NSPCC gives Scottish social workers unprecedented opportunity for practice-focused learning

A child protection course set up by NSPCC Scotland and the University of Stirling puts practice at the centre for qualified social workers

Social workers in Scotland will have a second chance to receive the kind of practice-focused learning unavailable to them when qualifying, as NSPCC Scotland is joining together with the University of Stirling to offer a post-qualifying programme in child protection.

But Professor Brigid Daniel of the University of Stirling believes this practice-focused model will be successful because it is a post-qualifying course rather than initial training, adding that there is “no appetite” for fast tracked, practice-based qualifying courses like Frontline in Scotland:

“You can only do so much in that qualifying stage,” she said, “and we still think it’s really important that people get generic, cradle-to-grave social work training.”

The course is aimed at any practitioner who works with vulnerable children and is already embedded in a local authority or other child protection setting. Its organisers want it to be a programme in which practising social workers can carve out time to top up their skills while remaining in practice.

Lucy Morton, an NSPCC Scotland manager, said of the programme, which accepts its first cohort this November: “We asked ourselves: what would be useful for practitioners on the frontline to know and be equipped with? The idea of real practice-based learning seemed to resonate with managers and leaders across the country.

“No accredited course currently assesses practice skills in Scotland. Practice-based learning is at quite a basic and general level- but we asked, how is actual practice with families assessed? It was an issue for us that people might go into working with families having never been assessed on their work in practice with families.”

The course will be made up of three modules, exploring infant attachment theories and other evidence-based models, and will be taught using a mixture of classroom based learning, role-play and structured study days

“Our main aim is to improve outcomes for children and to equip practitioners for that. I know I would have felt more confident myself if I’d had that kind of experience in role play and in practice,” said Morton.

“Since it is a post-qualifying course aimed at experienced practitioners, we have assumed a fair amount of knowledge of theory and practice. But we identified a need for something to try and address the really difficult families staff are working with a responding to some of the challenges they bring,” she said.

The programme uses innovative approaches such a video interaction to try to address this need in child protection education.

NSPCC Scotland, who were instrumental in coming up with the vision for the programme, wanted to work with the University of Stirling since it already runs the leading applied child protection course in Scotland.

Professor Daniel explains the social work department at the university was already conducting a lot of research around child neglect, and increasingly she wanted to help people on their direct working in this area.

She said: “We already deliver a lot of continuing professional development to people in the profession. Social workers are constantly being asked to reflect on their practice but what we hear is practitioners really want a chance to actually practice their skills and have a chance to role-play and try things out in a safe space.

“There’s only so much you can cover in an initial qualification, and when there are cuts quite often it is training budgets that get cut. I’m really keen that people in statutory settings get a chance to develop their skills,” said Daniel.

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