Employers face problems in implementing “complicated and bureaucratic” support schemes for newly qualified social workers which are being launched across England this month.
That was the warning from a group of five practice teachers who have written to national delivery agencies and the government urging them to streamline the framework, which they believe lacks coherence.
Around 130 local authorities (85% of the total) have signed up to the Children’s Workforce Development Council scheme for children’s social workers since ministers announced in March that an existing pilot scheme would be rolled out nationally in September.
An equivalent programme for adult services run by Skills for Care, which is being launched on Thursday (10 September), has attracted interest from almost two-thirds of councils and would provide support for 1,000 newly qualified social workers.
Both programmes aim to help graduates build their confidence and skills in their first year of practice in a supportive environment, but each has a different checklist of skills or “outcomes” tailored to children’s or adult services.
Liz Bord (right), practice learning manager at Wiltshire Council, welcomed the project’s overall goal but said busy line managers would struggle to complete the additional paperwork in practice.
“The way the programmes have been structured is overly bureaucratic, at a time when we’re trying to encourage people into the profession and don’t want people to be put off by having to complete 300 bits of paper,” Bord told Community Care.
“It’s adding to the workload considerably at a time when services are already stretched.”
Joined-up approach urged
In their letter, Bord and her colleagues from south-west England, including Fiona McKinnon, workforce development officer for Poole children and young people’s social care, urge ministers to take a more joined-up approach. They query the focus on specialisation in children’s or adult services “at a time when people say there should be a generic degree and social workers should work holistically with families”.
They recommend that the framework should:
• Adopt the national occupational standards for social work, on which the degree is based, as the skills base for both schemes.
• Make the NQSW schemes part of a “clear and seamless” professional career pathway in which newly-qualified social workers would only be granted full registration after completing a probationary year.
• Clarify the relationship between the continuing professional development element of the CWDC programme, which offers support for practitioners in their second and third years, and the existing post-qualifying framework.
In their letter, the practice teachers also proposed a career pathway for social workers, based on qualifications and experience (see box).
Keith Brumfitt (right), director of strategy at the Children’s Workforce Development Council, defended the children’s programme by saying the content “reflected the actual work that social workers do”.
In developing the skill requirements, Brumfitt said the national occupational standards, the content of the initial training degree and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s benchmark statements for social work had been taken into account.
“We feel that these outcome statements take the best from all of the existing arrangements and provide a grounding for those entering the profession,” he said.
Skills for Care chief executive Andrea Rowe said: “The adult NQSW framework is based on the best practice that already exists across the sector and is designed to make sure social workers reach their full potential.
“We always welcome any constructive comments like these and the whole framework will be fully evaluated during its first year of operation.”
The Social Work Task Force will set out ways of addressing the lack of readiness among newly qualified social workers for the demands of working on the frontline when it reports later this year.
In an interim report in July, the taskforce proposed that graduates undertake a probationary year before fully qualifying as social workers.
Proposed career pathway
The five practice teachers propose the following career pathway for social workers in England:
Years 1-3: Social work degree
Year 4: Probationary year for NQSWs
Year 5: Post-registration experience
Year 6: Preparation for specialist practice award
Years 7-8: Post-qualifying award (specialist level)
Year 9: onwards Post-qualifying award (higher specialist level)