ADCS president accuses universities of turning out ‘crap social workers’

Shocked academics and social workers call comments 'very disappointing'

Hackney DCS Alan Wood
Hackney DCS Alan Wood is the current ADCS president

Leading children’s director Alan Wood has launched a shock attack on social work educators, accusing prominent universities of turning out “crap social workers”.

In an interview with the Guardian about outsourcing child protection, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), told the newspaper he took issue with “all these academics turning out crap social workers writing to the Guardian”.

Wood was referring to a letter, published in May and signed by around 40 leading academics, that raised concerns about the government’s consultation on outsourcing children’s services functions. The academics represented institutions including King’s College, London, Edinburgh University, Nottingham University and the University of East Anglia.

Today, academics and social workers expressed their surprise and dismay over the Hackney boss and ADCS president’s verdict on the state of social work education.

Professor Ray Jones, who co-ordinated the letter, said: “It is really unfortunate that we have comments made dismissing the competence and expertise of social work academics who have significant experience of working in child protection services.

“As the co-ordinator of the letter, which raised our concerns about government intentions for children’s services, I am a social worker who has undertaken and managed frontline child protection and spent 14 years as a director of social services.”

He continued: “I currently oversee child protection improvements for two days every week in three different areas of England. In all these areas, the directors of children’s services comment on the high quality of their recently qualified social workers and recognise them as the stars of the future. It is a shame that this perception is not shared in Hackney.”

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said: “I hope this quote has been taken out of context, but reading it as it appears in print it is so stark it is difficult to see how it could have been. It is very disappointing to read this, particularly from one of the current leaders in children’s social work.

“Firstly, our own training would tell us to refrain from making sweeping statements about any particular groups in society and, secondly, denigrating members of our own profession is surely not the way to go. Directors should know this better than others given the stinging comments made about them in the recent SOLACE report.

“BASW has many student members. We are very impressed with the talent that is out there and would urge everyone in social work to get behind the next generation of social workers.”

Chair of The College of Social Work Jo Cleary said: “Alan Wood makes many important points about the need for greater innovation and creativity in children’s social work. We were therefore dismayed by his strong and, in our view, inappropriate references to ‘crap social workers’.

“Such disparaging language from a national leader will not help raise professional morale nor encourage social worker and higher education institution engagement with change and reform. Poor social work practice is not acceptable and must be challenged. However, Alan Wood’s statement regrettably suggests that the calibre of all newly qualifying social workers is problematic when evidence indicates that this is simply not the case. There are excellent social workers qualifying from excellent HEIs.”

Community Care has approached the ADCS for comment.

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13 Responses to ADCS president accuses universities of turning out ‘crap social workers’

  1. LostSW July 9, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    We practice managers have been bemoaning the lack of basic capacity to practice newly qualified social workers have. There is little evidence of assessment skills, legal knowledge, court skills, inter-personal skills and the ability to hold onto a healthy skepticism. When this is compared to the training solicitors, the medical professions, police have, the difference becomes even more stark. Most professions ensure their qualification courses equip practitioners with the skills & knowledge required for them to begin applying it in practice, yet social work has consistently failed in this aspect. Even when I qualified in 1992 I was careful to get onto the right course as some of them were known for producing poorly equipped practitioners. I recall the best training was provided by practitioners who were able to dispense years of practice wisdom to encourage us to be brave enough to admit to what we could see, give it a name and allow social workers to challenge families.

    Now, we daily see newly qualified social workers released into poorly functioning departments where they learn poor practice and have this rewarded with senior practitioner roles after 2 years, usually for sticking around! In the meantime, courts are rejecting care applications & child protection plans fail due to poor assessment. Practitioners appear to have lost their understanding of just how important good quality, analysed and well argued assessments are in social work.

    I know practitioners want to a good job, the best they can, the stakes are incredibly high. It’s costing us an incredible amount to spend such a large proportion of our time training people to be so poor yet, when the argument rears it’s ugly head, we find ourselves entrenched back into the academics vs practitioners debate all over again and nothing changes!

  2. Jack Cordery July 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Wood seems to be missing the point that a great deal of social work training/learning and in many ways the most important element happens on placement in local authority practice placements – social work training is a opartnership.

  3. Dave July 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    “Firstly, our own training would tell us to refrain from making sweeping statements about any particular groups in society and, secondly, denigrating members of our own profession is surely not the way to go.”

    In other words we don’t like to be criticized and don’t like it when people tell the truth. As somebody who qualified 5 years ago and Pe’s students, I feel there is some truth to the statement, the standard of some of the recently qualified SW’s is shocking, not helped by the fact the University’s wont allow students to fail.

    If we are serious about raising the standard of SW we need to raise the quality of those qualifying, although the newly introduced scheme by the government to fast track certain students is going to do nothing to assist with raising the standard.

  4. Edna July 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    I recall some years back a predecessor of the current ADCS post holder reporting in a national newspaper that social workers were not infrequently vindictive (towards their clients) so actually making false cases against those they are supposed to help.

    Well we have a ‘profession’ quite unlike any other it seems when the people at the top (save for BASW and Jo Cleary at TCSW) start to recognise what those of us who have had the misfortune of dealing with social work already know.

    On the way to a meeting 20 odd years ago I also had a director of social work state that social workers lacked intellect / intelligence when discussing issues.

    These top people cannot all be wrong as they have nothing to gain by denigrating social workers’ abilities. The truth may be unpalatable to those trying to promote social work- but as with what is already happening elsewhere the truth will out.

  5. Phil Sanderson July 9, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    What a pity that the ADCS turns out so many crap senior managers!

  6. stephen Bourne July 9, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    This man has the right to say it how it is there are far to many unfit insufficiently trained social care workers.

    You have to be on the receiving end of vexatious lies and threats to truly understand how bad some of these individuals are.

    All should get better soon with the so called fast track training.

    To date I have had the pleasure of knowing over 5 social workers and only 1 actually cared about her client and his safety.

    She now works in New Zealand so no hope here then

  7. Jim Greer July 10, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    All social work graduates have gone through a rigorous period of study and assessed practice. All courses in the U.K. have recently gone through or are going through revalidation in line with Social Reform Board recommendations. As part of their revalidation they are required to have strong links with their employers partners and involve service users in all aspects of building their curriculum and to involve them in teaching. There are a variety of skills needed to be a good social worker. All graduates must have all of them but some workers will excel in some more than others. This is the case for every profession and the skill of a good manager is to play to people’s strengths in types of work they are allocated. Another function of a good manager is to engage with people and provide inspirational leadership.
    Personally I would not begin my relationship with a new workforce by asking qualified experienced practitioners to submit themselves to a test of their competences. If there is bad practice then there are ways of changing this through appraisal, training and if necessary disciplinary procedures. Most of all explaining to the workforce why practice needs to change in a convincing way would be the most favoured option for inspiring change.
    Mr Wood states that many workers left before they were tested. Perhaps these were the ones with the least fear and the most self respect. Precisely the sort of people you need as social workers.
    I am very proud of the work that I do at my University and when I see colleagues at other universities I usually find much to inspire me.
    I am going to be teaching organisational issues next year but I won’t be teaching the Wood method.

  8. Assistant SW July 11, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Mr Wood’s as an assistant SW (Un-qualified) I’m fed up with seeing newly qualified social workers fresh from university who are unable to carry out even basic assessments and then have to be ‘baby sat’ for six months or more whilst they actually learn what the job is all about!

    • Roger Wild July 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

      Spot on. As a current social work student I am shocked at the poor quality of social work training. From my own experience I am told playing jigsaws and board games with service users is “quality” social work training. Clearly it isn`t but try telling those academics that !

  9. Tamara Jones July 11, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

    The lack of statutory placements has a lot to blame for lack of experience in newly qualified workers. My university only managed to offer these placements to half the students and the rest of us had to do our placements in voluntary agencies, often with no social workers there!!

    In no other profession would this happen – imagine training as a nurse or doctor and never once setting foot in a hospital!!! This is not the students fault.

  10. elizabeth July 11, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    I was one of the lucky ones when I did my training 1993-95 post grad DipSW that I had good placements.Over past few years statutory placements have been poor quality in some areas. A family friend doing SW degree had several placments where the practice teacher left or went sick and she did not get support. Placements within a 5 – 10 mile area in Yorkshire were hard to find, her college wanting to send her to a rural environment 30 miles away and expected her to find alternative accommodation but had no appreciation that her autistic teenage son would be expected to care for himself. If you have a good placement and practice teacher – you will get a good grounding and experience. I have met poor social workers – they are for the most kind individuals who see their way to be the only way and not receptive to change, environment etc.

  11. Louise July 14, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    I feel my university course was terrible, luckily I managed to get a local authority placement and my supervisor was incredible and he has gone on the become a wonderful friend.
    Most of the law module was spent looking at past cases, I would rather have seen templates for court statements and care plans and looked at how the information is gathered from various sources and analysed. My child development seminar was taught by someone whose background was in adult mental health and considering this was an Msc I found this to be shocking. There needs to be rethink of how social work is taught, I would like to see play therapy and foundation counselling skills as part of the training, a short work placement within CAFCASS or a LA legal department in order to get a better understanding of court procedures, legal training of the same standard LA’s provide to their employees, form F assessment training. Shouldn’t this be taught rather than learnt after qualifying? Also to learn about drug/alcohol addiction, indicators and symptoms and various forms of mental health problems. I almost think the course should be like an apprenticeship because practice supervisors are able to assess work based competence, better than a tutor and it can be discovered sooner rather than later.

  12. Charles Gunda July 16, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    Thank you Mr Wood. You are a brave man and ‘you say it as it is’. It shows that you care. The quality of the work is terribly shocking and any doubting Thomases need to see (not to hear) the work being produced by some newly qualified social workers. My view is that it is not the newly qualified social workers to blame. The problem can be traced from the selection and interview process, quality of what is being taught and its relevance, lack of critical placement supervisors and tutors, the quality of placement, the assessment of the student throughout the course/quality control to the subsequent poor product. If social work practice is going to improve in this country we need a MILLION of Woods to say it as it is. People who hide the truth are a risk to social work practice.