Students’ disinterest in child protection will not damage reforms

Key figures in the social work sector have allayed fears that
the government’s plans for children’s services could
become impossible to deliver given that just three per cent of
social work students want to specialise in child protection,
writes Clare Jerrom.

Exclusive research carried out for Community Care
revealed that out of almost 300 students, just three per cent would
want to focus their skills on the area of child protection after

This fuelled concerns that the government’s plans outlined
in ‘Every Child Matters’, which were borne out of the
Victoria Climbie case, may be in jeopardy because there
wouldn’t be enough people to take it forward.

But Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, said he was “not terribly surprised” by the
outcome of the research, as child protection would not be an area
that newly qualified staff would “just want to jump
into”, which was no bad thing.

He stressed that specialising in child protection was more
suitable for experienced social workers, and therefore there was
not necessarily a danger that the government’s proposals
could not be fulfilled.

Andrew Cozens, president of the Association of Directors of
Social Services, agreed and said it was vital that professionals
working in child protection were confident and experienced. It
would not necessarily be appropriate for newly qualified staff to
want to specialise in the area immediately mainly for risk of
burn-out, he added.

But he warned there was the view among students that child
protection, as it currently stands, is “the very heavy end of
children’s services, quite an isolated and stressful

“It is important that under the new pattern of
children’s services, child protection social workers are seen
as part of a team and child protection issues are covered across a
number of services,” he said.

“Those investigating child protection issues need to feel
backed up by others in the team,” said Cozens, adding that he
was very keen that child protection was not viewed as an acute
secondary service outside the benefits of the green paper.

But he also warned that in the past, child protection social
workers were frustrated because they were limited by the services
they could offer parents when putting together a plan. As a result,
the social worker would end up carrying the burden for the family,
whereas now they would be able to access a “bigger
menu” of family support services.

According to the study, however, almost 35 per cent wanted to
work more generically with children and families, with just seven
per cent wanting to work with older people.

The research also found that almost three quarters of students
expected to be working for the statutory sector a year after
finishing their course, reiterating earlier findings by
Community Care that students were keen to start their
careers working for a local authority.

Two years ago, we interviewed six students as they were about to
complete the DipSW course and followed their progression into
employment. At the time, student Helen Woolgar told Community
: “I want to work for a children with disabilities
team, initially in a local authority in London, to give me a good
grounding in social work values and skills.”

The majority of the respondents for the study were aged between
31 and 40-years old, and just 15 per cent of the students were aged
between 17 and 24-year-old.

Yet more than a third of those questioned said they wanted to be
a frontline social worker for either five to 10 years or more than
10 years, with a further seven per cent claiming they wanted to
remain on the frontline for “as long as possible”.

More than 90 per cent of respondents said the government’s
social work advertising campaign played no part in the decision to
undertake social work training.

But Johnston warned: “Anybody who works in advertising
knows only too well that people don’t know when they are
being influenced. The best advertising works that way.”

“I’m sure the campaign played a part in increasing
the numbers of people applying for social work courses,” he

Similar figures also suggested the arrival of the General Social
Care Council and the register for social care professionals did
nothing to influence their decision to train.

Practice placements were seen very favourably by the group and
more than 80 per cent said their placement was either excellent or
good and 67 per cent rated their practice placement teacher as
extremely or very good.

However, almost a quarter felt they were prepared for the
demands of the job “not very well” or “not at all
well”. A third of respondents also reported that they would
be starting their careers with debts of between £10,000 and
£20,000 as a result of their studies.

But overall more than two thirds felt that overall their course
was excellent or good, with just eight per cent rating their course
as poor.

For more information, please see 23 September copy of
Community Care for our dedicated “student
special” issue.

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