Care review proposal that all social workers do 100 hours’ practice a year labelled ‘out of touch’

Academics warn proposals, aimed at keeping all registered practitioners in touch with frontline practice, would be 'potentially disruptive'

registration printed on rubber stamp
Photo: Wolfilser/Adobe Stock

A care review recommendation to require all registered social workers to carry out 100 hours a year of client-facing work has drawn criticism from academics.

The review said the proposal, which it said Social Work England should make a requirement of registration, “would bring thousands of experienced social workers back in regular contact with the complexities of children’s social care”.

It said applying this to local authority managers who were on the register would help tackle the high level of administrative work, such as case recording, that social workers in direct practice had to carry out.

Managers ‘far from front line’

In its final report, published in late May, the review said this situation – which bred job dissatisfaction and high social work turnover –  was “made more acute by managers in the system who are far from the front line of practice”.

“The complexities of social work and the risks associated with poor decision-making can make paperwork, processes and monitoring feel reassuring,” it added. “Yet this approach to practice makes it even more likely that practitioners will miss an opportunity to intervene effectively with families.

“To address the culture and incentives associated with unnecessary bureaucracy, attention must be given to getting social workers back to practice.”

Within council children’s services, the measure would affect the roughly two-thirds of registrants who were not case holding.

In a separate report providing more detail on its recommendations, the review asserted that it was important that other registrants not in direct practice, besides local authority managers, did the same.

“It is also vital that those who have a role in shaping the children’s social care system, whether local authority leaders, policy makers or academics, are close enough to frontline practice to understand the experiences of children and families and the issues facing the workforce,” it said.

“Narrowing the gap between leaders and the front line should inject new energy and innovation to drive continuous improvement in the system.”

‘Out of touch on a number of levels’

Practice in this context would mean client-facing work demanding the knowledge and skills of a social worker, the review said. It gave examples of spending two weeks working in a duty team, facilitating family group decision-making, undertaking fostering assessments or working to support victims of exploitation, and said spending time shadowing, quality-assuring or case-auditing should not count.

But Janet Melville-Wiseman, the chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC), said the proposal had raised red flags among academics.

“Academics stay close to practice in a variety of ways, including shadowing, but this proposal, and the suggestion that there is a greater need for them to ‘keep up’ is in itself out of touch on a number of levels,” she told Community Care.

“This proposal is of significant concern in terms of how vulnerable children and families may experience someone becoming involved in their care for these reasons, and for such a short period of time,” Melville-Wiseman said. “In addition to undertake the suggested tasks safely, each academic would need to receive induction and authorisation relating to confidentiality, recording and access to case files.”

She added that there did not seem to be any awareness from the review either of the potential disruption to the work of already overburdened social work teams, or of how teaching commitments would be covered during this time.

The care review said that, in implementing the requirement, Social Work England should ensure that it did not result in “children and families working with a revolving door of professionals” or having to repeat their story more than necessary.

‘We would wish to build our own evidence base’

The review said the requirement would need to be applied to adult social workers as well, though potentially implemented first for children and families practitioners.

Social Work England chief executive Colum Conway gave a cautious response to 100-hour proposal in a series of reflections on the care review published on Social Work England’s website.

“While we understand the broad drivers behind this recommendation, there is work we need to do as the regulator to interrogate the risk around social workers maintaining a certain number of hours in frontline practice,” he said. “We would wish to build our own evidence base which would include engaging with people with lived and learned experience of social work, and testing possible solutions.”

Conway added that Social Work England would “need to be assured that any approach fully considers the breadth of roles and contexts which social workers operate in across both children and families and adult services”.

“Alongside our partners and ahead of any implementation we would wish to explore how the approach would improve both professional practice and consistency of service for children and families while maintaining the proportionality of our requirements on the profession,” he said.

Approached for comment by Community Care, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said that the 100-hour requirement had been included in a survey it is sending out to members this month in order to canvas opinion on a range of talking points from the care review.

BASW said responses would be published in due course.

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25 Responses to Care review proposal that all social workers do 100 hours’ practice a year labelled ‘out of touch’

  1. Andrea June 8, 2022 at 7:51 pm #

    Curious. BASW isn’t generally bashful in commenting so why the sudden urgency to consult members first on this proposal? It couldn’t have anything to do with the preponderance of academic members now could it? Voice of social work rather than of social workers? I think so.

  2. Caroline June 8, 2022 at 8:07 pm #

    Why are academics, policy makers, service managers, budget holders, PSWs and the like so aghast that they should be required to understand the practicalities of the very thing they spend their intellectual capital in shaping? I am married to a Professor in medicine who undergoes yearly on the job evaluation of his medical skills alongside his teaching. Why is this even an issue in social work. I wouldn’t take driving lessons from an instructor who doesn’t drive so why am I expected to validate a nominal social worker who doesn’t do any social work? There are plenty of social work roles where 100 hours would not be intrusive or disruptive. And why the sudden reticence BASW?

    • Geraldine June 10, 2022 at 5:48 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more – well said!

  3. Neal June 8, 2022 at 8:29 pm #

    There is something rather delicious about people who are not in touch with the muck of practice dismissing a propsal for being “out of touch”. A profession indeed.

  4. Colin June 9, 2022 at 6:28 am #

    It would be interesting to see see how this will be implemented through the adjustment to terms of employment or partnership arrangements between employers. I have a firm respect for and commitment to practice but fear that the mechanics behind the process will be problematic. There are already workload pressures and complex issues creating barriers to the provision of SW student placements- and this is likely to present further resource management challenges and managerial coordination responsibilities. It is not something that should be left to individual registrants to “negotiate” on an individual basis: or the result would be chaos and fail in achieving its intended aims. To do this properly and not just as a tick-boxing requirement will require a massive cultural shift and I am doubtful that the structures will be supported and facilitated.

  5. TesS June 9, 2022 at 6:35 am #

    The 100 hours of direct work is easily achieved in frontline children and families practice and academics and reviewers alike could very easily work out how much time is required on average to work on any case. Seeing one child weekly for 1 hour per week is already 56 hours. Times that by the number of children on your case load then add; time taken with parents, cares, in meetings, responding to crisis, travel, recording training, supervision, staff briefings researching (pah haha like there’s time for that) etc, etc and then…. Try and fit all of that into the working hours of a year! Realistic case loads is what is needed!!!

    • TesS June 9, 2022 at 6:42 am #

      Doh 52 weeks!!! And that my friends is one of the impacts of an unrealistic caseload !

  6. Ed June 9, 2022 at 8:11 am #

    An impractical suggestion that will fail to achieve its goals if it is implemented at all (incredibly impractical suggestion that no other profession in the country has so unlikely to get off the ground). Of course if the real goal was to sow division then it will be most effective in achieving this, whether it is implemented or not.

  7. Fiona June 9, 2022 at 8:47 am #

    As a former social work academic who took voluntary redundancy from my university post in 2018, and have been working in front line child protection since, I would support this proposal. Yes, it would be difficult to organise, and I’m sure that some people would be quite nervous about going back into direct practice. But nonetheless it would be very valuable, and it doesnt take much reflection to understand why.

  8. Lisa June 9, 2022 at 10:18 am #

    Social Work England needs to be “assured”? No opinion until waiting to parrot the prevailing orthodoxy once more. So glad I am regulated.

  9. Eggypants June 9, 2022 at 4:02 pm #

    I expect those at SWE, senior managers and academics love their ivory tower jobs as they get to criticise mere mortals but doing the real hands on work in poor conditions would perhaps show some of them up as the charlatans they are and there are many charlatans in this profession. Wow what a long sentence.

    • Jane June 11, 2022 at 2:12 pm #

      I understand where your coming from but I for one don’t put myself in an ivory tower as an academic. The idea is a good one but who will teach my classes, support struggling students and deal with the admin of finding placements, a 100 emails daily and the growing number of admin tasks. We don’t get the Summer off as many think and am thinking where on earth can I fit this in?

      • Annie June 12, 2022 at 11:08 pm #

        Actually, all those are the perfect skill set for what we do everyday in practice. Join is it really won’t be such a shock to juggle the multiple balls.

  10. Colin June 9, 2022 at 5:58 pm #

    It would be interesting to see how this will be implemented through the adjustment to terms of employment or partnership arrangements between employers. I have a firm respect for and commitment to practice but fear that the mechanics behind the process will be problematic. There are already workload pressures and complex issues creating barriers to the provision of SW student placements- and this is likely to present further resource management challenges and managerial coordination responsibilities. It is not something that should be left to individual registrants to “negotiate” on an individual basis: or the result would be chaos and fail in achieving its intended aims. To do this properly and not just as a tick-boxing requirement will require a massive cultural shift and I am doubtful that the structures will be supported and facilitated.

  11. Arthur June 9, 2022 at 8:30 pm #

    Not sure about the “no other profession” claim. I think there might be a clue in the “teaching hospital” in which teaching is done by practising medics.

  12. Abdul June 9, 2022 at 10:50 pm #

    Perhaps an Honorary Lecturer can tell us how manageable or otherwise combining their practice role is with their teaching role. The conundrum surely cannot be as complicated as rocket science?

  13. K Vardy June 10, 2022 at 8:59 pm #

    Does this proposal only affect Childcare social workers? Apologies if I have missed something here, but there are also other branches of social work( speaking as a now retired social worker with 25 years experience in Adult mental health and Learning Disability services) .

  14. Jenny June 11, 2022 at 9:29 am #

    How would this work for those social workers who are employed independently?

  15. dk June 11, 2022 at 8:51 pm #

    A truly pathetic response from the involved academics and Social Work England. Spend a few days in a MASH or referral assessment team and you’d be fine, this is a massive overthink.

  16. Edith June 12, 2022 at 7:33 am #

    I work within the NHS supervising many practitioners. As a SW I feel I bring a valuable contribution to the team but I would struggle to do face to face work as I am not a health practitioner. I worry about this proposal and that it would mean I would have to leave a job I really enjoy and a job where being a social worker alongside health workers brings a different perspective and one that can help add to safety.

  17. Alan June 13, 2022 at 10:56 am #

    Presumably you are on the register and so fulfill the requirements for that? I work with nurses who perform many social care tasks so I am struggling to understand why you would not be able to do similar face to face work as them.

  18. Bobby June 14, 2022 at 7:03 am #

    Yes please. Local authorities run social work in way that means the newest social workers are connected and those who design, manage and make decisions stroll around council offices. It is easy to lose passion and social work values if you never meet people…on the many occasions I have attended resources panel and families are denied help I looked at the database of those Service directors and managers and none had held a case since the 1990’s. That disgusted me.

    • Dedicated Social Worker June 15, 2022 at 8:51 pm #

      I often think why dont’t all managers, heads of service etc, hold a small case load and lead by example. Moreover, they would not lose touch with what is occurring on the front line.

  19. Abdul June 15, 2022 at 8:09 am #

    Our PSW says this is a very bad idea because teachers and thinkers need distance from practice in order to be effective.

  20. BP June 17, 2022 at 3:23 pm #

    As a senior manager in my organisation, I make a point of completing direct work with families. It is what I trained to do in the first place. It also has great value for me as a manager in that it supports my managers and their teams, it keeps me grounded and it helps me to better understand the expectations of practitioners. I often identify learning through my own practice that can be used more widely and shared with others. It has inspired me to write guidance to support practitioners that I noticed was missing. And, perhaps most importantly, it means I get to directly improve the lives of children. I think it is about time we utilised the skills of social work managers fully.

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