Children’s social workers who fail the government’s accreditation tests won’t be removed from the register, the chief social worker for children has said.
Giving evidence to the education committee’s inquiry on social work reform, Isabelle Trowler said practitioners who failed accreditation would remain registered social workers but could face restrictions on the settings in which they could practice.
She told the committee: “Employers might require it [accreditation] from people they want to employ. Government might require social workers, for example, who hold case responsibility for children on the child protection register to be accredited. So it depends what those final decisions are.”
Plans being finalised
Trowler said the plans were being finalised and the government would be consulting shortly on which social work roles should require accreditation.
The government has pledged children and families social workers “across the country” will be accredited by 2020. The 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 four step process involves employer endorsement, an online test, practice observation and scenario-based assessment.
Trowler said social workers who failed accreditation should “absolutely” get an opportunity to retake the process. The government’s consultation would seek views on the number of resits a candidate should be allowed, she added.
For the past year the approved child and family practitioners assessment has been trialled with almost 1,000 practitioners.
Asked what proportion of social workers she expected to fail accreditation assessments, Trowler said: “We don’t know yet. I just can’t say because we are looking at the results [of the pilot]”
She added: “The results are fascinating. We’ve had 940 social workers who’ve undertaken different parts of the assessment. Overwhelmingly people are saying ‘this is okay, this reflects the kinds of decisions I need to make, the practice context I work in and how I am at work.”
Similar accreditation processes are 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.
Trowler said the new statuses were an attempt to create a “practice-focused career pathway” that allowed children’s social workers to develop their careers in practice.
Relationship with principal social worker role
The development of the practice leader status has raised questions over how it fits with the principal social worker role currently in place.
A memo sent to the education committee by the Department for Education said practice leaders would “build on and extend the reach of the principal social workers.”
Asked by the committee whether this meant one of the two roles would stop, Trowler said: “There’s no way the practice leader role is going to disappear. You need somebody to run these systems.”
Trowler said she’d found the principal social worker network “hugely helpful” in shaping accreditation reforms but felt the impact of the role should be evaluated next year.
Asked what reassurances she could offer on the principal social worker role’s future, Trowler said: “The jury’s out for me. I think we have a wide range of examples in how it is being used. We need to establish whether it has had a positive impact.
“[The role] is very useful to me but actually it’s the employers paying for it and is it useful to them? I think there’s a mixed view. So I think it needs a bit more time to bed down so we can get some really good examples of where it works well and where it doesn’t.”
Chance for ‘systemic change’
In a wide-ranging evidence session Trowler dismissed suggestions there was any “split” between the Department for Education and Department of Health in social work policy and stressed that she and Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, were “very clear” social work was “one profession”.
She said there was an “extremely mixed picture” in the quality of children’s social care provision nationally. Some “very effective social work” was going on in pockets of the country but too many services fell short, she said.
Trowler said the government’s planned changes to social work education, accreditation, regulation and professional standards offered a chance to create “systemic change across the whole country” in a way previous reform efforts didn’t.
Addressing the “practice systems” in which social workers worked in would be key to improving support and tackling longstanding issues with retention, Trowler added.
“We have to make sure that the system social workers are operating in allows them to be effective in the work they are trying to do,” she said.
“We have some very strong authorities who know how to run effective practice systems where caseloads are reasonable, quality of supervision is strong, they have strong practice leadership, there is lots of CPD and social workers effect change for children and families which is what this whole thing is about.
“But we have a lot of authorities that don’t and I think it’s very worrying. We cannot expect social workers to be effective when caseloads are sky high, there’s little administration support, the quality of supervision isn’t good enough. All of those things will make a social worker decide to stay or leave.”