The government has approved the roll out of a training scheme for all newly qualified social workers. Louise Hunt reports
(Supporting NQSWs in Brent)
The newly qualified social worker pilot programme was launched in September 2008 promising much needed on-the-job support for social work graduates entering children’s services. In May this year, the Department for Children Schools and Families put its stamp of approval on the scheme and announced it would be extended to all children’s social workers in their first year of practice.
The programme aims to end the variation in competence and experience among NQSWs in children’s social services by setting national outcome standards.
Those local authorities signed-up to the pilots have been asked to set aside 10% of NQSW time for training, and provide fortnightly supervision meetings and a programme of induction, support and development. In return, councils receive £4,000 for each NQSW, and an average of £15,000 to contribute to the support of NQSW supervisors.
In its first year, the pilot has involved around 1,000 NQSWs across 87 local authorities and two national voluntary organisations. The funding arrangements will remain the same for the second year, although there will be additional support for pilot sites with more than 10 NQSWs. In a separate development, social care training body Skills for Care has announced it will run a similar pilot programme for social work graduates in adult social services.
Sign them up
The Children’s Workforce Development Council, which is delivering the programme to children’s services, is now busy talking to local authorities to sign up as many as possible for the second year of the three-year government-funded programme. “We want to have every local authority on board from autumn,” says Rebecca Leete, national programme manager for social work. So far three-quarters have expressed an interest.
Matthew Sampson, deputy director of fieldwork, has helped implement the pilot at Sheffield Council. “It is a good programme,” Sampson says. “There were some initial difficulties in identifying the time to free people up to deliver it, but it’s really important that newly qualified social workers are given that space and time for training and supervision in those early days.”
At Sheffield, the approach has been to introduce protected caseloads, where NQSWs do not get directly involved in child protection cases until they areidentified as ready. The funding also goes some – but not all the way – to providing the extra capacity needed for supervision and training time.
His advice to other councils is to get the right person to co-ordinate the pilot and engage with team managers as early as possible. “If there is one lesson we learned, it is that it would have been good to have had the conversation with team managers about the additional demands of running the pilot before we started,” he says.
In terms of building the confidence and skills of NQSWs, Sampson believes schemes like this can only be positive. “It is reassuring for people to have support in the early years; it can be daunting to leave the cocoon of a college course,” he says. “It will help to bring in quality social workers and that will help to improve outcomes for children and families.”
It was this thinking that attracted NQSW Claire Barker to join Sheffield children’s services. “Some local authorities were offering a cash incentive but I chose the pilot because I was concerned that the job is quite stressful and I didn’t want to feel thrown in at the deep end,” she says.
Barker says she finds it particularly helpful that, on her programme, NQSWs have access to a social work consultant in each area office who can provide impartial advice, training and advocacy. The fortnightly supervision sessions are also useful for discussing cases and personal development issues – although Barker adds that, “inevitably with this job, sometimes we can’t do them”.
Nonetheless, Barker remains positive about her overall experience. “Managers try to reduce caseloads where they can and they do understand the responsibilities of being part of the programme,” she says. “I do feel protected. It’s been really good. Theoretically, it is an absolutely brilliant programme, but it is difficult to implement fully.”
Samar Ghanim, a NQSW, at Waltham Forest Council, has had a similar experience. “For me it’s been quite positive,” Ghanim says. “The fortnightly supervision, extra support and reduced caseloads are really helpful. But sometimes it is difficult to take a half-day a week for training.
“There hasn’t been that much training for the newly qualifieds. I would expect there to be more. If not then I would be disappointed.”
National outcome statements
Ghanim is also concerned that the national outcome statements NQSWs are required to meet are too similar to those met as part of undergraduate placements. She says it would be better to set standards on an individual basis: “The programme is a bit more basic than I thought. It needs to be a step up from the placements.”
Despite these gripes, Ghanim says being part of the programme will offer reassurance to those thinking about a career in children’s social work and lead to better outcomes for children and families. “Eventually, it will mean that NQSWs are working properly from the beginning. The important thing is that someone is monitoring your work. I don’t think we should go back to a time when there was no support for NQSWs.”
Local authorities interested in becoming a pilot site should visit: www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/nqsw/interest
How London Borough of Brent offers more support to NQSWs
For newly qualified social worker Christia Esimi-Cruz, having time to think and reflect is the main benefit of taking part in the CWDC’s pilot programme.
“The scheme is allowing me to analyse what I’m doing in practice,” he says. “Without the project, it would be very difficult to find time to stop and think.”
Having structured “thinking time” is something he felt was missing from his undergraduate placements and can be all too easily overlooked in the maelstrom of frontline practice. Fortnightly sessions with his supervisor Rohan Burke are a chance to do just that. “You get a lot of reassurance that what you are doing is right, or how it could be improved,” he says.
As with others on the programme, he too admits that the 10% training target is not always achievable.
“I know some of my colleagues are finding it very difficult. In my case I have been able to do it most of the time and it’s because of the support of my supervisor and my manager.
The approach in Brent is slightly unusual in that the pilot co-ordinator is also the supervisor and mentor, whereas in many local authorities NQSWs are supervised by line managers, says Burke, who delivers this role as the children’s team’s professional learning and development officer.
“In most authorities, people are supervised by line managers, but we think this could raise conflict of interest issues in terms of meeting performance management targets,” Burke says.
“Not line managing really has helped, so I don’t get caught in the procedural issues. I don’t have any control over the number of cases, but I have a more objective view over how I want the scheme to be implemented.”
For Burke, recognising the importance of implementing the 10% training time has been one of the key lessons of the first year.
“At the beginning, I think we didn’t realise how important that training time was. But for the scheme to work, it’s not just a recommendation – it actually requires that time. So I would emphasise that a lot more, both to newly qualifieds and their line managers.”
Brent Council assistant director of children’s services Graham Genoni says that, overall, the scheme is “making a significant difference” by having a person purely focused on the needs of newly qualified social workers leading and co-ordinating the scheme.
“It is unlikely that they would have received that level of support previously,” Genoni admits. “The bottom line is we are not dropping them in it to sink or swim.”
Published in the16 July 2009 edition of Community Care under the heading ‘Taking the heat off new social workers’