Croydon Council couples launch of training centre with pay rise and recruitment drive for children’s social workers. The south London council also promises lower caseloads. But BASW sounds warning note
More structured training for both new and experienced staff was pledged as Croydon Council launched its pioneering social work academy last Thursday.
The Children, Young People and Learners Academy and a recruitment drive that brought 60 new social workers into Croydon together constitute a £13m investment for the council. Parts of the academy, including its graduate and newly qualified social worker programmes, are funded by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC).
The recruitment drive included a pay rise for social workers, which Croydon also hopes will help retain staff. The council said that by October it would have a vacancy rate of zero and caseloads will be “significantly below” 20 per social worker.
Dave Hill, executive director of children, young people and learners in Croydon, said the investment was worthwhile.
“We realised we would fall behind what others were achieving if we didn’t do something completely different,” he told Community Care at the launch. “After the Baby P case, we saw that there was a moment and that we needed to grasp it.”
Croydon’s children’s services have not been rated as particularly strongly by inspectors: Ofsted gave a rating of “adequate” in the last comprehensive area assessment and its latest unannounced inspection listed a number of areas for improvement.
The academy offers training aimed at the following eight groups: graduate and undergraduate students; newly qualified social workers to second year of qualification; social workers with two to four years’ experience; those with four years and above, including senior social workers; social work consultants; team and section leaders; social workers returning to the profession; and student unit accredited practitioners.
The academy plans to host “guru lectures” for all of these groups, making current research, policy and practice better known. It will also carry out an annual analysis of development needs for the workforce and work with government departments to identify funding targeted at graduates who wish to retrain as social workers.
Mentoring practitioners will also be available to academy participants. These individuals aim to provide motivation and will be matched on an individual basis with mentees.
Core funding for the academy and the recruitment of the 60 additional social workers cost £3.5m. The remaining £9.5m is for the purchase of a new children’s department hub, including improved IT allowing for mobile working. The total investment is over two years.
The CWDC has provided an undisclosed amount of funds for the graduate social worker scheme, the newly qualified social worker programme, returning to social work scheme, and early professional development within the academy.
One shadow of doubt is over the fate of the CWDC, which was confirmed last week to be under continuing review by the government. Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for England at British Association of Social Workers, said it was an uncertain time for Croydon to be rolling out such a major initiative.
“There is and will continue to be a lot of pressure on councils to reduce their expenditure, so Croydon has to brave enough to stand up and say, ‘we’re going to keep investing in this because we believe it’s worth it,'” she said. “They have to be prepared to do that, especially if the CWDC funding dries up or disappears.
“My concern is that we’ve seen so many good initiatives come and go and I wouldn’t want this to be one of them. They need to make sure it’s an integral part of the whole service – it can’t be an add-on because those are the first things to go.”
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