Social workers in England will be able to gauge employers’ performance on caseloads and support for frontline practitioners under plans laid out by the Social Work Task Force.
The taskforce is calling on all employers to conduct an immediate “health check” on’ workloads and publish the results.
They will also be required to carry out regular assessments of their performance in support for social workers and set out their plans for improvement, while making the results publicly available.
The national standards for employers, unveiled in the final taskforce recommendations, will cover:
• Caseload management, and how caseload ceilings are kept under review.
• Supervision at individual and team level.
• IT systems and administrative support.
• Management of staffing levels.
• Access to research and information resources.
• Ensuring the safety and welfare of practitioners.
The framework will eventually lead to graded kitemarks being awarded according to performance against the standards.
In addition, all employers should appoint a senior manager with a social work qualification responsible for overseeing “the overall health of professional social work in the organisation”.
Struggling to cope
Local leaders, directors and managers are expected to improve their awareness of “the realities of frontline practice”.
The plans were welcomed by Unison, which has been campaigning for radical improvements to working conditions for its members.
But Helga Pile, the union’s national officer for social workers who also sat on the taskforce, warned that councils that are struggling to cope with recent jumps in referrals would need financial support from the government to kick-start the reforms.
Pile said the recommendations should be “fully funded, or the opportunity will be lost to get this vital profession back on its feet”.
Scale of pressures
“An improvement fund is the key to kick-starting the other reforms,” she added.
“Councils must be ready to be open and honest and lift the lid on the scale of the pressures in their social work teams. That means working with staff and unions to do the ‘health check’ that the taskforce recommends.
“Councils will continue to cover up problems, unless there is an incentive to be open. We want action, but we don’t need government hit squads naming and shaming councils, before they have had the chance to put things right.”
The standards will be introduced on a voluntary basis, but the taskforce said the government should consider “direct intervention in statutory agencies” if the framework does lead to tangible improvements.