By Andy McNicoll and Rachel Schraer (story updated 7.30pm 19 June)
The College of Social Work is to close due to a lack of funds after less than four years in operation, Community Care can reveal.
The closure comes after the government rejected proposals from The College that it should be given responsibility for additional functions, such as post-qualifying training, which would have secured much-needed income as the organisation faced severe financial difficulties.
The government said the decision to stop funding The College had not been taken lightly. On social media Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, said that The College’s financial situation was such that it was “not tenable” for the government to keep “ploughing in” funds.
‘Dark day for social work’
Jo Cleary, chair of The College, told Community Care: “I’m devastated with the government’s decision about the future of The College of Social Work. This is a very dark day for social work and for the people that social workers support.
“There has never been a more critical time for social work to be a well-regarded and well-respected profession. The College is very proud of what it has achieved over its very short life.”
She added: “We will make sure that the resources we have produced and the functions that we do have will have a safe and successful transition.”
The move comes after The College undertook a review of its functions and business model with the Department of Health and Department for Education. The review compared the functions of The College to that of other professional colleges in medicine, occupational therapy and other sectors. The College proposed that it should take on additional functions, such as post-qualifying training, that some professional bodies in other sectors have.
Ministers rejected those proposals. The loss of that potential income source led to a decision that The College was unsustainable financially and should close. The independent body had already hit severe financial difficulties. Community Care understands this was partly due to a failure to meet membership income targets and government decisions to hand contracts for key projects to other organisations, notably the test for a new Approved Child and Family Practitioner social work role.
In a further statement, issued a day after the closure was revealed, Cleary and Annie Hudson, the College’s chief executive, said the organisation was in the process of “winding down”, during which it would work closely with government and others to ensure an orderly transition of its functions and resources to other bodies.
Cleary and Hudson assured social workers “that they will be able to access College resources through other avenues in the future”, and that the College would also work hard to provide clarity for members on what would be happening to their benefits.
Social Work Task Force
The College was established as an independent body in 2012 with £5m in government seed funding. It emerged from the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force set up after the high profile death of baby Peter Connelly in 2008.
The organisation’s aim was to raise standards and offer a strong, independent, social worker-led voice for a troubled profession in desperate need of reform. The hope was that almost all of its income would come from fee-paying members.
But throughout the College’s existence, the number of fee-paying members remained well short of what was required to put it on a firm financial footing. The College’s target was to have 31,000 fee-paying members by 2015. In April, it had 16,471 but that included social workers who had been signed up by their local authorities via a ‘corporate membership scheme’ introduced in a bid to boost income.
Reliance on government
The shortage of membership income led to an over-reliance on funding from central government contracts and local authority cash through corporate memberships.
There have also been signs that politicians’ belief in The College has been waning, certainly among policy makers in charge of children’s social care.
In a statement issued by the Department for Education, a government spokesperson said:“Good social workers can transform the lives of families and individuals in vulnerable circumstances.
“That is why we are committed to improving the quality of social work, investing over £100m a year to improve the status of the profession and boost the recruitment and retention of experienced social workers, and have invested in driving up quality in frontline social work. We have also set high standards for the profession and are backing quality training and development and new teaching partnerships to improve practice.
Decision ‘not taken lightly’
The statement added: “It was always the objective of the College to become financially self-sufficient and independent from government. The decision to stop funding the College has not been taken lightly and follows years of government backing to establish the College and help it become an important advocate in raising the status and standards of the profession.
“Since its inception in 2009, we have supported the College with over £8m to establish it as an independent organisation. We have also invested £100 million through the Innovation Programme to kick-start new approaches to support vulnerable children and families. We will continue to work closely with the Chief Social Workers and the profession to champion and improve the social work profession sector.”
Chief social workers’ statement
The day after news of The College’s fate emerged, the chief social workers, Isabelle Trowler (children) and Lyn Romeo (adults), issued a joint statement on the closure.
“We are grateful for the very real contribution that the College has brought to the profession in the last few years including embedding the Professional Capabilities Framework, their contribution to the Care Act and the assessed and supported year in employment and bringing a good balance between both adult and children’s social work,” the statement said.
“We will work with the College in the coming months to ensure the publications and resources which are valued by the profession continue to be part of our ongoing work to raise the quality of social work practice.
“It’s imperative now that the sector as a whole continues to work together to ensure we deliver excellent social work to vulnerable children and adults in need.”