Social workers are too often “poorly trained and not ready for frontline practice” and improving their capability is “arguably the most important issue to be tackled” in reforms to social care across the country, the Department for Education has said.
In a memorandum submitted by the department to Parliament’s education committee, which is calling for evidence on the effectiveness of the children’s social work reform agenda, it outlined the key “problems” it is trying to address in social work.
MPs on the education committee want written evidence on the government’s approach to children’s social work reform. They invited comment on the memorandum’s content, focus, and breadth.
Other key problem areas the department identified were that social workers sometimes “operate in a spirit of defensive, process-oriented compliance” and there can be a lack of innovative and confident practice leadership locally.
“The workforce itself operates in pressured circumstances with sometimes low morale, vacancy and turnover rates that are higher than local government averages and a reliance on temporary staff,” the memorandum said.
It added: “There is, though, a great deal of positive practice within the sector, driven by a core of authorities who have performed strongly over time under a range of different inspection frameworks, and others who have demonstrated a rapid trajectory of improvement in recent years.”
The department also conceded that, while child protection spending was prioritised in local authorities during the 2010-2015 government, “the fiscal position presents some significant challenges”.
Neil Carmichael, chair of the education select committee, pointed to a “recruitment and retention crisis in children’s social work” as a key issue.
Carmichael said: “We want to hear the views of social work professionals and others on the government’s actions on this matter, as well as on the other areas set out in this memorandum.”
The department said it was “overhauling” social work training and education, which will ensure entrants “are fully prepared for the specific demands of child and family social work”.
It said programmes like Step Up To Social Work and Frontline “result in good rates of entrants entering and remaining in social work after graduation, minimising the usual attrition rates into the profession”.
However, the first cohort of Frontline graduates only qualified in September 2015, and the research the department used to make this point refers to Step Up alone and was published in 2013, a year before Frontline began.
Improving the skills and capacity of the social work workforce, streamlining governance and accountability and creating working environments with quality, innovation and efficiency at the centre were the department’s three central aims, the memorandum said.
It added that a clear career path, such as the approved child and family practitioner, practice supervisor and practice leader levels of social work practice announced by Nicky Morgan in 2014, “should help retention rates – providing aspiration and pathways to the next level”.
The deadline for written evidence is 4 March 2016, and can be submitted on the education committee website.