Birmingham Council has slashed the number of placements it provides for social work students by more than half, Community Care has learned.
The number of student placements offered by the council’s children’s services has fallen from 139 in 2009-10 to 50 in 2010-11, according to figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request.
In adult services the number of placements has been cut from 69 to 39 in the same period. As a result, universities in the area are being forced to come up with “creative” solutions to the shortage of statutory practice learning opportunities, such as placing more students with the police.
“We used to have a practice learning team of about 14 people in children’s and adult services, but this was split into two teams in November 2009,” said Joyce Samuel, senior practitioner in the council’s learning and workforce development service.
Samuel now has sole responsibility for finding placements for students within Birmingham’s children’s services department.
“We just do not have the capacity any more,” she said.
Fifty-eight placements across adult and children’s services have been set aside for the University of Birmingham – down from 88 in 2009-10.
“We were disappointed there was a reduction,” said Gary Hickman, director of social work at the university, adding that the university had been “very creative in terms of partnerships with other placement providers”.
Students will be placed with organisations such as the police, the Children’s and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass) and charities, said Hickman.
“We have always tried to develop a diversity of placements so as not to be too dependent on one provider,” he added.
Birmingham Council was served with an improvement notice in February 2009 after Ofsted rated its children’s services department as inadequate.
Research published by Community Care last week showed that 16% of Birmingham’s 375 children’s social work posts are vacant. There are currently no vacancies in adult services.
“The demand for placements in this authority is huge, which is encouraging, but it has been difficult to meet this demand while we have an over-stretched workforce,” said a spokesperson for Birmingham Council’s children, young people and families directorate.
“We are working to reduce caseloads which should ease pressure on staff and increase our capacity to provide placements in the future.”
Another council spokesperson said the adults and communities directorate had been reducing the number of adult placements for the past few years.
“We have recently undergone a directorate restructure, which has had an impact on our ability to take placements,” she said.
“We are, however, working to strengthen relationships with key academic partners in the face of major changes to the social care landscape.
“We are reaching the initial stage of an agreement with the University of Birmingham that will see us work with the university across the whole range of care services and extend the university’s influence into delivery of those services.”
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