Anyone considering a career in social work should go into social care first, an influential director of adult services has said.
Addressing an audience of frontline professionals and sector leaders at the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2012 on Friday, Jo Cleary, executive director of adults and community services at Lambeth Council and co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services' (Adass) workforce development network, said: " I do want people to go into social care first, before they come into social work. I want them to have some experience of the frontline.
"Social care is a growth industry; it’s one of the only growth industries. There’s a lot we can be doing to promote social care possibilities - and then people might choose to become social workers at a further point in their career."
Cleary, who sits on the transition board of the College of Social Work and represented Adass on the Social Work Reform Board, spoke out during a discussion about the best way to train aspiring social workers, during which concerns were raised about the growing emphasis on attracting academically gifted graduates into the profession.
Cleary argued that people coming into social work directly from a frontline social care position, e.g. through grow your own schemes, were "the leaders of the future".
Her comments have been backed by the British Association of Social Workers, whose professional officer Joe Godden agreed that social workers should first work in social care or a field closely related, such as housing, education or parts of healthcare.
"It used to be that one couldn’t get on a social work degree unless one had relevant experience," he said. "Most universities still take the view that students should have relevant experience before embarking on the degree, but in my view there should have to be very good reason why someone hadn’t had social care or related experience, paid or not."
Hilary Tompsett, chair of the Joint University Council’s social work education committee, said universities and colleges still expected all potential students to have relevant experience; however, this did not necessarily have to be as a frontline care worker.
“We used to require six months of experience for entry onto the undergraduate degree, but that excluded people straight out of school; now we look for relevant and meaningful experience, as a carer, service user, voluntary worker, that students could draw upon,” she said.
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