Last week’s evaluation of the support scheme for newly qualified children’s social workers revealed the extent to which employers have struggled to provide extra supervision and support.
The findings, which revealed 42% of NQSWs were unhappy with the first year of the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s scheme in England, have cast a shadow over plans to develop an assessed first year in employment (AYE) for all social work graduates.
In its first year, 2008-9, the CWDC’s NQSW scheme involved 87 local authorities, two voluntary sector organisations and 1,100 new professionals. It was intended to provide protected caseloads and guaranteed training and supervision and reduce burnout rates in that difficult first year.
But the independent evaluation by King’s College, London, and the universities of Bristol and Salford, found many children’s services employers were failing to deliver on promises of extra supervision and reduced caseloads.
This is despite an extra £16m in government funding for the scheme over the past two years.
This has raised concerns that, if employers are finding it difficult to manage the NQSW programmes, they could struggle even more with the rigorous demands of the AYE.
Like the NQSW programmes, the AYE is intended to entitle newly qualified social workers to protected time for reflection and study, good quality supervision and a managed caseload.
But it is also designed to allow time for social workers to develop specialisms and learn from more experienced colleagues or staff in partner agencies. Significantly, they will have to pass an assessment to become a fully registered social worker at the end of the year. All of this would rely heavily on high-quality support from supervisors and managers.
Yet the evaluation of the children’s services’ NQSW scheme found many employers were failing to deliver on their promises of extra supervision and reduced caseloads.
Employers have warned that looming budget cuts will make it difficult to patch up the holes in support in time for the AYE, which could be launched as early as 2012.
“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 NQSWs in this way without further additional support to enable an increase in capacity,” warned Eleni Ioannides, vice-chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ workforce development policy committee. She said capacity issues were at the heart of the challenges identified by the evaluation.
The Department for Education is to set out details of funding for social work reform but a spokesperson could not say when. But the problems with the NQSW scheme are about more than money.
Consultant and former director Bill McKitterick pointed out that the CWDC’s NQSW programme, which received £5m in its first year and £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.”
McKitterick dismissed concerns that a lack of resources would damage progress of the AYE: “There is no reason why it shouldn’t start next year. We have had three years learning and a lot of government money; now it’s beholden on us to make it work.”
Many in the sector are pinning their hopes on the positive impact of wider reforms in England, such as Professor Eileen Munro’s review of child protection and changes in government policy.
Following the withdrawal of DfE funding to the CWDC, Jackie Rafferty, director of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Social Policy and Social Work, suggested that the government should redirect some of that cash to develop the AYE.
Rafferty said: “For 58% of NQSWs to be satisfied is a very positive result for the early years of the scheme but it is difficult to see how the success will be maintained and strengthened further. The sector needs to find a way through this in order to adopt the proposals for the AYE.”
What the assessed year is up against
11% Current vacancy rate in English councils.
28% The amount by which local authorities will have their government grants cut between now and 2015.
4,450 Number of social work degree graduates in England in 2009-10.
3,780 Number of graduates who went on to be qualified social workers.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails