Birmingham NQSWs still struggling, says Unison

Newly qualified children's social workers at Birmingham Council are still struggling due to a lack of support five months after Ofsted highlighted the problem,...

Newly qualified children’s social workers at Birmingham Council are still struggling due to a lack of support five months after Ofsted highlighted the problem, Unison has claimed.

An unannounced Ofsted inspection of Birmingham Council in November 2009 highlighted NQSWs acquiring heavy caseloads and responsbility for complex cases too quickly, as one of six areas for development.

A support scheme provided by the council’s children’s services, heavily criticised in an internal report in February this year, was failing to provide them with the “phased induction” they needed, Ofsted inspectors said.

A senior Unison representative for the union’s Birmingham branch said newly qualified practitioners were feeling stressed and under pressure, and morale “can’t really go any lower”.

Chris Cooper, lead convenor of children’s services for the Birmingham branch of Unison, explained they were still having to take on too much responsibility within the first few months of the job because the council was struggling to free up time for experienced social workers to act as mentors.

“It’s not a good time for newly qualified social workers to be joining the council, and they are struggling,” he told Community Care.

“We can’t retain experienced social workers, so newly qualified social workers are going out with people hardly more experienced than them.

“Some are leaving after the first year or two. Morale can’t really go any lower.”

A large part of this, he said, was down to high vacancy rates within children’s services. The council, which was served with an improvement notice from government last year, sacked six children’s social workers in March for failing to do their jobs properly.

And after the Khrya Ishaq trial, it confirmed that three members of staff involved in the case, at least one of whom is thought to be a social worker, could be sacked if they are found to have behaved unprofessionally.

Birmingham is one of the councils taking part in the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s NQSW scheme, which offers funding to help employers provide NQSWs with extra support. Birmingham currently receives £3,000 for each of its 20 NQSWs.

“We spend that money along with our own resources on giving them better supervision and a mentoring scheme,” said Colin Tucker, Birmingham’s director of children’s social care.

“Since the report came out we’ve done a lot of work locally and in universities to give NQSWs much better support.”

Tucker said 80% of the NQSWs’ time is currently spent on child care responsibilities while the remaining 20% is reserved for training and mentoring.

“They’re under pressure as we all are – we’ve been inadequate for too long, we’re under scrutiny but we’re making good progress,” he said.

The council has also taken a series of steps to improve conditions for NQSWs, such as investing in better facilities and appointing more staff.

NQSWs are still being given child protection cases but Tucker said the council was trying to ensure they had access to good supervision and training.

“I wouldn’t want to shield NQSWs from child protection work completely as it’s an important part of their development,” he said.

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