSCC.

“Some social work students will not be working in a ­statutory agency but will be undertaking statutory social work – for example if they are working for a third sector organisation that is working on behalf of a local authority.”

But he added: “However, we know that the availability and quality of practice placements is an issue and we highlighted this in our recent annual report on social work education.

“We are also working closely with the Social Work Taskforce who will be looking at this issue.”

Published in the 9 April 2009 edition of Community Care under the heading Colleges Struggle to Find Statutory Placements

Your views

Community Care will be following up responses from colleges and universities that have not yet responded to our investigation and submitting our findings to the Social Work Taskforce. We also want to hear about your experiences of training and whether you feel prepared to work in a statutory setting – join the discussion at CareSpace

You can also submit evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee inquiry into training for children and families social workers – details here

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