A survey by Community Care published this week found 40% of social workers did not feel adequately supported on or having recently completed their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE).
The results of the survey were mixed, while most social workers reported not having a protected caseload, 69% said they would or did stay with their ASYE employer.
Beyond the numbers, social workers commented on problems with supervision, the organisation, the level of support with their caseload they got and how much time they had to do the critical reflection and holistic assessment elements.
But for Donna Chapman, learning and development lead at Shropshire’s children’s services, an ASYE scheme is not just about recruiting social workers, it’s about retention.
“The ASYE programme is the most important part of your recruitment and retention package, really, I don’t think it can be underestimated, and if I think back to days when we didn’t have an ASYE or induction programme, that safety net that can catch people, I think it’s quite an overwhelming experience for people.”
Shropshire, which was praised by inspectors last year for its approach to building a stable workforce, has found that ASYEs who have good experiences with the council stay with it, and that creates “an amount of loyalty” to the organisation.
“Some of our successes have been ASYE’s who have been with us in Shropshire for a number of years now and have actually successfully got senior social work posts. One of our ASYEs has recently been successful at getting a manager post in Shropshire.
“Retention is difficult, and yet we are managing to still retain people and keep that momentum going,” Chapman explains.
Part of this starts with the induction, in which Shropshire uses a career progression matrix to map for all new starters where they could go in the council. But it also starts for ASYEs before their registration comes through.
“Some of our ASYEs come to us having been students, so when they finish their placement they still go through the same interview process, but if they are given a post, we will start them as a social work assistant. We keep the relationship going with them and we’ll put them on a variety of different training courses, so when their registration comes through and they are a qualified worker we can slot them into the teams and keep the momentum going,” Chapman explains.
The right space
Another important element is finding the right space in the organisation for new social workers. Chapman says it would be detrimental to a team, the ASYE, the organisation and children and families, to fill numbers of vacancies in teams with new social workers.
“If you’ve got a team of eight and you’ve got two vacancies, those are two caseloads, quite a lot of cases to hold and for the rest of the team to absorb.
“If an average caseload might be around 20, and an ASYE’s caseload may only be six, seven or eight, the team is going to absorb some of that.”
Shropshire coordinates where they send social workers on their ASYE, and will often put an experienced agency social worker into teams with new ASYEs, so they can carry the extra cases and do some of the work they wouldn’t want or expect ASYEs to be doing at that point.
“The whole workforce is only as strong as all of its multiple parts, and I think if we overload any one part of the system, it can become quite fragile and vulnerable to break down some of that resilience.”
Caseloads increased in phases
Throughout their year, social workers on the ASYE’s caseloads are protected and increased in phases, but it is done on an individual basis to prevent overloading a social worker who might not be ready for an increase, or for hampering the progress of a social worker who might be ready to take on more.
Chapman says the council keeps caseloads lower than the government’s recommended 10% below average, as it felt that often wasn’t enough.
ASYE social workers have study days put into their calendar at the beginning of the year, are supported by an advanced practitioner whose only role is to coordinate the ASYE programme and they have protected “learning days” every month.
“We map the learning days against the knowledge and skills statement, but we also think about the complexity of the work they will be doing. We start with the basics – what a good assessment looks like, how we gather and analyse information – and we take our building blocks from there, building the training complexity as we feel the cases might get more complex.”
As part of the self-assessment, quarterly reviews are built in to the programme, Chapman says, highlighting that the key to a successful ASYE programme is not letting up on the intensity.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to protect an ASYE’s caseload [and] protect the time that they need. But what we’re finding is if we don’t do that, the whole programme will wobble and fall apart.
“We hear that from other colleagues around the region, we’ve had that experience ourselves, if we ease up a little bit and think ‘we’ll give them an extra week, an extra two weeks’, it never happens. It’s never successful.”