The new children’s minister has defended plans to introduce accreditation tests for social workers, saying practitioners he’d met were “up for” the scheme and some criticism of the proposals reflected a “nervousness” of change.
In an interview with Community Care, Robert Goodwill said changes announced yesterday to the way accreditation will be rolled out would help the Department for Education identify and address any issues with the assessments before the scheme goes national.
The first phase of accreditation will now be delayed until next year and run at just six councils, rather than the 31 originally intended. This will be followed by a second phase with a further 13 authorities. A target to accredit all 30,000 children’s social workers by 2020 has also been dropped.
Goodwill said the smaller and slower accreditation rollout would be critical to “getting it right”, adding: “What would be a mistake in my view would be to try and go in one fell swoop into a national scheme, and find that problems that might arise would then be national problems rather than the ones we discover.”
The minister said the changes were based on feedback from more than 400 responses to a government consultation on accreditation. The DfE has still to release the results but accreditation has attracted criticism from sector bodies, with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) saying it would be costly and Unison launching a petition to scrap accreditation entirely.
Asked about concerns raised over the scheme’s costs and the impact it could have on councils, Goodwill said the criticisms were “not really ones that I would recognise”. He said some negative feeling towards accreditation reflected “nervousness about change”.
He said: “I’ve spoken to a lot of social workers in the last four weeks, and I get the impression that they are up for it. But the alpha phase is about making sure we get it right, that the way we deliver the assessment is done in a way that really recognises the skills that we need in social workers and we can give them the accreditation that can demonstrate that
“What I have found more than anything in this job is the professionalism and effectiveness of social workers, and this accreditation is all about recognising that.”
Goodwill said the scheme would “throw a sharp focus” on the quality of training currently on offer to social workers, adding: “We will see whether some of the courses being delivered actually deliver the standards that we require to deliver effective children’s social care.”
Yesterday Goodwill made his first speech since replacing Edward Timpson as children’s minister. Goodwill has served in government since 2010, and was previously immigration minister at the Home Office.
Speaking at the ADCS annual conference in Manchester, he told delegates he planned to work collaboratively with the sector on reforms and he wanted to understand “what you need and what will work” to improve children’s services.
“Beyond the individual social worker, it is my intention to see the development of a system where all local authorities are actively engaged in ongoing improvement, a system where all local authorities have available the support they need to get to good, and to go from good to great,” he said.
“I intend to be a champion for our social care profession. I promise to identify and celebrate where practice is excellent, finding ways to recognise the nation’s most accomplished practitioners. I also promise to both support and challenge employers to provide the training and ongoing development that their staff need in order to do their job well.”
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