Practice leaders and supervisors in children’s social work face test on decision-making skills

The government is consulting on standards for two new senior roles in children’s services

Details of two new assessed and accredited management roles in children’s social work have been published for consultation.

The knowledge and skills statements for the practice supervisor and practice leader statuses have been devised by the consortium led by consultancy firm KPMG and including the University of Leeds and the chief social worker’s former company, Morning Lane Associates.

The consortium is also developing the assessment process for practice supervisors and leaders as well as the approved child and family practitioner status for frontline practitioners which is currently being  trialled.

They proposed knowledge and skills statements were announced by the chief social worker for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, who described them as “part of a radical shift towards a practice-focused system”.

Practice leader role clarified

Practice leaders will be “qualified social workers with day-to-day operational responsibility across the whole local system for child and family social work practice,” the consultation documents state.

“Most usually this is referred to as the assistant director of children’s social care or director of family services.”

When the three levels of accreditation were first announced, principal social workers wondered if practice leadership would encompass their role. However, the new standards do not refer to principal social workers (PSWs), nor do they mention the Professional Capabilities Framework, devised by the Social Work Reform Board as a skills framework for all levels of a social care carer.

Among duties outlined, practice leaders should create sufficient capacity for social workers to “build relationships and undertake effective direct work” with families and children, although there is no specific mention of keeping caseloads under control.

Mandy Nightingale, who is PSW at Essex and chair of the network for child and family PSWs said there had been “a positive step forward” for the profession with these statements as the network had been able to give their views on the standards before the open consultation.

However Nightingale expressed concern about how the accreditation route will work in practice: “In a large authority, these duties are likely to be divided between a number of people. There will need to be a realistic consultation about the detail of assessment and accreditation taking into account the financial constraints on local authorities and our need to constantly innovate to meet demands.”

Practice supervisor role

Practice supervisors will manage and develop individuals and teams within statutory child and family services.

One aspect of the role will be to “provide a practice framework, underpinned by theory and the best evidence, within which practitioners can work effectively”.

However, the government was unable to confirm if such a practice framework would be devised centrally or practice leaders would be able to define their own.

Assessment and future plans

In time, the consultation paper notes, accreditation may be expanded to particular areas of practice, such as permanency planning.

Once the results of the consultation have been analysed the DfE will “work with employers and others on implementation including whether the system should be rolled out on a voluntary or compulsory basis, which social workers it should be applied to, the speed of roll out and other issues”.

Assessment for all levels is likely to include direct observation of practice and a test of critical analysis and decision-making. Online simulation of practice is also expected to form part of the tests.


Trowler said accreditation has a dual aim: “I am determined to ensure that we earn the public’s respect for and confidence in our profession, particularly from the children, young people and families with whom we work.”

The statuses will also act “as a passport towards career progression”.

The consultation is open for responses till 1st September. Results are due to be published in the autumn.

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2 Responses to Practice leaders and supervisors in children’s social work face test on decision-making skills

  1. Suzanne Loveridge July 30, 2015 at 6:34 am #

    On past experience, none of the senior staff we dealt with are fit for these roles. They do not have the skills to make clear decisions or the willingness to show awareness when they are wrong.

  2. Joan Revill July 31, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    After 40 years of being in social work including management, practice teaching and lecturing and now working as an agency worker I have seen a decline in the profession – not in the workers but in morale, caring, trust and in management.
    The way agency staff are treated is generally apalling and a reflection of how social workers are treated by society and the bureaucracies they work for.

    I am apalled at phone interviews for jobs where I express an interest in the work, the area etc and the “manager” who has been “helicoptered in” says things like “well I don’t know the area and am from – 200 miles away – or another who said -when I asked about the area worked in – which I knew -“well I just stay in a hotel and never see the area in daylight and am leaving in a few months”, It’s easy to blame social workers and I have had no direct experience of “turning around failing services”.

    It seems to me that the failure is often due to lack of resources, pressures on time, hot-desking – where you lose your desk if you go out on a visit – lack of understanding and managerialism.

    It is easy to go in and make waves and leave – not sure what these people do so can’t criticise that directly -but it’s similar to blaming “failing schools” and not looking at what authorities should be looking at – the environment, the systems, the poverty of people that social workers work with.

    How much do these “helicopter-people” earn – when did they last work with a client ?
    Individualism lives on.