Children’s services leaders want the government’s accreditation tests for children’s social workers to be compulsory and rolled out across the country.
Speaking to Community Care, Dave Hill, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said accreditation “should be mandatory and should happen everywhere at the same time”.
Hill said it was clear that skills and knowledge work had to be stepped up, and this needed to run through every level of social work practice.
“I don’t just mean newly qualified I mean newly qualified through to the most experienced, it’s the whole range,” Hill said.
In the ADCS’ submission to the Education Committee inquiry into social work reform, it said the three new accredited statuses has the potential to “improve the consistency of practice”, but raised concerns about the logistics of rolling out the initiative.
Hill warned against a staggered approach to implementing the assessments.
“There has been discussion about whether it’s piloted more and then some bits of the country do it. Our position is we should do it, we should make it mandatory,” he said.
“If we are doing it on a bit-by-bit basis we will end up with a two-tier system where some people are [not] accredited, not because they haven’t got through it but because their chance hasn’t come along.”
Hill said the ADCS was working closely with the Department of Education on piloting the accreditation process, adding: “We’re strongly pushing to get it right but having got it right, have everyone do it at the same time and have it be formal and mandatory”.
Social work reforms
In January, the government pledged social workers “across the country” would be “fully assessed and accredited by 2020”.
The same month, Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, promised a consultation would be launched “within weeks” on whether accreditation should be compulsory or not. Community Care understands the consultation may open this month.
The accreditation process assesses social workers operating at different levels against knowledge and skills statements developed by Trowler.
Frontline social workers who pass accreditation will become Approved Child and Family Practitioners. The process involves an online test, practice observation and scenario-based assessment. This has been trialled with almost 1,000 practitioners and early evidence suggests social workers fared well.
Similar accreditation processes are also being developed for senior social workers. Managers will obtain Practice Supervisor status. Assistant directors, or their equivalent, will be assessed and accredited as Practice Leaders.
Ministers believe accreditation will improve public confidence in social workers. The process is part of a wider package of reforms to children’s social work being pursued by the Department of Education. This includes a pledge to strip local authorities of control of their children’s services if the government deems them to be failing and unable to improve.
The government has already transferred control of children’s services in Slough and Doncaster to independent trusts.
Hill warned against seeing structural change as the solution for all problems in children’s services, arguing that building “leadership, good support for people, training and culture” were more important.
“I think we’ve got to be careful not to think if you restructure something you magically transform it, because I don’t think it does,” he said.
He did however describe himself as “agnostic” in his views on what the right structure or provider of services is, having been a part of the team that made the recommendations for Slough to be taken over by a children’s trust.
“I’ve got no personal issue about recommending the right thing but I do think we have to be careful over the next period of sort of saying it’s the structure that is the X factor, I don’t think it is,” Hill said.
“The problem for me with the alternative model is, I look at Slough and I look at Doncaster and it has taken the best part of two years to get them up and running. I don’t think we’ve got 18 months or two years. If somewhere is inadequate I want it to get better within six months to a year.”
Hill took up post as ADCS president last month. He said his priorities in the role would be to improve the public image of children’s social care and boost cooperation between adults and children’s services.