Support for new social workers ‘unlikely to improve’

Staff shortages and looming budget cuts will make it difficult to patch up the holes in support for newly qualified children's social workers, employers say.

Staff shortages and looming budget cuts will make it difficult to patch up the holes in support for newly qualified children’s social workers, employers say.

And the situation is unlikely to improve unless local authorities are given more government support, warned Eleni Ioannides, of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

Her comments follow publication on Monday of the evaluation of the CWDC’s support programme for NQSWs. It found many employers were failing to deliver promises of extra supervision and reduced caseloads despite an additional £16m in government support over the past two years.

“It is clear from the responses from participating authorities and those who dropped out of the pilot that capacity issues were at the heart of the challenges facing the organisations involved,” said Ioannides, who is vice-chair of ADCS’s workforce development policy committee.

“Additional pressures on local authority children’s services departments, impending budget cuts and service reductions will have a dramatic impact on the ability of local authorities to support newly qualified social workers in this way without further additional support to enable an increase in capacity.”

The evaluation focused on 2008-9, the first year of the CWDC’s programme, which involved 87 local authorities and two voluntary sector organisations in England supporting 1,100 NQSWs. Today, 150 local authorities – all but two of English councils – are continuing to participate.

Education secretary Michael Gove announced last week that he was withdrawing all Department for Education funding from the CWDC, leading employers to question how a central government department would deliver large-scale support programmes in a way that responded to local needs.

“There should be clear plans in place to manage the transition of support programmes like this from CWDC into the DfE,” said Ioannides. “We must not let the opportunity to improve the support given to social workers entering the profession pass us by.”

John Chowcat, general secretary of Aspect, went a step further and said the government should consider “coughing up” extra funding in order to see through reforms to training for newly qualified social workers.

But consultant and former director Bill McKitterick pointed out that the CWDC’s NQSW programme, which received £5m from the government in its first year and a further £11m in its second, had been “very well funded indeed” and yet it still resulted in “non-compliance with basic standards of supervision”.

He added: “Even with considerable additional money, employers aren’t delivering.”

The responsibility now rested on social workers and managers to drive the improvements. “Social workers have to insist on getting extra support and managers have to commit to giving it,” McKitterick said.

He dismissed concerns that a lack of resources would damage progress of the assessed year in employment, which the Social Work Reform Board hopes could be rolled out in 2012.

“There is no reason why it shouldn’t start next year,” he said. “We have had three years learning and a lot of government money; now it’s beholden on us to make it work.”

Community Care has asked the Department for Education for a response.

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