Social workers should be “bringing on the next generation” of practitioners as a key part of their role, Social Work Task Force members told MPs this week.
With the shortage of statutory placements for social work students emerging as a pressing issue facing the government-appointed taskforce, chair Moira Gibb and others said the profession was doing too little to train new practitioners.
Councils needed to do more to support students by supplying enough placements, Gibb told MPs on the children, families and schools select committee, which is investigating the training of children’s social workers.
Social workers ‘must step up’
“Social workers also need to step up,” she said. “At the moment it’s not seen as important to be able to teach and bring on the next generation.”
Echoing previous comments, she said this reflected a lack of capacity in local authorities. This prevented social workers being spared day-to-day duties to support students.
Taskforce vice-chair Andrew Webb said: “Why the profession does not make space in its daily delivery to bring on the next generation is a question we are looking at. Any good profession should do that. Is it because of the constraints of the workplace?”
Lack of training for practice assessors
Gibb also raised concerns about the quality, as well as the quantity of statutory placements. She was concerned that some students were not assessed by a social worker on placement, and that practice assessors required only five days of training before they could take on students.
“It certainly doesn’t appear to us as being satisfactory,” she said.
Social work education expert Bridget Robb, a taskforce member and the British Association of Social Workers’ professional officer for England, told the committee that every student should have a statutory placement. “We’re a long way from that,” she pointed out.
Robb said the number of placement days required had doubled in the past five years through an increase in student numbers and the rise from 120 to 200 in the number of placement days per student as a result of the social work degree.
“It’s a nonsense, it’s out of control,” she said.
Social workers needed a change in mindset so that they saw supporting students as part of their work rather than an extra burden, she added.
Robb voiced support for practitioners who did their final student placement and first year in practice with the same, statutory employer.
This would mean employers would have to take on as many students as they needed newly qualified social workers in the subsequent year.
Local authority ownership
“It’s about how we fully engage local authorities in ownership of the final placement,” she said. “But it’s also that the newly qualified year is so crucial. We know that’s where people struggle.”
Robb raised concerns about the lack of support for post-qualifying training in councils: “There are a lot of one-day and half-day courses available to people but they don’t add up to anything. And there’s no external accreditation for them.”
Taskforce chief warns staffing gaps may prevent progress