The government’s drive to introduce accreditation for children’s social workers risks a ‘second class’ workforce emerging of practitioners who’ve failed the tests, directors warn.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) fears practitioners who fail accreditation could move into adult services or non-statutory children’s services roles in order to keep practising.
This created a danger that adult services became seen “as the Cinderella service for those who fail to become accredited”, ADCS said.
The issue is one of a series of potential “unintended negative consequences” of accreditation the ADCS has urged ministers to be alert to in a position paper published this week.
The paper also called on the government to address eight “unanswered questions” on accreditation (see box below) and how it will be rolled out. ADCS warned a failure to address the policy and implementation issues together would put the reforms at “serious risk” of destabilising and demoralising the workforce.
Three tiers of accreditation
The government plans to introduce three tiers of accreditation in children’s social work:
- An approved child and family practitioner status for frontline workers. The assessment process has been piloted by almost 1,000 social workers with early feedback from the trial suggesting most social workers fared well.
- A practice supervisor role aimed at senior practitioners and;
- A practice leader role that the Department for Education (DfE) believes will largely sit with assistant directors, or equivalent roles.
The government will consult this summer on whether accreditation should be mandatory or not. The consultation will also seek feedback on potential resit options for those that fail.
Earlier this month Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, said any social worker who failed accreditation would keep their registration. However, she added that consultation would be sought on whether practitioners should need to be accredited to take on certain jobs, such as child protection.
Knock-on effect of ‘forcing specialisation’
The ADCS report called for the approved child and family practitioner status and the practice supervisor status to be made mandatory. However, it acknowledged potential problems in “forcing specialisation in statutory child and family social work from an early post-qualifying stage of a social worker’s career”.
The paper said: “The implementation of these two statuses may hamper the continuous professional development and potentially therefore the retention of social workers who wish to gain a breadth of experience and knowledge across several domains of social care practice.
“The implications for social workers in LD/Transition teams, or in all-age services where there is currently fluidity across child and adult social work must be carefully considered. Above all, the expectations around accreditation need to be sufficiently flexible to be able to support the desired innovation in child and family social work practice.”
It added: “There is a further danger of creating a second class social work profession – those that fail to become accredited in statutory child and family social work remain registered and move into non-statutory child and family social work (e.g. early help) or worse, that adult social work comes to be perceived as the Cinderella service for those who fail to become accredited.
“This is not only a concern about how the social work profession as a whole is perceived, but it is a concern that the link between adult and children’s social work is broken.
“ADCS firmly believes that in order to address the needs of vulnerable children and young people in an holistic and sustainable way, that a systemic approach is required which includes breaking the cycle of adult disadvantage, much of which is driven by the impacts of alcohol or drug dependency or poor mental health on adults’ ability to parent their children.”
Community Care understands the government wants to ensure accreditation does not create what one source labelled as “artificial barriers” between children’s and adult social work. The chief social workers for adults and children are also working together on the plans.
The hope is that accreditation of child and family practitioners will offer a similar status to the AMHP and BIA roles in adult services, so all social workers have a baseline of skills to work across the lifespan but also have more routes to develop their specialist practice skills.
Practice leader status
ADCS said that the practice leader accreditation status should be voluntary. This is because the responsibility for children’s social work practice in local authorities “isn’t solely the domain of one, or even a handful of senior practitioners”, the report said. Directors are also apparently unconvinced by the Department for Education’s (DfE) assumption that the status would sit at assistant director level.
According to the ADCS, the DfE’s “early thinking” is that practice leader accreditation should require senior social workers to do full-time placements lasting for 9-15 months, including part of the time spent with a struggling local authority.
Directors viewed this time commitment as “simply inconceivable” for anyone running a children’s services directorate and question the impact of the plans on failing services, the ADCS said.
“ADCS acknowledges that there is a real value in leaders of the future understanding how system failure comes about, however LAs [local authorities] in difficult circumstances must not become the temporary playgrounds for rising stars,” the report said.
“LAs in challenging circumstances are not well served nor do they improve by parachuting people in who leave again after their placement is concluded, however good that person might be on their home patch. What LAs in challenging circumstances need is stability in their social care workforce and people with a shared commitment to a better future.”
Wider reform programme
The accreditation proposals are part of a wide-ranging children’s social work reform programme being pursued by government. Other plans include the creation of a new social work regulator, an expansion of fast-track training routes and a commitment that “persistently failing” children’s services will be taken over by third party providers.
The ADCS said it welcomed the government’s “commitment to raising the quality of social work” practice and education but criticised the fragmented approach to reform.
“We are concerned at what seems to us to be a lack of coherent oversight over the entire work programme,” the report said. “Development of different stands of this work programme are happening in an atomised way”.
The association said it would continue to “engage with DfE to resolve these matters”.
The accreditation questions directors want answered
- Mandatory or voluntary implementation?
- Implemented at pace or phased in over a period of time?
- Funding – who will pay, what will be funded and at what level?
- What is the relationship between successful completion of ASYE and employer endorsement for assessment and accreditation for Approved Child & Family Practitioner? Is ASYE in effect a year-long employer endorsement process? If not, how do we manage the assessment burden on individuals?
- Who is responsible for seeking and funding accreditation: individual worker or employer?
- What might the salary implications for accredited social workers be?
- Workforce supply and demand implications – if even 15% of social workers fail the assessment processes the implications for the sector, but more importantly the implications for vulnerable children, young people and their families, are profound.
- How will implementation be rolled out?