Mental health training should be ‘mandatory’ for all social workers, not just specialists

Royal College of Psychiatrists calls for mental health and child development to form "mandatory" part of social work training but social care bodies back away from prescribing specific modules

Picture credit: Source/Rex Features

All social workers should receive compulsory training in mental health, not just those who go on to specialise in mental health or child protection, mental health specialists have recommended.

A call for mental health to be part of  “mandatory core training” for all social workers is one of a series of recommendations made by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in a report outlining measures needed to bring the quality of support offered to mental health patients in line with physical health care provision.

“The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) should consider including a child development and a mental health module as part of mandatory core training for social workers, not just as specialisms,” the report said.

“This could be complemented by a greater focus in the children and families specialism on the relationship between physical and mental development.”

The likelihood of the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s recommendation being turned into reality appears to be slim as social work bodies said they are wary of “dictating” course content.

The HCPC, which took over responsibility for regulating social workers in England last year, said it would “consider” the report’s recommendations but said it did not “prescribe specific modules” to professional training programmes.

Social workers must meet the HCPC’s standards of proficiency, which include standards on mental health and child development, to be registered in England. Education providers are required to ensure that social work graduates meet the standards, but the regulator said it “would not prescribe specific modules” to be included on programmes.

The HCPC said it would only consider changes to its mental health standards if “it became clear that it was necessary for social workers to have a stronger understanding of this area” than that currently provided by courses.

The College of Social Work – which contributed to the Royal College of Psychiatrists report- said its role was not to “dictate content” to individual social work programmes.

Instead, the College intends to work with course leaders to map the topics covered in training programmes to its Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) for social workers.

Ruth Allen, chair of The College of Social Work’s mental health faculty, said the College is planning to conduct a snapshot survey of members about the quality of pre and post-qualifying training in mental health across various social work specialisms.

“We have been made aware of concerns over whether training really gets to the key mental health issues and we know it varies massively,” said Allen.

“Professionally I would like mental health to be a core part of social work training and I’d like that to be as part of a whole lifespan approach but it’s not the College’s position to dictate course content,” she added.

Joe Godden, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said that the proposals from the Royal College of Psychiatry “should be considered seriously” but added that psychiatrists also needed to boost their awareness of social models of mental health care.

BASW believe that reforms of social work training proposed by the social work reform board (SWRB) “do not go far enough”, said Godden. 

“We are proposing that trainee social workers should first undertake an undergraduate degree that includes child development and mental health and then is followed by a two year post graduate qualification in social work,” he said. 

“Such an approach would enable the range and depth of issues, which include the suggestions of the Royal College of Psychiatry, to be seriously considered.”

The report also recommends that mental health social work should be jointly commissioned by local authorities and clinical commissioning groups – the local GP-led bodies charged with commissioning health services under the Department of Health’s NHS reforms – to boost integrated care.

The NHS and local authorities should also promote “more social care research” in mental health, to build the evidence-base for the social model of mental health care, the report added.

“All the graphs you see about the resources and emphasis on social care research in mental health versus medical research show that social care is absolutely tiny in comparison,” Allen said.

“It’s good to see the need for more research from the social work and social care perspectives on mental health is being recognised.” 

is Community Care’s community editor

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