Black, ethnic minority and disabled social workers (NQSWs) are facing “disproportionate” problems passing their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), according to the British Association for Social Workers (BASW).
Staff from BASW’s advice and representation (A&R) service said that much of their caseload in relation to the ASYE concerns disabled newly qualified social workers or those from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities who have either had their programmes put ‘on hold’ or been told that they are failing.
A&R officer Laura Sheridan said that she was currently representing four people through difficulties with the ASYE programme – three of whom were Black women, one of whom was disabled.
Another team member’s three most recent cases were representing social workers, all of whom were Black, through difficulties with their ASYE, while another team member represented four social workers through their ASYE in the last year – three of whom were from Black or ethnic minority groups. One of these practitioners also had a disability, as did the fourth, white, social worker they represented.
Calls to the team’s duty service in relation to the ASYE also disproportionately related to disabled staff or those from Black or ethnic minority groups.
Delays with provision of equipment
In a blog post on BASW’s website, Sheridan wrote that the service had represented disabled members who have faced delays with the provision of their equipment, which has subsequently led to delays in them passing their ASYE or, at worst case, dismissal from their jobs as they had not met their contractual requirement to pass the ASYE.
How the ASYE works
The ASYE year is designed to support NQSWs to consolidate learning from their pre-qualifying programmes and ensure they can meet the standards of the knowledge and skills statements for children’s or adults’ services.
For the children’s programme, employers receive £2,000 per NQSW from the Department for Education, whereas for the adults’ programme payments are worth £1,000-£2,000 per practitioner from the Department of Health and Social Care, with money distributed by Skills for Care.
During the ASYE, NQSWs are expected to carry managed caseloads and are supported by an assessor or supervisor, who assesses their progress over the year. The assessor’s record and a critical reflection diary completed by the NQSW are the evidence base on which decisions are made as to whether the social worker has successfully completed the ASYE.
The ASYE is not compulsory for employers or NQSWs, but some employers do use the year to make decisions about social workers’ ongoing employment.
She added: “We have seen examples of members from Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups facing more scrutiny and criticism in comparison to their white counterpart colleagues. We are aware of members who have had their ASYE delayed as a result of raising complaints about discrimination…Quite simply, these are issues that should not be occurring in any employment and certainly not in a social work setting.
“The ASYE should be a supportive programme that enables a newly qualified social worker to develop their skills and knowledge in a supported environment,” Sheridan said.
External regulator needed
She called for an external regulator to ensure the ASYE was being applied “consistently and in an anti-discriminatory manner”.
ASYE programmes are managed and assessed by employers, who are expected to moderate assessments to ensure they are consistent. In the case of adults’ ASYE programmes, there is also some external moderation provided by local ASYE partnerships and a national panel, which checks 5% of ASYE assessment reports. The quality assurance systems for both adults’ and children’s ASYE schemes are overseen by Skills for Care.
In response to BASW’s claims, Graham Woodham, Skills for Care’s programme head for the regulated professional workforce, said: “As part of Skills for Care’s quality assurance process for ASYE programmes we are currently undertaking the latest round of quality assurance visits.”
“In each of these we are having a conversation with programme leaders, supervisors and NQSWs about equality and diversity, including specific reference to racial discrimination.”
Adults PSW Network ‘very concerned’
Jenefer Rees and Simon Homes, co-chairs of the Adult Principal Social Worker Network, said they “completely condemned” any form of discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, disability or any other protected characteristic.
“We are very concerned to read that there is a disproportionate representation from these groups accessing this support members of the network are striving to challenge and address all types of inequality and discrimination in the health and social care sector,” they said.
While Rees and Homes said the development and implementation of a workforce race equality standard (WRES) in social care would have an impact on NQSWs during their ASYE over time, more immediately they would raise the issue with PSWs across the country “to ensure vigilance and prevention of discrimination in this way”. The WRES has been set up by the DHSC’s interim chief social workers for adults, and is being used by 18 local authorities, to promote a better response from employers to social workers from Black and ethnic minority groups.
“There is an internal moderation process for the ASYE programme as well as a national external panel, which is led by Skills for Care, adding a layer of scrutiny and objectivity to the programme and outcomes. Also, human resource departments have a key part to play in supporting all employees, including NQSWs,” Rees and Homes added.
Spotlight on race in social work
The claims come with the issue of race in social work under the spotlight, following the killing of George Floyd last year in the USA and the Black Lives Matters protests that followed. Significant concerns have been raised by, among others, BASW professional officer Wayne Reid, that responses to Floyd’s killing and the BLM protests from social work leaders have been muted or tokenistic.
While Black and ethnic minority practitioners are well-represented in the profession – accounting for 25% of adults’ services practitioners, 22% of children’s social workers and 18% of NHS mental health practitioners in England, compared with population representation of 14% – there are concerns that representation in some areas is not reflective of the communities served by the profession.
In addition, the proportion of Black and ethnic minority practitioners in senior levels of management is far lower than at the front line, while concerns have also been raised about the disproportionate representation of Black social workers in agency work, including in relation to how they have been treated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Representational issues have also been raised among the student population, with significant inequalities between different training routes, ranging from 36% on university postgraduate and undergraduate courses to 22% and 17%, respectively, on the latest cohorts of fast-track providers Frontline and Think Ahead, though these are their highest rates yet.
Fitness to practise has also come under the microscope with Social Work England saying Black and ethnic minority social workers are disproportionately subject to investigations, though it does not have data as yet on what happens to them once they are within the system.