High retention rates among Step Up graduates despite ‘clinical levels of stress’

The evaluation of the fast-track training scheme for social workers also warned against an over-reliance on targeted routes into the profession

Picture: Markus Mainka/Fotolia

Step Up to Social Work graduates are remaining in the profession despite some reporting “clinical levels of stress”, an evaluation of the training scheme has found.

The evaluation, which looked at those who qualified three and five years ago, found a retention percentage of 80% and 73% respectively.

Step Up was established in 2010 and is an accelerated 18-month qualification process for social workers.

The report said there was a “significant” amount of movement within the profession, with more than half of those qualified for five years having changed jobs in two years, but it found the average length of time Step Up graduates had been in their present job was 27 months.

“The evaluation indicates that the Step Up to Social Work programme was successful in recruiting participants who were committed to pursuing a career in child and family social work, and enabling them to achieve this goal, at least in the early stages of their careers,” the evaluation said.

‘Clinical’ stress levels

However, survey and interview evidence conducted as part of the evaluation found “around thirty percent” of the social workers from both groups “were experiencing clinical levels of stress”.

“Studies of stress among similar occupational groups using the same measure have reported similar figures: for example, nurses, ambulance staff and hospital consultants (around 30-32%); civil servants in London (27%); military personnel (31%) and police officers (40%),” the report outlined.

This was comparable to people who had qualified through generic programmes, the report added.

The researchers warned they could not “underplay” the evidence of a “very substantial level of stress which is simply being absorbed and sustained by practitioners on a daily basis”.

“This almost endemic aspect of the social work role clearly impacts on practitioners equally, irrespective of qualifying route or career pathway, and risks debilitating them, whatever strengths and qualities they bring to the role,” the report said.

Little intent to leave

Researchers did find that workload pressures and associated stressed had not translated into an intention to leave.

“Survey findings showed that respondents generally remained satisfied with their jobs over time, between cohorts and in both SUSW and comparison groups,” the report said.

While it was unable to establish a wide comparison for Step Up with other routes, it did find differences between it and others “were not substantial”.

“Similarly in the course of our interviews, we were able to identify many of the same motivations, frustrations and career orientations in both groups,” the report said.

It found, at the point of recruitment, Step Up students “demonstrate a higher level of commitment and clearer focus on child and family work compared to graduates of conventional programmes”.

The evaluation concluded Step Up had “achieved a number of its key objectives” and was a “welcome additional source of highly regarded and capable child and family social workers”.

It also warned that an “over-reliance” on targeted training routes may include risks, such as exclusivity and “unintended forms of institutional discrimination”.

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