The Department for Education has announced a ‘gold standard’ for children and families social workers designed to improve the quality of safeguarding work, but many details of the scheme remain unclear.
The department says its ‘gold standard’, the approved child and family practitioner status, will be an optional award for social workers who work with “the kids at risk of real devastating, systematic abuse – the Baby Ps and Daniel Pelkas – those that social workers should have extra skills and status to deal with”.
To get the new status social workers will have to pass a “rigorous” test based on chief social worker Isabelle Trowler’s knowledge and skills statement, which is currently open for consultation and sets out what children’s social workers should know in order to practise.
But what this specialist status will mean for social workers beyond that remains unclear since the details of how the new scheme will operate remain undecided. The Department for Education were not able to tell Community Care exactly how the scheme would work, what the benefits getting the status would be for social workers or who would be charged with awarding the new status, although a spokesperson for the department says it is due to announce more details in due course.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), believes the usefulness of the new standard very much depends on how the finer details are arrived at.
“It has to be a process of evolution,” she says. “It’s good to be saying what we are looking for from a children’s social worker, but what’s still to be fleshed out is how they get from A to B to C with the proper support.”
Mansuri says it is important that social workers respond to the consultation and get involved in deciding the details. If they don’t the risk is the scheme will be done “to” social workers rather than “with” them, she says, adding that she sees the status as a work in progress.
There has, Mansuri says, always been a list of things social workers must know and “this is just packaging it up in a different way”: “The worry for me when I read this is the way it’s sold to the public, as though it’s a brand new idea. The public may think ‘they’ve not done this before’ or that social workers currently don’t have this skill set – and I think ‘please, don’t sell us short’.”
BASW is also worried that some parts of the statement do not reflect the multi-agency nature of the job. Mansuri feels the “one-size-fits-all” statement focuses too much on local authorities and doesn’t recognize the rich variety of bodies involved in child safeguarding, including charities. “It doesn’t give the message of being inclusive,” she says, adding that not to represent the full range of settings social workers work in within the statement would be a “missed opportunity.”
The Local Government Association reiterated the importance of social workers receiving proper support in this initiative, but says it is in favour of the new status.
“Social workers do extremely challenging work and it is important that any changes make experienced social work staff feel supported in their role, not least because of the urgent need to retain staff who may leave because of work pressures and bureaucracy,” says a spokesperson for association.
“Any initiative which aims to ensure the public’s respect and confidence in the important work that social workers do will always be given serious consideration by councils, who are already focused on providing social workers with the right support and environment to do the job society needs them to do.”
Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, adds: “This work is critical to the future of children’s social work. It is important to the profession, to social work educators and employers, and to people using services that there is clarity and coherence about the capabilities newly qualified social workers need to deliver high standards of practice”
Isabelle Trowler responded to allegations made by Community Care that the precise nature and content of the consultation remain unclear. She said: “the proposal for a new approved child and family practitioner status will ensure those social workers who have responsibility for the most vulnerable children and families have the right knowledge and skills for effective support and protection. It will also make sure these have been successfully applied, and proven to work, with those at the highest levels of risk and social need.”
“It is absolutely right when considering these major reforms that government consults on the detail and that is our intention. I make no apology for that.”
But concerns remain that the announcement of the consultation is unclear and its timing over the summer period will mean it doesn’t get the responses necessary for a balanced picture: “I think it’s a shame it’s been announced in the summer holidays,” says Mansuri, “It’s so important we have the right people around the table.”
Similar recommendations for adult social workers are expected to be announced by the Department of Health soon.