A revamped social work health check has been launched to test how well employers are supporting staff wellbeing and managing workloads.
The check, issued by the Local Government Association (LGA), will assess how well organisations are following the Standards for Employers of Social Workers in England, which were themselves revised this year, and also focus on how practitioners have experienced the impact of Covid-19 at work.
It will be based on separate surveys, running until mid-December, of principal social workers (PSWs), on behalf of their organisations, and of social workers themselves, which PSWs will circulate.
Off the back of it the LGA will provide participating organisations with a report assessing how well they are supporting their social workers, with results split between children’s and adults’ services.
What is expected of employers
The LGA’s employer standards expects the following of employers:
- A strong and clear social work framework, setting out the vision for social work in the organisation with leaders held to account for delivering the conditions for making it a reality.
- Effective workforce planning, to ensure that the right number of social workers with the right skills are available to meet current and future needs.
- Safe workloads and case allocation, using a transparent system agreed with practitioners in which each social worker’s caseload is regularly assessed to take account of complexity, worker capacity and time for supervision.
- Promoting a positive culture for employee wellbeing and supporting social workers to have the practical tools, resources and the organisational environment they need to practice effectively and safely.
- Ensuring students and qualified practitioners can reflect critically on their practice through high-quality, regular supervision, initially weekly and then fortnightly for newly qualified social workers and at least monthly for all other practitioners, with each session being at least half an hour long.
- Providing opportunities for regular and effective CPD.
- Supporting social workers to maintain their professional registration.
- Develop strategic partnerships with education and training providers to support the training of high-quality practitioners.
Health check history
Health checks were a key recommendation of the Social Work Task Force – set up by government in the wake of the Baby P case – in its final report in 2009, in order to test how well organisations were following the employer standards that it also proposed.
Since then, checks have been carried out variably by employers, through a combination of staff surveys and self-assessments of organisational factors such as caseloads. In 2017 and 2018 the LGA circulated a national survey for PSWs to respond to on behalf of their organisations, which it then reported the results of.
Last year, the LGA joined with What Works for Children’s Social Care to develop a revamped, standardised check with a stronger evidence base. There were also plans to integrate the work with a separate project to assess organisations’ support for social worker wellbeing developed by Research in Practice (RiP) and the University of Bedfordshire. This would have produced a single survey of social workers, due to launch in spring of this year, with follow-up work to help employers tackled diagnosed issues.
However, this plan was derailed by Covid-19, which has led to the organisations, for now, going their separate ways, with RiP and Bedfordshire University having already launched their survey, and the LGA now unveiling its health check.
What Works is separately working on a health check – targeted at children’s services employers – which it is planning to launch in January.
A spokesperson for What Works said it was piloting its check with six authorities with a view to creating a validated survey, which authorities could use to chart their progress over time and benchmark themselves against other organisations. The organisation has not ruled out integrating its work with that of the LGA and RiP/Bedfordshire University in future.
The spokesperson added: “We believe it will be incredibly useful for the sector, and we will be sharing it widely. We are eager to encourage the widespread use of the survey and validated measures and continue to have useful conversations with the LGA on the matter.”