Social work reform

Social work in England is undergoing major reforms in an attempt to transform the training, quality and status of the profession over the next 10 years.

The Social Work Reform Board was established in January 2010 to oversee implementation of the reform programme.

The UK government asked the board to implement the 15 recommendations of the Social Work Taskforce in its final report, Building a Safe, Confident Future. These were published in December 2009 after a year-long inquiry into the problems affecting the profession, and immediately accepted by Labour ministers.

Children’s secretary Ed Balls described the report as a “watershed moment for the profession”.

The recommendations were welcomed by the social work sector, but leaders expressed concerns over how much funding would be available to implement the reforms during the economic downturn.

After a change of government in 2010, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition pledged its support for the task force recommendations.

The reforms include:

● Overhauling the social work degree, including entry requirements, the curriculum and practice placements.

● A national career development structure, alongside an updated framework for continuing professional development.

● A national standard for employers, covering professional support for social workers.

● A National College of Social Work to improve public understanding and provide a powerful voice for the profession.

● A system of forecasting demand for social workers in different parts of the country to help universities and employers provide the workforce that is needed.

Local authority children’s services in England were given £23m in 2010-11 through a local social work improvement fund to reduce pressure on frontline professionals.

Two additional grants were announced by the Labour government in March 2010to support the reforms: £15m to improve integrated children’s systems in local authorities and £10m to enable Cafcass to tackle backlogs of court cases. The ICS grant was scrapped by the coalition in July, when education secretary Michael Gove told councils they should take the money for improving ICS from the £23m social work improvement fund.

The Social Work Reform Board is chaired by Moira Gibb, the chief executive of Camden Council in London who also chaired the Social Work Task Force.

Its members include:

● Social worker representative bodies, including Unison, Aspect and the British Association of Social Workers.

● Employer bodies, including the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association.

● Academics, including the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee and the Association of Professors of Social Work.

● Government departments.

There are four working groups reporting to the Social Work Reform Board, focusing on different strands of the reform programme. These are:

● Employer standards working group.

● Social work education working group.

● National college development group.

● Career development working group.

Other strands of the reform programme include:

● Employers are urged to carry out “health checks” on social workers’ working conditions in 2010-11.

● The number of placement days for students on the social work degree could be cut from 200 to 120.

● National standards covering workload management and supervision could be rolled out from 2011 alongside the development of an improved career structure for social workers.

● The College of Social Work, which appointed its first interim co-chairs in June 2010, is set to become a legal entity in 2011.

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You may also like Community Care’s Social Work Blog, which covers the challenges facing Britain’s 2m-strong social care workforce: everything from pay and working conditions to stress and the latest social work conduct cases.

It is written by workforce editor Daniel Lombard and beat journalist Kirsty McGregor.

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