Mental health social work fast-track scheme backed by £1.6m of government funding

Care minister says the Think Ahead scheme will help bring “very best people” into social work

A training scheme to fast-track graduates into mental health social work will be backed by  £1.6m of government funding next year, care minister Norman Lamb is expected to announce tonight.

The Think Ahead programme will use the money to fund its operational costs in 2015-16. Costs include recruiting students, designing the academic curriculum, and developing a leadership training element for the scheme.

The £1.6m of Department of Health funding will also be used to design placements with selected NHS Trusts and local authorities. Employers will be paid around £7,000 for each student they host from the scheme.

‘Top graduates’

Think Ahead was announced by the government in 2014 and participants will go through an intensive two year on-the-job training programme. The scheme aims to recruit ‘high-calibre’ graduates into mental health social work and mirrors the Frontline fast-track training programme for children’s social work.

Social workers involved in the programme’s design hope it will promote social models of mental health and boost social work’s status in the sector. However, some social workers have raised concerns that fast-track schemes risk creating an “inequality” between the resources available to fast-track students and those on traditional degree courses.

Speaking to Community Care, Lamb said the funding was being given to Think Ahead to ensure “the very best people” are recruited into mental health social work, but it was not a case of “either or” in terms of finding resources for the existing workforce.

“I’ve been really clear all the way through that this programme is completely consistent with recognising that there are great people [already] working in mental health social work,” he said.

“But if you look to the future, it must surely make sense to explore all sorts of different ways to attract the very best people into social work. This can only benefit the profession and the people who rely on social workers in often quite vulnerable circumstances.”

New opportunities

The programme, which will be formally launched at an event in London tonight, aims to attract 80 to 100 trainees in its first year. All students will be expected to hold at least a 2.1 degree and will have to demonstrate their suitability for a job that requires emotional intelligence, good judgement and resilience.

Think Ahead has been developed with input from Ruth Allen, chair of The College of Social Work’s mental health faculty. Allen told Community Care she is hopeful that the programme will boost the visibility of the profession.

“I am impressed with the people who are working on this project and with their openness and inclusivity,” she said. “I see this as a real opportunity to promote the importance of a social focus in mental health services and to boost the status of social work.”

Allen added that she understood the views of some social work academics, who have raised concerns about the impact Think Ahead might have on the shortage of mental health placements currently available to social work students on traditional degree courses.

“The response from the College faculty is that we will be keeping a very close eye that unhelpful elitism is not the focus of Think Ahead,” she said.

“My intention is to make sure it is offering something positive to the whole of social work by helping to improve standing, education and the social focus in mental health services for all social workers going forward.”

How Think Ahead will work

Stage 1: Pre-placement programme

Participants will spend three to six weeks getting classroom-based training, including a ‘comprehensive introduction’ to fundamental concepts of social work theory. The programme’s curriculum will be designed with a partner university to be announced next month.

Stage 2: Year-long practice placement

Trainees will begin a year-long practice placement in a host organisation complemented by additional teaching days. The placement will mainly be based in integrated community mental health services but additional placement days in other settings – including potentially children’s social work – will also be required.

The placement will take place in a Think Ahead unit of four participants overseen by a consultant social worker. The consultant social worker will supervise the trainees and share his or her caseload with them (including the potential to co-work cases with them). The unit may span cases taken on by the consultant social worker from across different community mental health services.

At the end of the year, successful participants will get a postgraduate diploma in social work enabling them to practise as a newly qualified social worker.

Stage 3: The ASYE

The trainees will be employed on a fixed-term one year contract as newly qualified social workers at their host organisations. They will be required to undertake the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment during this time and also complete a Master’s degree in social work. At the end of the second year the participant can seek employment opportunities across social work.

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14 Responses to Mental health social work fast-track scheme backed by £1.6m of government funding

  1. Jim Greer March 16, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    Few social work Practice Educators get any enhancement on pay for accepting students these days. It will become even more difficult to attract people to Practice Education when they see colleagues getting large enhancements on their pay to supervise students on programmes like this. We are rapidly headed towards a two tier system with students on conventional programmes competing for learning opportunities with students on fast track programmes.

    • Tammy March 16, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

      Just seems unfair that those who chose social work as their first career choice are being disadvantaged over those who didn’t choose social work as a career worth studying 3 years for.

  2. Nora McClelland March 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    Is Ruth Allen’s active support of this enterprise yet another example of the College of Social Work’s ambivalence about social work education – the emergence of the two tiers and support of the college for one tier that disadvantages the other tier certainly does suggest this – and the specialist focus of schemes such as Think Ahead and Front Line, at qualifying level, seems to signify the college are endorsing training to fulfill would be employers needs rather than supporting a process of education for developing professional practice – What is the purpose of having a college of social work? What value does the college endorsement have for education providers?What consideration or guidance does the college give to people who are seeking a career in social work? – When it comes down to it, s/he who pays the piper calls the tune…. government ministers Lamb and Gove, will be making the decisions about what social work is …so money was wasted when the college was set up as it seems to serve no identifiable function that is independent of government instruction…

  3. Joe March 16, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

    What is this program hoping to achieve? I don’t think it’s the caliber of the students working in Mental Health post qualifying that is the problem. One of my ex-course mates, who in my opinion was the best on the course, joined a CMHT on graduation but promptly left after less than a year due to high case loads, precious little in the way of resources and an expectation of lone working with individuals who had a history of violence.

  4. Finola Moss March 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    I fear Norman Lamb, is following Sir Martin Narey, with the equivalent of Social Worker specially trained enforcers, for the mentally disordered, under the Mental Capacity Act, as for child protection under the Childrens Act.

    They can be used, as Lamb’s proposed in Green Paper named social worker.

    Both child protection and mental health, are a growth industry, where the consumer, literally can, be made a captive audience, via the courts.

    They are both very profitable and effectively, in secret becoming privatised, and soon will be in the hands of SERCO, g8, so will prove good investments.

    Those taken into care increased from 32,000 in 2009 to 72,000 in 2014, Each child adopted earns a minimum 28,000 adoption fee for LA and /or 600 per week foster payment.

    Those learning/ mentally disabled with pharma kicks backs, benefits and huge sums payable under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Act CAN EARN £4,500 per week, for zero hour basic care for life.

    No one can complain about the quality of service, so it appears the perfect business model, and no competition and effectively LA monopoly.

  5. Janiceduffy March 16, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

    I am interested in the thinking ahead scheme. I have tried to convert my 2.2degree to get work as a social worker but have always been told I need to study for an MA social work which I have not had the monetary means to finance myself. Please can you let me know details of the thinking ahead scheme and if it would help me to get a start in social work. I am a long term carer of mentally disabled teenager/young adult thank you

  6. Samantha Matenje March 17, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    I truly believe that this is the way forward for social work as students can really get frontline experience and at the end of the day people want social workers with experience and not college leavers or people without any life experience.I have a 2;1 degree and am a qualified hypnotherapist studying CBT at present, I am seriously considering this option. I have always had a very keen interest in advocacy work and best interest assessor work, so its a fantastic opportunity.

  7. phil tregear March 18, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    what goes around comes around. i did a sociology degree in 1983 and this meant i only needed to do a 1 year cqsw course.

    this course is a modern example of the same thinking

  8. Poppy March 18, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    What about those of us who already have relevant 2:1 degrees, have also completed diploma’s in social work but then left the profession to care for our families? I have tried to return to my social work career but there are no ‘return to social work’ courses in my area.

  9. J.Robb March 18, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    I have an MASW. I also possess a 2:1, GDL, PgDip Bar and another masters degree. I am currently working as an NA as I cannot get a job in mental health social work. Shame I’m not a high calibre graduate eh?

  10. Jade March 18, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    I think this is a great idea – yes, many people do choose social work as their first option but some people go through university studying different subjects, work in jobs they’re not truly passionate about and come to realise that they would like to enter such a profession as social work. Surely the social work landscape could benefit from these people who have a range of different skills that they could bring to this new role and a mature, logical belief that this is something that would really fulfil them. I don’t think these grads would be treated any differently and to be honest, it shouldn’t be a concern – the main thing is it will bring in more high quality (hopefully depending on the screening process) people passionate about making a difference. People are always concerned about changing the status quo but that should not be the issue here.

  11. jane March 19, 2015 at 10:44 pm #

    I am a mental health social worker and have been practicing in this field for 4 years. We often have MA students that come to us believing that MH is an easy option. Well it is not and they soon realise this. Instead of fast tracking “top graduates” may be that money can be spent on developing better community and hospital resources.

  12. edwina underwood March 28, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    does any one know how to register an interest in the fast track mental health social work course, who I apply to..?

    • Rachel Carter March 30, 2015 at 9:14 am #

      Hi Edwina, applications for the course open in September 2015 but you can sign up for updates on the Think Ahead website
      Cheers, Rachel (Community Care)