Social work reform Contents
Annex 1: Private seminar on social work reform
The following is a summary of a private meeting between representatives from the social work sector and members of the Committee, which took place on 24 February 2016. The discussion focused on the Government’s social work strategy as outlined in the DfE Memorandum to the Education Committee.
- Samantha Baron, Chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee and Head of Social Work at Manchester Metropolitan University;
- Christine Bennett, Principal Social Worker at Sheffield City Council;
- Nick Berbiers, Head of Young People’s Services at The Who Cares? Trust;
- Clive Diaz, Principal Social Worker at Gloucestershire County Council;
- Brigid Featherstone, Co-Director of the Association of Professors of Social Work and Professor of Social Work at Huddersfield University;
- Lisa Harris, Principal Social Worker at Walsall Council;
- Mandy Nightingale, Chair of the Principal Children & Family Social Workers Network and Principal Social Worker for Essex County Council;
- Alison O’Sullivan, then President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Director of Children’s and Adult’s Services for Kirklees Council;
- Bridget Robb, then Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers;
- Jonathan Scourfield, Professor of Social Work at Cardiff University;
- Maggie Siviter, trustee of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers.
Definition and ownership of social work
- The role of the Chief Social Worker: There were complaints the role was poorly defined and the Chief Social Worker was a civil servant who fed down departmental decisions, but could not challenge or feeds ideas up. There was also confusion over the need for two Chief Social Workers, and criticism of their lack of joined-up working.
- Fragmentation: The reforms were accused of splitting social work into two groups of distinct, unrelated groups of social workers: those working with children and those working with adults. The discussion concluded that this fragmentation produces social workers with narrow expertise and partial knowledge.
- Lack of consultation: There were concerns about a lack of dialogue with social workers. The consensus was that social workers did not ‘own’ their profession in the way that doctors or lawyers did.
- Negative language and media representation: The seminar was critical of the way politicians and the media describe social work in negative terms, especially on child deaths, despite evidence that England performs well internationally. There was wide consensus this contributed to poor morale and retention rates.
Education and development of the workforce
- Expansion of fast-track schemes: There were worries about the creation of a two-tier system, whereby children’s social workers were fast-tracked and adult social workers came from university programmes. Other worries highlighted the disparity in funding, and the decision to expand Frontline before its independent evaluation had reported back.
- Future sustainability of traditional courses: Representatives of the sector at the seminar suggested the loss of bursaries could cause social work university courses to be cut.
- Lack of professional development: Opportunities for CPD and post-qualifying training were considered to be poor for social workers. The consensus was the Government strategy concentrated primarily at initial training and the first years of practice.
- Morale of the workforce: Social worker morale was described as extremely low, caused by negative rhetoric, high caseloads, excessive paperwork, and long hours.
- Future of principal social workers: Several participants were principal social workers. They were fearful the role had not been given enough time to prove its worth and would cease to exist in the new reforms.
- Increasing strain on leaders: The seminar discussed the increased pressure on Directors and Assistant Directors of Children’s Services, who were facing reduced administrative support and were being forced to combine the position with another department, such as adult services.
Quality of evidence
- Evidence behind the reforms: The discussion concluded that the momentum behind reforms in recent years for social had been high profile child deaths, but these were declining. There were criticism of DfE for expanding Frontline ahead of the results of the independent evaluation, and the use of statistics in the memorandum.
- Methodology of Ofsted inspections: The attendees at the seminar saw the experience and style of Ofsted inspections as unhelpful, and wanted an inspection regime which focused on improvement over judgement.
- Date on recruitment and retention: Participants noted that the Government did not collect data on recruitment of social workers. There was some debate over how a social worker is defined and whether the Government definition was too narrow. Concern was expressed about experienced social workers moving out of statutory roles into other sectors where they use titles other than “social worker”.