Training of Children and Families Social Workers - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


1.  In April 2009 we published a report of our inquiry into Looked-after Children.[1] In the course of that inquiry, we took evidence on the relationships between children in care and those responsible for managing their care—their social workers. We found that children and young people valued good social workers very highly, but that vacancies and high turnover in the workforce meant that they were often denied the opportunity to form lasting relationships with them. We also took evidence from local authorities which suggested that children and families social workers in England are poorly equipped by their training for the work of intervening in families and protecting children. At the same time, news about the terrible tragedy of Baby Peter was again putting the media spotlight on the social work profession, giving rise to a great deal of public criticism—not always well-informed—of the way social workers go about their extremely difficult and important jobs.

2.  We have a long-standing interest in how well all parts of the children's workforce are recruited, trained and supported. It is our belief that the efficacy of services to care for, educate and protect children depends very substantially on the quality of those who staff those services. Having already decided to embark on an inquiry into the training of teachers, we decided to undertake a parallel inquiry into the training of children and families social workers. Throughout our deliberations, the comparison with the teaching profession has been useful and instructive, although in drawing our conclusions we have often had in mind too the example of the medical professions.

3.  In December 2008, the Department for Children, Schools and Families published the 2020 Children and Young People's Workforce Strategy. The Strategy identified social work as an area facing significant challenges, and among its provisions was the establishment of a Social Work Task Force to examine these in greater detail. The Task Force was established in January 2009; its role has been described by the Government as conducting a "nuts and bolts review of social work". The Task Force made its initial report to the Secretaries of State for Children, Schools and Families and Health on 5 May 2009, in which it identified social work education as one of the six key themes for its work. An interim report in July will be followed by the final report in October 2009.

4.  Lord Laming was asked by the Government to report on the current state of safeguarding services following the findings of significant weaknesses at Haringey Council in December 2008.[2] His Progress Report on the Protection of Children in England was published on 12 March 2009.[3] The report expressed grave concerns about the adequacy of the training social workers receive for child protection work, and made many recommendations relevant to the training of social workers.

5.  Many of our witnesses confirmed our impression that the current focus on social work provides the profession with an almost unprecedented opportunity for reform.[4] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families, Baroness Morgan, told us:

I have a sense that this is now a moment where there is a great commitment across Government. With the Committee's interest, with the Social Work Task Force, and with the wider interest in local government and academic as well—I think there is a genuine commitment from employers too—all of us can work together to make the most of the opportunities we have got.[5]

6.  The importance of seizing these opportunities cannot be overstated, and the issues are far from academic. When social workers are poorly trained—lacking in knowledge, skills, or experience—or left unsupported in highly pressured situations, children's lives are put in danger. Intellectual ability, personal resilience, and good supervision are not important because they bring more prestige to the profession or more job satisfaction to the individual. These things are important because they are needed when analysing potential risks to children, dealing professionally with obstructive parents, and reflecting on whether the right decisions are being made at the right times. Although we refer repeatedly throughout this Report to the needs of employers, we are constantly mindful that it is the needs of children that are most important when those who work with them are trained.

7.  We issued a call for written evidence on 31 March 2009, asking for views on the structure, quality, content and provision of initial and post-qualifying training for children and families social workers. Nearly 50 written submissions were received, which have greatly assisted our work. We held four oral evidence sessions in May and June 2009, and are grateful to all of those who took part; a list is published at the end of this report. We took the opportunity of a visit to New York City and Washington D.C., primarily arranged in connection with a separate inquiry, to learn about how social workers are trained and deployed in the USA. Finally, we were pleased and grateful to have the opportunity to meet with a group of ten recently-qualified social workers from eight different London boroughs, and to hear directly from them about their training and the work they are now doing. They were a credit to their profession and we found their thoughtful and passionate contributions to our debate very stimulating.[6]

8.  Our thanks are also due to the specialist advisers who have helped us throughout the inquiry and in the preparation of this report: Teresa Smith, Professor Geoff Whitty, Dr Sharon Vitali and John Coughlan.[7]

9.  Throughout the Report, we have tried where possible to use the terminology that we believe makes most sense to the interested layperson: hence, we refer to student placements rather than 'Practice Learning Opportunities', to universities as well as 'Higher Education Institutions', and we use the term 'agencies' to mean primarily private businesses which supply locum social workers to other employers. A list of acronyms used in the text follows:

ADCS    Association of Directors of Children's Services

ASPW    Association of Professors of Social Work

BASW    British Association of Social Workers

Cafcass    Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service

CPD    Continuing Professional Development

CWDC    Children's Workforce Development Council

GSCC    General Social Care Council

GYO    'Grow Your Own'

HEFCE  Higher Education Funding Council for England

HEIs    Higher Education Institutions

JUC SWEC  Joint Universities Council Social Work Education Committee

NQSW    Newly-Qualified Social Worker programme

PLOs    Practice Learning Opportunities

PQ    Post-Qualifying

PRTL    Post-Registration Training and Learning

QAA    Quality Assessment Agency

TDA    Training and Development Agency for Schools

UCAS    Universities and Colleges Admissions Service

1   Children, Schools and Families Committee, Third Report of Session 2008-09, Looked-after Children, HC 111-I, para 29 Back

2   Haringey Children's Services Authority Area Joint Area Review (December 2008) Back

3   Lord Laming, The Protection of Children in England: a progress report, HC 330 (March 2009) Back

4   Qq 34, 40, 185 Back

5   Q 285 Back

6   See Annex Back

7   Teresa Smith is Head of the Social Policy and Social Work Department, University of Oxford. Professor Geoff Whitty is Director of the Institute of Education, a member of Universities UK and a member of the General Teaching Council for England. Dr Sharon Vitali is Senior Lecturer and Field Chair for Social Work at Oxford Brookes University, and participated in the research project 'Evaluation the Outcomes of Social Work Education' for the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the Social Policy and Social Work subject centre of the Higher Education Academy. John Coughlan is Director of Children's Services at Hampshire County Council and a member of the Association of Directors of Children's Services. Back

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Prepared 30 July 2009