Taskforce chief warns staffing gaps may prevent progress

The lack of social workers is undermining efforts to improve quality, the Social Work Taskforce’s chair has said.

In her first interview with Community Care since being appointed to the role last December, Moira Gibb said increasing the size of the workforce would be crucial if initiatives to improve quality, including recommendations from Lord Laming, were to succeed.

Councils should face targets to ensure they take “their responsibilities towards social work education seriously”,


sat in chair

Social work vacancies are averaging 10% in councils, according to latest figures. “Everything people want to do to improve training and support takes more staff,” Gibb said.

She cited initiatives to support newly qualified social workers in children’s and adult services in their first year, adding: “This is great but it requires time and attention from managers.”

In Laming’s child protection review published this month, he said Ofsted inspectors responsible for child protection must have direct experience of child protection work. But Gibb warned: “We don’t want practitioners being pulled out of the frontline.”

Gibb said that plans from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and Local Government Association to lure back children’s social workers who retired could help provide “wriggle room” to implement workforce reforms.

Degree problems

Gibb also said the overall standard of entrants on to social work degree courses needed to improve. In a speech to last week’s World Social Work Day conference in London, she pointed to the fact that social work students had lower A-level grades on average than entrants to other courses.

She told delegates: “This is not a situation we would like to see continue. It’s important to recognise how intellectually challenging social work is.”

Speaking to Community Care after her address, Gibb said that “competition for places on the best courses was high” and she wanted to bring the rest up to the same standard.

Councils must support profession

Gibb, Camden Council’s chief executive, said “local government has not stepped up to the plate” in supporting the profession, citing the lack of statutory practice placements.

Despite having a remit covering adults’ and children’s services, the taskforce was set up on the advice of children’s workforce experts and announced a week after the government’s response to the Baby P case.

But Gibb said it was significant that the Department of Health’s was jointly sponsoring the taskforce with the DCSF, saying: “I’ve seen a real determination to do this together.”

Gibb, who had no say over the membership of the 16-strong taskforce, told last week’s conference she would have liked more frontline practitioners to have been appointed to it. There is only one serving practitioner on the taskforce. She added that the taskforce members hoped to meet many social workers at a series of regional events, which will run until May, and during visits to councils.

At last week’s conference, about 300 social workers told Gibb their top priority for the taskforce: 27% of delegates chose raising the profession’s status with the public, and 25% went for improved pay and conditions to be top priority.

The findings are further support for Community Care’s Stand Up Now for Social Work campaign. In response, Gibb said the profession had to be “more open and tell our story”.

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