Attempts to remodel social work in several English councils were hampered by limited resources and difficulties in recruiting and retaining social workers, but have been successful in embedding better practice.
This was one of the findings of an evaluation, published this week, of the 11 remodelling social work pilot projects – supported by the Children’s Workforce Development Council to explore new ways of delivering and improving social work over the past three years.
The authors found that several councils experienced problems recruiting experienced social workers into newly created posts, while others found there was resistance from existing staff about the new ways of working and a lack of understanding about the change ahead.
In Rochdale, where managers wanted to recruit three social workers and a senior practitioner to create a specialist children-in-care team, there were no internal applications for the social work posts. Managers believed this was because the work was exclusively with teenagers on the edge of care, perceived to be a very difficult group to work with.
Newly qualified social workers had to be recruited instead, but their need for support placed additional burdens on the team manager and senior practitioner.
In Tower Hamlets, where a consultant practitioner was recruited to provide a mentoring role, the first recruitment process was complicated by a lack of interest in the role and delays over the confirmation of funding. When the post was filled, it proved less successful than had been hoped because social workers were unclear about its role or scope.
In Sheffield, where experienced social work consultants were recruited, there was resistance from staff due to a lack of clarity about the roles. Derbyshire and Birmingham lost managers from the original pilot, leaving area teams without a manager for a period.
Mixed level of success
Mary Baginsky, one of the authors of the evaluation, said challenges were “inevitable”. “When you’re looking at 11 pilots, you would expect a mixed level of success. There were a lot of outside pressures on funding and recruitment at the time, and the transition of an idea into reality can often be difficult,” she told Community Care.
But she said the scheme had been a success overall, with most councils overcoming early teething problems and all 11 councils learning “valuable lessons”. At least eight authorities are continuing the new ways of working “in one form or another, some intensively and others in a more diluted way”.
The pilots’ success was dependent upon a number of factors, she said, including initial and continued clarity on what was being remodelled and how it was to be achieved, support from senior management, effective administrative support and access to staff training and development.
North Tyneside, Westminster, Sheffield, Wirral and Somerset had taken the biggest steps towards remodelling social work, she said. “In these areas, the pilots were seen as test beds for achieving something significant and long-lasting so the commitment of senior managers stayed with them. We could really see long-lasting change had been achieved.”
She added: “In areas we deemed less successful, there were still successes and commitment but at the end of the pilot we could not see evidence that social work had been remodelled, which was the criteria we were looking at. This was often because the scale of the change was too great, such as in Birmingham and Derbyshire which are very large authorities with a number of unique challenges.”
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Social work vacancy rates 2011