The accreditation of children’s social workers is an opportunity to embed high-quality supervision into everyday practice, a top Department for Education official has said.
Speaking at Community Care Live this week, Sam Olsen, deputy director for social work reform, said the practice endorsement element of the accreditation scheme would prompt a “culture change” in supervision and professional development in local authorities.
For a social worker to sit an accreditation test, they will have to be endorsed by their employer as ready to become accredited.
Olsen said this endorsement would have to follow “reflective practice with their supervisor and their supervisor deciding that they are at the right standard to be practice endorsed and that is a critical, most important first step of this”.
Accreditation has been a controversial part of the government’s social work reforms, with Unison calling for it to be scrapped, and children’s service leaders raising questions over the cost. Earlier this year the government said it would change the rollout of accreditation to focus on two smaller stages , referred to as ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ phases. The alpha phase will begin next year, with the beta phase expected to start in 2019, depending on the first phase’s evaluation.
A smaller rollout will give the government more opportunities to provide intensive support to authorities with implementation, Olsen said. She said it was also important to ensure accreditation fit in with existing systems, rather than become them. Part of the programme was ensuring the “foundations” of a performance management system were in place.
Olsen said that during the consultation phase there was “no objection to the principle” of accreditation, “a national post-qualifying standard that helps us drive the standards of the profession”. However, there were concerns about how it would be implemented.
She said children’s services representatives had told her that in order for endorsement to work, supervision would need to happen systematically, and be embedded in local authority continuing professional development systems and strong performance management. Olsen said this is what the endorsement phase is intended to do.
“If the actual test does nothing else but instil that in the system, that’s an amazing leap forward for us. That would be phenomenal to think that every social worker across the country was getting good, strong supervision, that’s what we want to instil in that first piece about practice endorsement,” Olsen said.
She said the whole process should be “empowering” for social workers, and was seen by the government as a “key step” towards further “professionalising” social work.
Olsen also said there would be a fast track back through the accreditation process for social workers who only “partially met” the required standards through the test.
The support offered by local authorities to social workers who have “not met” the standards would also be “key to the programme’s success”.
In a question and answer session with social workers, Olsen also gave some more insight into how the test would work in relation to agency staff, service users and for local authorities considered to be struggling.
Olsen said endorsing agency social workers would be down to the needs of individual local authorities.
“Certainly in the first two waves what we are unequivocal about is that the local authority will need to practice endorse any social worker going through this programme and we would expect someone to have worked for them for six to 12 months at least, in order to be able to practice endorse them,” she said.
“How an individual local authority wants to work in that space will be really dependent on how it works with its agency workers.”
She added some authorities had told her “they want to use it as a bit of a carrot to encourage people to move from agency on to [working] directly for the authority”.
Service user feedback
She said the government expects service user feedback on social workers to be considered before a supervisor endorses them, and said the department was working with authorities at different Ofsted ratings to see how it can support local authorities in their individual context.
Two of the authorities involved in the first phase, Manchester and Leeds, have different ratings for their services, ‘inadequate’ and ‘good’ respectively.
“I’m expecting Leeds to help me a lot, I’m expecting for us to help Manchester a lot. I need to be able to tailor the package of support to each individual local authority depending on where they are at,” Olsen said.
Also in the session Samantha Clayton, co-chair of the Children’s Principal Social Worker Network, welcomed the opportunity accreditation presented, and flagged the importance of authorities carrying out a social work health check in preparation for implementing it.
“This is a really good opportunity for us professionally to look at what we need and get what we need to be good practitioners,” she said.
“This is about helping people get the necessary skills, knowledge and support they need so they can really excel, because accreditation will identify some really excellent people. This is about your best practitioners doing their best for children and families.”