The Social Work Task Force is finalising proposals for an advanced or “consultant” social worker status as part of a national career structure to keep experienced practitioners on the front- line.
Although the panel of experts has yet to discuss a possible national pay structure in detail, Sue White, professor of social work at Lancaster University and taskforce member, said broadening career progression opportunities was a top priority.
“There needs to be a route to become a consultant of some sort, like in medicine, so people don’t have to become a manager to reach the next pay level,” she said. “This would help to tackle high turnover rates in some parts of the country.”
Although support programmes for thousands of newly qualified social workers were launched in England last month, development initiatives for experienced professionals are less widely available.
The taskforce has noted that in Hackney Council, London, multi-agency teams are led by consultant social workers. At Hammersmith and Fulham, also in London, there is a “principal social worker” position.
The Children’s Workforce Development Council is also running pilots for advanced social work professionals with 45 employers in local authorities, family courts body Cafcass and the voluntary sector. Children’s secretary Ed Balls said this status should become available nationally after Lord Laming’s call in March for a national framework for career progression.
White said the taskforce had yet to finalise its proposals but “getting the principles right” was more important than “pressing a particular practice model”.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services also supports a “framework which rewards skills and incentivises people to remain in practice”.
Bernard Walker, joint chair of the association’s workforce development network, said progression “must be linked to post-qualifying and beyond, with career options which include joint posts with universities and those that combine practice with other functions”.
But Bridget Robb, national officer at the British Association of Social Workers and taskforce member, expressed concern about social workers losing their jobs through reorganisation. “BASW expects that any people under threat in this way should be offered opportunities to gain the skills required for the new jobs as the first choice for employers.”
The taskforce will issue its final recommendations to ministers next month.