Memorandum submitted by The General Social Care Council (GSCC)
1 In this memorandum we offer evidence and advice about ways in which the contribution of registered social workers and social care workers to services for looked after children can be enhanced. We cover:
a) how to improve the supply of qualified staff;
b) how to ensure that new workers are well supported;
c) how to ensure that all workers get the training required;
d) how to equip social workers with the skills they need;
e) how to improve workforce planning; and
f) how to boost the skills of care workers.
About the GSCC
2 The General Social Care Council (GSCC) is the workforce regulator for social care in England. We were set up under the provisions of the Care Standards Act 2000 to promote high standards of conduct and practice among social care workers and to promote high standards in their training. We began by publishing two codes of practice, one for social care workers and one for their employers. We then opened a register for social care workers beginning with social workers and social work students. So far (to 30 May 2008) we have registered 97,000 people - 82,000 social workers and 15,000 social work students. The Government's intention is to register the whole social care workforce over time and it has announced that it will ask us to open another part of the register for domiciliary care workers shortly. We expect then to move on to those working in residential social care settings and to other groups.
3 We also hold to account registrants who are judged to have failed to live up to the requirements of the code of practice and so far have held 38 hearings and removed 17 people from the register. We also ensure that the Higher Education Institutions which offer courses which lead to the social work qualification degrees meet the requirements laid down by government.
4 We do not wish to submit evidence about every matter that is listed in the committee's terms of reference for the inquiry. This note of evidence will be restricted to those matters where the involvement of GSCC with the workforce which provides services for looked after children, helps to develop an informed view.
Care Matters: Time for Change
5 The GSCC considers itself to be a key partner in implementing the vision for children's services set out in 'Every Child Matters', in 'Care Matters', The Children's Plan and now in 'Building Brighter Futures'. We believe that those who work in social care - particularly social workers who work with children, young people and their families - have a crucially important role to play in ensuring that all our children thrive and that looked after children get the help and support they need. We share the aspirations of ministers at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) - and indeed of the workforce itself - to ensure the skills and knowledge of children's workers are significantly improved and that their practice and their conduct are of the highest. We believe that the spread of registration, the enforcement of the codes and the development of better training opportunities are a key part of the improvement programme that is needed.
6 Set out below is a series of comments on key issues that we think are relevant to the task of improving services for looked after children.
Ensuring that there is an adequate supply of appropriately trained workers
7 There is a continuing shortage of qualified social workers to undertake jobs in children's services departments. The proportion of vacancies has remained around 9-11% for some years, much higher than for example the rate of teacher vacancies which is typically under 1%. It is slightly higher for children's social workers than for social workers in general. Average vacancy rates vary between areas, and are particularly high in London (15%).
8 Some Local Authorities have been forced to make high use of agency staffing. This can reduce continuity of contact with social workers for children and families, which is something they often state as a concern. Indeed, for looked after children, the value of a social worker acting as the long term point of contact and continuity can hardly be over-stated.
9 There is increased take up for the new social work degree compared to the two year diploma course it replaced, of around 22%. There are about 5,000 students in the university intake of September 2007 and that for the more popular courses there were about five applicants for every place. However, more investment in university places will be needed to increase the output of trained social workers from these courses to a level which could begin to make a significant dent in the current vacancy rate, especially since turnover remains high (typically 12%).
Ensuring that new social workers get extra support
10 It is accepted as good practice for employers to give extra support to newly qualified social workers. It is generally understood that a social worker who has just graduated is not the "finished product". The original design for the degree assumed three years academic study followed by one year of consolidation activity in the workplace, supported by post-qualifying training and learning.
11 Employers vary in the way in which they support new social workers. Not every new social worker gets the all support they need and some report that the case loads they are allocated are too large or too complex and that the supervision they get is too little or not well managed. Some newly qualified social workers in children's services say that they can get allocated difficult protection cases very early in their career. This concern underlays the proposal in the Options for Excellence review to develop a Newly Qualified Social Worker (NQSW) status and we are currently supporting the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) in their work on behalf of DCSF in developing a pilot NQSW scheme for social workers in children's services. (Skills for Care [SfC] are developing a similar scheme for the Department of Health [DH]). We believe that social workers working with children need the skills and knowledge to work effectively with adults, and that social workers working with adults need the skills and knowledge to work with children and families, so the generic degree - followed by opportunities for specialisation later - provides the right balance.
12 The GSCC recognised that there was a risk that employers might not be willing to take on their full responsibilities to new workers in an effective way and so we included words intended to cover the issue in the codes of practice for social care employers and for employees. The code for employers specifies that they "Must provide training and development opportunities to enable social care workers to strengthen and develop their skills and knowledge".
"3.1 Providing induction, training and development opportunities to help social care workers do their jobs effectively and prepare for new and changing roles and responsibilities;3.2 Contributing to the provision of social care and social work education and training, including effective workplace assessment and practice learning;"
13 The code for workers includes a provision stating that they must "be accountable for the quality of their work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving their knowledge and skills". (section 6)
Ensuring that employers foster a culture in which there are continuing professional development opportunities for all social care workers
14 The GSCC has recommended that the new Care Quality Commission (CQC), the new service inspection body whose role is being defined in the Health and Social Care Bill currently before parliament, should be obliged to make an employer's compliance with the code of practice a requirement when they inspect services. We are disappointed that the government has not taken this opportunity. Similarly we recommend this is done by Ofsted in inspections of children's social care provision for which it is responsible.
15 The GSCC also sets out a requirement that all social workers, as a condition of their three yearly renewal of registration, should engage in development activity to meet a "post registration teaching and learning" (PRTL) requirement of 15 days or 90 hours. A recent survey of social workers seeking renewal found that they had undertaken an average of 280 hours so we are confident that workers are "thirsty" for learning and development opportunities. We are currently considering how to revise and update the policy and we are looking at proposals to make certain subjects compulsory in the PRTL activity and at other ideas which will help to strengthen PRTL so that it can be a lever for ensuring that social workers are guided towards improving their skills in particular areas which are key to the "Every Child Matters" vision.
Ensuring that social workers are well prepared for their work with looked after children
16 The new three year degree in social work was introduced in 2003 in England, replacing the two year Diploma in Social Work. Whilst it is much too early to make a full judgement about the new degree, the early indication from the Government's evaluation of the degree is that it is delivering the objectives set. The GSCC believes that the degree provides the initial preparation for social workers, with the expectation that they undertake further training, as happens in most professions. We are working closely with DH and DCSF on strengthening the qualifying and post-qualifying curriculum to make sure that they continue to meet the needs of working with children.
17 Practice learning placements are a compulsory part of the social work degree and are hugely important in developing the skills of student social workers. The minimum requirement is 200 days total over the course of the degree (not all in the final placement). Placements have to provide the opportunity to undertake statutory tasks and provide two separate client group settings. It puts a demand on employers for good quality placements which is greater than ever before. The practice placement system is a continuing challenge - as it was under the old diploma system - but CWDC and SfC are working to develop improvements.
18 The GSCC has developed a framework of qualifications for social workers to extend and develop their skills and understanding after their initial qualification. This post-qualifying (PQ) framework has qualifications at three levels - specialist, higher specialist and advanced - in different specialities including one for work with children and young people. It is too early to assess the level of take-up of PQ qualifications, but there are more PQ courses in Children and Families Social Work than any other area under the new framework which was introduced in 1997. There is some funding to support social workers to do the qualifications but it is limited. Arguably, the current pay and career framework does not provide a large incentive to social workers to take further qualifications but there is evidence that there is a real demand for good training opportunities.
Improving workforce planning
19 There is no single main employer for social workers although most new social workers go into local government employment. At UK level the sector skills body Skills for Care and Development (SfCD) takes the lead, whilst, in England, two bodies share the responsibility. They are the Children's Workforce Development Council - for social workers working with children and young people - and Skills for Care - in respect of social workers working with adults. There was a unified sector skills strategy drawn up in 2001 by the predecessor sector skills body, TOPSS, but the two new bodies are now working on separate workforce development plans. The support of the relevant government departments for CWDC and SfC will be crucial in bringing together the various and varied employer interests so that workforce planning can be better managed.
Better qualifications for care workers, particularly workers in children's residential care
20 GSCC has recommended to Government that, when the social care register is opened to the wider social care workforce - and particularly to those working in children's residential care - a requirement is made that these workers are trained to NVQ level 3. Existing National Minimum Standards have included qualifications requirements for staff in relevant settings but these have not been widely met. Many employees continue to have qualifications at a level which does not guarantee that children in residential care are receiving the skilled support they need.
21 GSCC recommends that the best way to enforce this level of qualification would be through registration. This could put a requirement on individuals seeking registration to have, or to be working towards, a particular level of qualification and on employers to ensure that they employ, for particular activities, staff who are qualified and registered.
The contribution that social work practices may make
22 GSCC welcomes the provision for pilots of social work practices in the Children and Young Persons' Bill so that the benefits to children and young people can be evaluated prior to wider roll out. The GSCC has an interest in how the roles and tasks of social workers in care planning and in the delivery and implementation of care plans will be exercised in the context of social work practices. We are also interested in any new opportunities this brings to allow social workers and others to undertake more direct work with children and young people. We understand that, in practices, registered social workers are likely to engage both in direct delivery of services and also in supervising arrangements for delivery. We welcome the emphasis on registration and we agree that social workers must continue to play a vital role in ensuring that the statutory duties for children and young people are carried out in full and to the highest standard.
A role for Social Pedagogy
23 Many aspects of the social pedagogue approach are already reflected in social work degree courses. There are social workers in England already using the skills and methods associated with the social pedagogy approach as practiced in some other European countries. The issue is more around the design of service delivery in children's residential care and the level of funding required. However, we are very keen to support the planned pilots in children's residential care and to learn from them.
 Skills for Care Annual Workforce Report 2008. Percentages based on vacancy rates for 'field social workers', 2001 - 06.
 Based on the draft of the 'Evaluation of the New Social Work Degree Qualification in England', commissioned by the Department of Health, 2004-07. The full report is yet to be published.