In October last year the government announced it would make an “approved child and family practitioner status” mandatory for all children’s social workers
There would also be two further levels of accreditation to go through for those wanting to become social work educators or supervisors of children’s social workers and for those wanting to become something called “practice leaders”.
The statement from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan managed to be both vague and specific enough to create a huge buzz of fear and debate over what the future held for children’s social workers.
What will accreditation mean for the workforce?
What does “practice leaders” mean? Would they take the place of principal social workers? What would social workers need to do to become accredited? Was this the end of generic social work education? Will it apply to all existing social workers or is it going to be rolled out from now?
To date the information forthcoming from the Department for Education has not provided much clarity in any of these areas.
In November, chief social worker Isabelle Trowler published the Knowledge and Skills Statement setting out what every children’s social worker should know in order to work with children and families and be able to do at the end of their first year in practice.
This was also simultaneously vague and specific, although perhaps necessarily so given the relationship based nature of social work. Other than stipulating knowledge in child development and the use of evidence based tools such as genograms, ecomaps and chronologies, there was very little that could be identified as stipulated new knowledge or skills.
Some managers of ASYE programmes have queried how new social workers in specific teams such as adoption would be able to “lead investigations of allegations of significant harm” for example.
The government invited organisations who wanted to develop the assessment process for all three to bid by January 2015 and the tender document provided a small snippet of clarity in that the process specified was to be a “pass or fail” test.
In March, Community Care reported our understanding that international consultancy group KPMG and Morning Lane Associates, the company behind the Reclaiming Social Work model and former venture of chief social worker Isabelle Trowler, had jointly been awarded the contract. This information was officially confirmed on the “contracts finder” part of their website in April, although there was no official press release or announcement of this fact. When asked by Community Care, a Department for Education spokesperson confirmed they were developing a new assessment and accreditation system and added helpfully that decisions around implementation would be made “in due course and in consultation with the sector”.
Given the test to check if new social workers have the required knowledge and skills is due to be piloted with those who started ASYE programmes after 28 November 2014, in theory it gives the government until 28 November this year to complete that process.
Government deadlines have a certain elasticity about them but it is the lack of knowledge and certainty about what is happening that is causing real anxiety and confusion within the sector.
“Anything that says ‘assessment’ is quite intimidating to new social workers and those supporting them,” said a local authority principal social worker, who wished to remain anonymous.
“By now we should have been able to let them know what to expect. But nobody knows what the test going to look like.”
A workforce development advisor at another authority described “a total and utter lack of information from the Department for Education”.
“The only communication is by email – telling us there’s been a consultation, it’s finished and this is what’s going to happen now. There have been no national events or proper engagement so we can directly hear from them exactly what they want.”
In contrast, ASYE coordinators who work across children’s and adult service point out, the Department for Health and the adults chief social worker Lynn Romeo have produced a knowledge and skills statement which sets out how it new social workers should be assessed and plans for local area and national moderation of those decisions.
Some expressed concern that this is just one example of the two sectors diverging and hoped that the professional capabilities framework which sets out standards for all social workers at all career stages would continue to be used following its current review.
Skills for Care, who were awarded the government contract to support employers to work to the new knowledge and skills statement state on their webpage for children’s ASYE programmes that no status will be conferred on candidates after the test at this development stage.
Skills for Care would not comment specifically on the lack of information about the test and if it is affecting the support the workforce development body is able to provide but said their website would be updated regularly as new information becomes available.
Graham Woodham, programme head, said Skills for Care had recently surveyed employers and were now focusing their support for delivering the ASYE based on the responses and sharing good practice, in line with the knowledge and skills statements.
The principal social worker and other managers responsible for the ASYE across the country who we spoke to (none wished to be named due to perceived controversy) said the information published by Skills for Care was helpful and restored some confidence but there were still gaps.
Rush to implement
Many of those in the sector agree with the government’s approach of rigorous assessment and an accredited status that will hopefully ensure consistent, high quality practice. A number of frontline managers have admitted to Community Care it can currently be difficult to fail people who are unsuited to the role.
But the lack of communication and apparent rush to implement a new system means some local authorities say they have created procedures and paperwork for assessing new social workers based on a best guess of what the government is expecting and what the test might involve, which will probably need to be revised for future cohorts. Others have accepted that at some point there will be a mad rush to get local systems in place.
A workforce development manager said: “We’re waiting and seeing. We’re resigned to working like this now. A few months ago, we were putting in a lot of effort to try and understand what would be involved. But practitioners don’t have a great deal of control over this. The chief social worker and the government have their views and these will probably become practice.”
Clarification: This article originally stated the government had not officially confirmed if Morning Lane Associates and KPMG had won the tender to create the test for the accredited child and family practitioner status. In fact the contracts finder part of their website was updated on April. We are happy to correct this information.