Cash constraints threaten taskforce proposals, say academics

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Universities and employers will struggle to implement the Social Work Task Force recommendations in the face of financial constraints, senior academics have warned.

The heads of three bodies representing social work lecturers in England – the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC), the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Social Policy and Social Work (SWAP), and the Association of Professors of Social Work (ASPW) – have written to cabinet ministers outlining their concerns.

Hilary Tompsett, Jackie Rafferty and Sue White, who respectively chair the three organisations, signalled their intention in the letter for universities to “step up to the plate” by collaborating more with employers to deliver training reforms.

But they emphasised the need for further work on how the recommendations will be implemented “given current financial constraints in both [social work employers] and higher education”.

They said financial resources would be key to implementing the proposed assessed year in practice, which is intended to allow graduates to complete further assessments in their first year with an employer with protected supervision and study time before gaining a licence to practise.

Tompsett, chair of JUCSWEC, said that, although the spend on pre-qualifying social work training totalled £127.5m, including funding for student bursaries and placements, “little is invested in systematic continuous professional education”.

SWAP chair Jackie Rafferty asked: “How will the university sector make resources stretch further to work with employers to assess the probationary year in employment if there is no additional funding?”

The letter to health secretary Andy Burnham, children’s secretary Ed Balls, higher education minister David Lammy and taskforce chair Moira Gibb echoes a statement in the final report urging the government to provide “the necessary investment to make reform a reality at all levels”.

It follows a warning from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services that delivering reforms, such as national standards for employers on support for frontline social workers, would require significant additional funding.

The three higher education bodies were largely positive about the overall recommendations, and welcomed the decision to retain the generic social work degree and the focus on stronger partnerships between employers and universities to improve training.

But they called for a “clear and unified statement of expectations of qualifying education” and a stronger evidence base highlighting the reasons behind the decisions taken for reforms.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was still planning a detailed response to the taskforce’s recommendations, adding: “We recognise the current economic climate and that’s why we are keen to make the best use of the considerable investment that the government has made in social care. As well as the £100m we annually invest in social work training and bursaries for all social workers, we are also funding an £8m newly qualified adult social worker programme.

“The Department for Children, Schools and Families is also investing £130m in 2008-11 to increase system capacity, training and support for children’s social workers, and implement change in the immediate term.”

The government is expected to make an announcement about funding to support the social work reform programme for England in early 2010.

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