The proposed national career structure for social workers in England is an “absolute priority” to tackle the staffing crisis in the sector, according to the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
Kim Bromley-Derry backed the Social Work Task Force’s view that the current framework is “inconsistent and uncertain”, with few incentives for experienced practitioners to remain on the frontline.
The national career structure outlined in the final taskforce report draws on models used in nursing and teaching to set out clearly defined roles for social workers, allied to a new “licence to practise” scheme to replace the current registration system.
After a probationary year in practice practitioners would become “licensed” social workers before progressing to become senior licensed social workers, then advanced professionals, practice educators or managers.
Bromley-Derry, director of children’s services at the London borough of Newham and a member of the taskforce, told Community Care: “We have to deliver this – otherwise we’re not going to retain social workers.”
However, he warned of the cost of implementing the scheme.
“The taskforce didn’t estimate how much this will all cost. If it’s a requirement and an agreed framework, then what do we stop doing [in terms of services]? Because we’ll have to stop doing something,” he said.
Employers would have to be very clear about the lines of accountability and division of responsibility at senior professional levels within the framework, he said, adding: “We can’t have decisions dropping between people.”
He also said a career structure which includes an advanced professional status may not work as well for employers in the voluntary and private sectors as it does in local authorities.
“If you’re a small agency delivering family support services where you have qualified social workers, delivering that model is going to be very difficult.”
The taskforce opted against recommending a separate national pay scale for social workers, but said these more clearly defined levels of skills, responsibilities and roles should be taken into account in local authority pay grading structures.
It recommended that local authorities review their job evaluation of basic grade social workers to ensure their skills and experience were rewarded fairly.
The pay recommendations were a blow for Aspect, the trade union which lobbied for a separate national pay scale for social workers.
Aspect’s social care official, Roger Kline, warned against retaining local government job evaluation schemes, describing them as “fundamentally flawed” because they attach importance to the size of teams and budgets, rather than the skills and responsibilities of social workers.
“The taskforce may do something about pay for a small number of social workers, but until there is a separate national pay scale for social workers, properly evaluated, little will change,” he said.
But Bromley-Derry raised concerns that employers could get round a national pay scale with golden handshakes and other supplements.
The taskforce has said that, if local authorities do not act on its recommendations on pay, the government should consider whether a national pay body is needed.