The government has acknowledged the need to improve the number of social work placements available in mental health services.
Speaking in a House of Lords debate on mental health social work held yesterday, health minister Earl Howe said there was a shortage of mental health social workers. Lord Howe said that the government-backed Think Ahead fast-track scheme into mental health social work would be one way of boosting numbers, but admitted that a shortage of placements was a pressing issue.
Asked about the government’s assessment of the scale of shortages of mental health social workers, Lord Howe replied: “We need more social workers, particularly in mental health. The Think Ahead programme is certainly one way in which we hope to improve the numbers. Social work is not always seen as an attractive career option.
“We know that there is a growing appetite among graduates to work in mental health; unfortunately that enthusiasm has not filtered through to the social work profession. We need to focus on that. Much will depend also on finding a greater number of placements in social work, particularly relevant to mental health, so that there is on-the-job training for those trainees.”
Critics of Think Ahead have argued that there is currently no shortage of social work trainees keen to work in mental health but a lack of social work placements and vacancies in mental health teams is preventing them from doing so.
Lord Howe also said that social workers play “a vital role” in mental health services. He pointed to The College of Social Work’s report on ‘The role of the social worker in adult mental health services’, which sets out a blueprint for the profession.
The Lords debate also saw the issue of social work training on mental health raised. Lord Howe said the statements on the skills required by children’s and adult social workers being produced by Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, and Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families, will include the need for social workers “to be able to work with mental health issues in all contexts”.