by a social worker
With fast-track social work courses receiving government support and, more importantly funding, there’s been much talk about new ways to recruit people into social work.
While all entrants, from all routes bring new experiences and knowledge to the sector, the idea of government favouring particular routes sits uncomfortably with me. The debate on entry routes will continue to get attention. Yet we’ve heard comparatively little about another huge issue facing social work – and it isn’t recruitment, it’s retention.
Bonus schemes aren’t the answer
Social work employers, predominantly still local authorities, continue to show a lack of ambition and forward thinking in their efforts to retain staff.
Just look at the recent news that one council is offering additional money for social workers over three years as part of a recruitment drive. If the best you can do, as a local authority, is to offer a three year cash incentive to social workers joining, you are putting me off joining you for a start.
It’s the social workers who have more than three, six, ten years’ experience that need to be encouraged to stay. In a lot of these cases a couple of thousand pounds, while welcome, would not in itself make a huge difference.
There was nowhere for me to develop
A major problem is that post-qualifying frameworks for social workers are currently messy and less than useful. If you can understand them, you have passed the first test. There’s simply no clear framework to develop social workers and encourage social workers to develop.
I qualified as a social worker 16 years ago. I quit local authority social work (while still working in a similar field) three years ago.
I had done all the relevant post qualifying courses I was going to be funded for. I qualified as an AMHP and BIA, I was a practice educator and took students from local universities but there was nowhere for me to develop on to.
While my pay was pretty good, all things considered, it wasn’t the pay that made me stay. In fact I took a small pay cut when I left. I quit because I saw there was no scope for me to develop further as a social worker who did not have ambitions to be a social work manager.
A professional framework is needed
There were few senior social worker positions in the local authority I worked in. There is no national framework to determine what a ‘senior social worker’ does that is different from any other social worker anyway, and there is no professional progression.
While the focus remains on entry routes into social work and accreditation on qualification, there seem to be few supportive frameworks to look at social work as a profession which supports practice based research and developmental roles beyond management.
There does seem to be some work being done in mental health social work but the lack of cohesiveness across the profession is increasingly worrying.
I wonder where the professional leadership is that actually acknowledges that good social work can only happen where there are experienced practitioners to support new entrants to the field.
Where is the professional leadership saying, ‘actually, we have fantastic social workers and we will support them to grow rather than constantly looking over their shoulders at who we can recruit when they burn out or move on’?
As long as the focus remains on an agenda of social workers not being good enough, we damage the morale of some of the hardest working and highly skilled professionals who have the options to move on to other roles.
Would I return to social work? I’d love to but I’d need to be have an assurance that it there’d be a professional pathway for those who were 20 years qualified as much as those two years qualified. At the moment, that’s sadly lacking.