ADASS: Splitting social worker education is nonsense

Joan Beck, joint chair of the ADASS workforce network, says government should focus on resourcing social work instead of changing training

Photo: John Birdsall/Rex (posed by models)

By Joan Beck

There is no pure children and families or adults social work.

Older people and people with disabilities live in families. They have children and grandchildren. Grandparents (and great grandparents) are increasingly the carers of younger children. Carers of people with disability and older people can be as young as four or five years old.

Children’s social workers work with adults (parents) to encourage positive change. They also work with perpetrators of abuse who are adults.

The mental health of the people involved in children’s safeguarding referrals is frequently a factor in their ability to parent/care for either the child or other loved one, as is the presence of domestic violence.

Easy access to post qualifying training

The current training of social workers provides students with a generalist base which is followed by the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE). It is not meant to prepare students for every eventuality, any more than any of the training that happens in the NHS is able to.

Instead, social workers should have easy access to post qualifying training as do nurses (most of whom now do masters’ degrees) so they can specialise in their chosen subject.

Indeed, the approved mental health worker training and the proposed training for best interest assessors is a good model of this.  Specialisms in dementia, safeguarding and palliative care could all be treated in the same way.

Resources are needed, not more change

Failures to protect children or vulnerable people are rarely down to the action of one professional – but of the system surrounding that person.

Rather than changing social work education and training, yet again, the government should see what happens if they give social workers in both children’s and adults services the time and resources to do their job (the job they have been trained to do) properly.

This means time to build a trusting relationship, time to work for positive change in people’s lives, time to intervene appropriately and at the right moment, before the crisis occurs.

This means resources to combat loneliness and the feelings of being overwhelmed by the problems life is throwing at clients.  Resources like computer systems designed to enable the work and that social workers can see the benefit of using.

Generic skills are key

To separate the training of social workers ignores the broader aspects of safeguarding and the responsibility of everyone involved in that.

Who better than social workers to understand that the way we recruit and train staff; the way the receptionist talks to someone seeking help; the speed of the response to a broken window is all part of safeguarding.

Social work is about working in a team and understanding how to get other professions to work constructively in the best interests of their client.

Social work is about understanding cultures and demographic change and working within it.

Social work is about enabling, encouraging, coaching, walking alongside.  It’s about understanding the pressures of daily life for individuals and it’s about helping them to create positive change.

Social work is about trusting relationships and a genuine desire to help someone; it’s about caring.  It can also be about using legal powers appropriately and being aware of others responsibilities within the team.

These are all generic skills.

Flexibility

We have to be able to rely on flexibility within the workforce with social workers being able to change their initial focus depending on where their career takes them.

Work in relation to transitions and all-age disability, for example, relies on generic social workers being able to cross imaginary boundaries.

Frankly, at a time when integration between health and social care is high on the agenda it is nonsense to dis-integrate social work training.

Joan Beck is the joint chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) workforce network.

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21 Responses to ADASS: Splitting social worker education is nonsense

  1. Daisy Devonald July 22, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    I fully agree with Martin Narey’s desire to see social work training separate into two specialist areas.
    As an educational professional who has sat through several CP meetings I have been dismayed at the lack of understanding of child development, appropriate parenting and behaviour management strategies for children with significant social and emotional needs many social workers have.

    • Lisa July 22, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

      Social workers are not lone professionals working with a family, they should be part of a multi agency network who draw on the expertise of others, as well as bringing a pool of knowledge to the table themselves. Social workers should have a detailed knowledge of issues such as child development, (and well trained, well motivated professionals do) but they should also consult medical/educational professionals in support of this. It is an asset for social workers to have generic knowledge of social, psychological, behavioral, legal frameworks, because humans are mutli dimensional and located within social systems. Narey’s ‘desires’ are short sighted and reductionist and aim to position practitioners in a policing role. If social workers are trained under a specialist ‘child protection’ umbrella practitioners like yourself will see less and less social work involvement with the families you work with and more and more emphasis will be placed upon you to undertake such work, and I am such you too are already stretched enough.

  2. Joe Godden July 22, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    I fully support what Joan Beck says. No other profession expects the newly qualified person to be expert at everything. A good generic social work degree, that is free from political interference, followed by specialist post qualifying training (PQ) is what is needed. Joe Godden BASW Professional Officer

  3. Ray Jones July 22, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    I totally agree. One of the strengths of social work is seeing and understanding people in their family and broader social context. Fragmenting social work and it’s education and training takes us backwards not forwards. Specialisation and enhanced knowledge is important through the ASYE and CPD , but it needs to be based and built on a a strong more wide-ranging foundation.

  4. Bec Buss July 22, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    As a practitioner, academic and practice educator, I totally disagree with the idea of splitting into adults and children – an absolute nonsense. Child development of course is intrinsically linked to adult mental health, disability, issues of loss and bereavement etc. and I despair when suggestions are made to divorce the two. Of course this may well be linked to the idea of fast track social work education where the main idea is to enable students to qualify quickly. Social work should also be a profession where we keep on learning and real investment needs to be considered here too.

  5. Tim Dredge July 22, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    First line in Joan Beck’s article sums it up. It makes no sense to separate social work training into two specialist areas ahead of any gerneralist underpinning.
    Post-qualifying training which is easy to access & is of sufficient quality is key to ensure all parts of the social work role are well supported & workers equipped for the areas they are working in.
    As a social worker who has pre-dominantly worked in adult care for 25 years barely a day goes by when the work doesn’t cut across all aspects of human & family dymanics.

    As ADASS note the talking point should be resourcing not more tinkering. One of the headlines on the same page as this, is of a team being too busy to discuss the closure of the College of Social Work. Doesn’t that say it all.

  6. YB July 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    Stop pretending that childrens and adults social work are the same job. They arent. The fact there may be some common skill sets is irrelevant. Adults SWs need a brief awareness of law relating to children and vice versa. Then they could spend their time in training acquiring a solid knowledge base relevant to real life practice. Some of the recently qualifed social workers I have met a great, but others are useless and will have no status in a multidisciplinary team .

    • Graham Luetchford July 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

      Having worked in several multi-disciplinary teams over the course of my career I can say with confidence that I have met ‘useless’ practitioners from all the professions, not just social work and not just newly qualified! This is life I am afraid, there are imperfect people out there. I have said before in a comment that I would have left the profession years ago had I not been able to refresh myself by moving from childcare into substance misuse services, adult care, learning disabilities and now mental health. New legislation and policy can be learned, but a broad understanding of human relationships and a desire to work with them is transferable and can provide the perspective necessary if social work values are to mean more than just law and theory.

      • YB August 5, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

        As I said I do not deny there are common skill sets, but a “broad understanding of human relationships” is common to a vast range of professions and to my mind is not enough to justify clinging to the notion of all social work being basically the same. I would support getting rid of the current adult social work qualification and replacing it with something completely new, including aspects of social administration, psychology, hard knowledge base about the effects of illness and disability, and occupational therapy. Ditch the Marxism and the vast majority of other junk. Most of what I learned in my CQSW in a well known university in the 80s was not useful, the most useful thing was access to a university library to follow up certain interests and the placements. The obsession with diversity I found there laid the foundations for Rotherham, double standards galore.

  7. Simon Wallis July 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Slightly off topic.
    What is being done to recognise those who work alongside social workers( Razo’s, Case Assessors or whatever other heading they have) doing assessments to gain there social work degree. Many cant afford to fund this themselves yet have been in the role for a number of years, are there no plans for any recognition to help these staff towards there Social work degree. These people are invaluable in there knwoledge and experience and yet often cant progress as they have no academic record since leaving education other than on the job training.

  8. Sue Bineham July 22, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    Well done Joan Beck for putting the case so strongly. Familial relationships are getting more complicated, particularly with Special Guardianship orders on the rise. So we need some generic training to ensure social workers have a grasp of all areas at the beginning so the understand the systemic nature of social work. Lets look at access to quality post qualifying training and making sure structures are in place for easier access..

  9. Debbie July 22, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    Who ever makes these ridiculous suggestions has never worked in Children & Families, and definitely not on Safeguarding, to even suggest this is ludicrous to say the least.

    As a social work student my first statutory placement was working with Adults and Older Adults, this is where I gained experience around adults with addtional needs, complex health issues that impacted on parenting that resulted in children as young as five being treated as ‘young carers’, sexual predators, the list was endless. It also proved to be invaluable toward my practice as a Social Worker now working in Child Protection.

    It makes no sense what so ever for the ‘non social workers’ to re-invent the wheel for a service / practice they clearly have no knowledge about, it is both impractical and unworkable for any social work student to contemplate. Furthemore, based on the recent newspaper article in the Independent that shows the cost of a degree costing in excess of £98,000 due to time scale of repayments and interest accrued, I for one would advising any potential Social Work Student to re-think their decision.

  10. Jeana Mortensen. BSc(Open); BA(Hons); DHP July 22, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    I totally agree with Joan Beck. Having worked for many years in both children and families and adults social work, it is very clear to me that all social workers need experience and understanding in both specialisms. Older people often have child care responsibilities as do people with disabilities and many children also take on a caring role. Social work professional training and qualifications are only the beginnings of a long journey

  11. Richard A Leighton July 22, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    Daisy Devonald, I fear that you have seen the worse end of social work practice if, in CP meetings, a social worker has pontificated on child development without having the knowledge to backup their assumptions. It is within our Standards, Values and Ethics that we should maintain a viable level of knowledge about our specialist subject: social workers should “understand the key concepts of the knowledge base relevant to their profession” (HCPC, 2012:12); “be able to draw on appropriate knowledge and skills to inform practice” and “be able to gather, analyse, critically evaluate and use information and knowledge to make recommendations or modify their practice” (ibid:14) “Social workers should develop and maintain the attitudes, knowledge, understanding and skills to provide quality services and accountable practice” and social workers “…should engage in ethical debate with their colleagues and employers to share knowledge and take responsibility for making ethically informed decisions” (BASW, 2012). However, the way to improve the knowledge base of social workers is not to specialise at degree level but to bring specialism at the postgrad level, making all social workers undertake postgrad study as part of their CPD and career progression. I fear that your support for Narey’s suggestion does nothing but undermine the skills and knowledge of social workers. As the well-worn arguments say, children do not live in isolation but inhabit multiple social systems and it is important that social workers have experience of the support mechanism that surround those systems, to ensure that the best possible level of care and support is afforded to children and to the adults that care for those children. As Lucy & Tim advocate, the generic route should be followed by bachelor and master entry level degrees. And, in line with Joe’s comments, specialisation should be caught up in the NQSW/ASYE, which need to be remodelled and accredited postgrad modules, I feel honoured to be in accord with Ray Jones’ point of view.

    YB, I regret that your comment is well off track. Yes, specialism is important although that alone does not afford the social worker ‘status’ in multidisciplinary teams. Regrettably, even the most knowledgeable social worker can be lost in an MDT that does not respect social work or its Standards, Ethics or Values, as alluded to by Graham. I believe that, on reflection you will see that the generic ‘entry’ route will afford the social worker ‘in training’ the necessary knowledge and skills to transition between specialist areas and an accredited and rigorous postgrad/CPD provision will afford the necessary specialist knowledge to allow many more social workers, in MDT settings, to project an informed presence within those teams.

  12. Anita Singh July 22, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

    Any social worker attempting to work with children and families in need, really needs to have an understanding of a very broad range of issues affecting the parenting of children, as that is more often than not the basis for our involvement. How can any social worker seek to address issues such as domestic abuse/violence, alcohol or substance misuse, adult disability, adult mental health issues, behaviour patterns of child sex offenders and more recent issues such as Child Sexual Exploitation or FGM or forced marriage. The list goes on. How can we work with children, without addressing these adult issues? There will always be practitioners who have more knowledge or expertise about one subject over another, that is why we draw upon our teams/colleagues resources and pool our knowledge, is it not? Where would we be if we did not have input from other agencies and departments that have an input into the safeguarding of children, through our co-working with Probation, Police, Mental Health Teams, Substance and Alcohol Misuse services, Domestic Abuse Services – all of these adult social workers and practitioners, bring a lot of valuable knowledge to the job of safeguarding children. I am so glad that I was one of those social workers who qualified in the days of generic teams, as I feel I was better prepared with that generic knowledge to deal with a wide ranging number of issues and the ability to link up with other professionals in a more holistic and effective way to deal with the whole and not just part of a family. No-one can profess to be an expert in everything, but then the effective safeguarding of children does not happen without the knowledge and input from adult services. I fail to see how they can ever be separated off from each other.

  13. AP July 22, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    HCPC should stop registering students who have done degree in social work from Asia and Africa.

    • MNK July 24, 2015 at 9:46 pm #

      I am interested to know on what basis you are making this suggestion and how you’ve come to your conclusion. I hope you realise that in a number of commonwealth nations the education system is not very different from the UK and that social work values around the world remain the same. By the way, we are also fluent in English. I know a number of good practitioners including myself who are overseas trained. Of course some have also subsequently carried on with post qualifying training as I would expect all social workers to do no matter where they were trained for their undergraduate degrees. This is part of professional development. I have come across some bad practitioners who are UK trained, so best to steer from suggestions without providing proper evidence,

  14. John Burton July 23, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Well said, Joan Beck. Social care workers (including social workers) work with PEOPLE through RELATIONSHIPS. While there are important areas of technical and legal knowledge to learn, the increasing desire for specialism reduces social care work to a desk-bound and procedural job in which you prove yourself and gain approval by simply getting “right” answers. Such answers may be right for your organisation and its regulators, but are rarely right for your clients. Having worked with people of all ages for fifty years, I have gained immensely from the insights gained and which I can pass on to others. I often encourage people to gain experience of different client groups to develop their professional skills and to widen and deepen their knowledge.

  15. Roselyn Thompson July 23, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    I agree with Ray Jones, Social workers have a better understanding of children, their families and carers. Social Workers is no longer working in isolation, we working across disciplines and at times we are the first and last portocal for children and their families. Social Workers don’t need more changes in their training we need better join up working to help children and their families telling their stories over and over to different professionals. Social Work practice is started a gross root, we have our own stamp on ethics, we always seek social justice for individuals, groups, families etc. as a profession we strive to honesty, trust and social justice. I would like to see much better understanding in mental health issues, child exploitation and adults physical and financial abuse. The new qualifying ASYE should completed as a master degree training which should carry as continuous high training / lesrning.

  16. John Wilks July 24, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    Education of any kind, should not be based on a political whim – But!
    Newly qualified Social Workers, particularly if they have studied directly from school, will be completely demoralised by throwing them into situations that most of us handle because of life experience and not just theoretical education. Over the last ten years, I’ve watched “social work” being kicked round like the proverbial football. The essence of the article above, is spot-on.

  17. Vicky July 30, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Why did Narey only speak to students on Frontline and Stepup. Another Government driver I think, I have lost heart as the social work profession is not listened to and the Government will continue to drive forward what they want with people undertaking their “research” into how it should be moved forward.