Councils that fail to complete a “health check” of their social work departments could fall behind in the race to recruit skilled staff, the chair of the Social Work Reform Board has warned.
Moira Gibb said the economic climate left her unsurprised that some English councils had not used the health check framework, published by the Social Work Task Force a year ago. But she expressed concern that a quality gap would emerge between employers.
The taskforce recommended that all social work employers in England used the framework by the end of 2010-11 to assess whether social workers were receiving adequate support, including a reasonable workload and frequent supervision.
But as many as two-thirds of employers had yet to complete the check, according to a snapshot survey of 30 authorities by the British Association of Social Workers.
“My personal anxiety is that the most challenged employers will be the ones who don’t feel they can even lift their heads to do [the health check] and we might see a growing disparity between the authorities that are doing well and those that are struggling,” said Gibb.
“We are very realistic about the scale of the financial challenge people are facing[but] it’s in employers’ interests to have those conversations, because those are the places where social workers are likely to want to stay.”
But Gibb, who is also chief executive of Camden Council in London, stood firm on the decision not to make the health check mandatory at this stage: “If it doesn’t work, the government can say later whether they want it to be mandatory.”
The health check was designed to form a basis for developing a national standard for employers on supporting social workers, which has now been drafted.
Practitioners and employers will be asked for their views on this standard, as well as other key strands of reform, from 6 December, when a consultation begins on the reform board’s work.
“We are a sector trying to improve and everybody has a contribution to make,” she said.
The reform board expects to publish a report updating ministers on its progress in the new year, while the Department for Education is expected to make an announcement on social work funding soon.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails