It is time to split adults’ and children’s social work education, says Martin Narey

Government advisor believes the social work of 'essentially two professions' cannot be spread across two academic years

Sir Martin Narey
Ministerial advisor Sir Martin Narey (Rex Features)

Government special adviser Sir Martin Narey has called for a split between adults’ and children’s social work education, so that each can become more focused.

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services annual conference, Narey said: “We might still be able to pull together an argument for one social work profession, but I don’t think we can justify the inevitable compromises in a degree that tries to cover children’s and adults’ issues in equal measure and in just two academic years.”

Demographic changes

He added: “I think you need social workers whose academic programme is concentrated on child and family issues and both their placements involve working with the children.”

Narey, who wrote a review of social work education for the previous government, said his call for the shift in social work training came from meeting graduates from the Step Up To Social Work and Frontline training programmes.

He also said demographic changes in the UK, resulting in an increasingly ageing population, will make it more difficult to justify splitting the course between the two disciplines.

“I think we’ve got to make the two years work,” Narey told Community Care. “If we get a bright enough student entry, then Step Up and Frontline showed you can achieve a great deal in that period. But I think you have to concentrate on what children’s social workers need to know, which includes things about families,” Narey said.

‘Brave decisions’

Praising Frontline and Step Up, he said: “These are very bright students who have one intention – to be children’s social workers. [They] are being prepared for that, and I think we’ve got to replicate that.”

Responding to concerns that children’s social workers would be ill-equipped to identify issues affecting the parents in a family, Narey said parental issues would be included in the curriculum.

However, children’s social workers would be less educated on specialist adults’ issues, such as dementia, he said.

“I think we’ve got a choice, we either give social workers more time to learn the job, extend the degree to a four-year degree, or make sure we use that time, which is desperately limited, for the things that really count,” Narey said.

He added: “I think we have to start making some brave decisions. I don’t think you can spread the work, of what is essentially two professions, into two academic years.”

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