Social care workforce development network to close citing budget cuts and culture change

Learn to Care will cease operations after three decades at the end of the financial year

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A national organisation that has promoted social care workforce development since 1988 is to wind up by the end of this financial year because of financial constraints and changes to how local authorities operate.

Learn to Care, a national network representing professionals responsible for social workers’ and other adults’ and children’s services staff members’ learning and development, held its final AGM in November 2018 and will cease operations in March this year.

A statement published from the AGM by the chair of the national committee, Tracey Cooper, a senior organisational development officer at Leeds council, cited changing staff roles, financial cuts and better support for social care staff locally and nationally as driving the decision.

Trevor Hewitt, another committee member and a colleague of Cooper’s at Leeds, told Community Care it had become increasingly hard to sustain the national panel in recent years.

“Far fewer specialists are supporting adults’ and children’s social care in terms of pure workforce development,” he said. “It’s been many years since we achieved [the optimum] level of support, and because all work is carried out by volunteers we’ve not really been able to deliver work plans and strategies, purely because of a lack of people.”

The last few years had seen the centralisation of workforce development functions in many councils, Hewitt added, meaning people with specialised social care knowledge had “disappeared”.

Travel restrictions

“The reduction in local authority budgets has had a huge impact,” he said, not only in terms of staff reductions but because people were no longer authorised to claim travel expenses, making meetings much trickier.

On a more positive note, Hewitt noted the emergence of other networks, notably among principal social workers (PSWs) – some of whom are also Learn to Care members. This had seen some expertise that would previously have been the domain of workforce development specialists flowing elsewhere.

“In a number of local authorities, PSWs have responsibility for the workforce – they have their own local and national networks and are working extremely well in some areas,” he said.

‘Great support’

Beverley Latania, PSW for mental health, strategic commissioning and community within Newham council and co-chair of the national adults’ PSW network, expressed regret that Learn to Care was calling it a day.

“Learn To Care has provided great support to the social care sector,” she said in a statement on behalf of the three PSW network chairs. “The work of the national and regional PSW networks complements aspects of the work undertaken by Learn To Care in terms of promoting learning and wider workforce development as well as ensuring the professional development of social workers – which we believe to be very important.

“The national PSW Network will continue to work alongside national and local workforce development forums and groups to support the development of social care staff and promote social care across the country,” she added.

‘Development crucial to social worker retention’

A spokesperson for the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said the professional body would like to thank Learn to Care for its “important contribution” across the sector.

“Workforce development is a crucial part of social work retention,” the spokesperson said. “As Learn to Care concludes, BASW will need to work ever more closely with employers, PSWs and the wider sector, to ensure career-long support and CPD is prioritised, especially in this climate of stretched resources.”

Hewitt said that despite the national closure of Learn to Care, some of its local networks would likely remain functional – albeit likely under a different name.

“[Things] will continue in various forms, whether that’s through ADASS, ADCS, Skills for Care and so on – there will still be support networks for workforce development leads,” he said.

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