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To develop their full potential, all children need the security and encouragement of long-term emotional attachment to at least one or preferably two or more responsible adults. In many cases, a child social worker has to pick up some measure of responsibility for this role when the parents fail. Without early secure attachment, most children will suffer emotionally and in terms of lack of social skills as they grow up. It is not sensible or fair to expect a newly fledged social worker to do their job effectively without at the beginning support and guidance. It has been incredibly unwise of local authorities over the years, and of successive Governments, to starve social services of the resources that they have needed to recruit, train and support the staff that they need to do the job properly. There have been many undesirable outcomes, of which the most obvious are the poor socialisation and anti-social behaviour of teenagers, the inability of young people to engage with school, leading to disruption, exclusion and poor employment prospects, and, of course, our prisons stuffed full of care leavers.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House this evening that she has been able to squeeze out of the Treasury the necessary funding to ensure that all new and inexperienced social workers can be allocated manageable case loads and can have the mentoring support that they need until they gain experience. It is we and not the children themselves who have created a society in which so many children do not have a happy, secure or functional family. The very least that we can do—and I believe that we have an absolute moral responsibility—is to ensure that public services that pick up the pieces for children in care are properly funded, staffed, trained and led.

8.13 pm

Baroness Barker: My Lords, it is always a privilege to take part in a debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The way in which he returns time and again to the details of practice particularly for children’s social work is truly admirable. I congratulate him, too,

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on his timing of the debate. We are in the run-up to the CSR announcement, and it is important to take the opportunity to highlight the need for a well-trained workforce with status and clarity about its distinctive role within the wider field of health and social care.

Some 3.4 million people are employed in social care, working in more than 14,000 establishments. Of those, many are very small; more than 56 per cent of them employ fewer than 11 people and most employ fewer than 60 people. According to the Department for Work and Pensions and the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce, employees in social care have an older profile than other sectors. A very high proportion of people work part time and a high proportion are female or from BME communities. It is important that we consider such factors when we come to the more technical point on which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, wanted to focus. We know that within social care there are huge labour shortages, with more than 25 per cent of employers reporting vacancies. Those are most acute within personal social services.

In October 2006, Niall Dickson of the King’s Fund, writing on the future of social care, reported that there were three times the vacancy rates in social care that there were in other industries. Growing demands from children and young adults with very high levels of need and older people living with long-term conditions mean that there will be a growing demand on those staff. By 2014, it is estimated that there will be a need for an additional 1.6 million people to deal with care needs. However, by the end of this year, local authorities will have delivered £525 million of Gershon savings from social care, and there is a fragmentation of employment even further in social care. The days of large local authority social work departments are coming to an end, a consequence of which is that structured training programmes for large cohorts of staff is under threat. I say this as someone with experience of working with older people. Contracting and outsourcing of services—domiciliary care, for example—do not set a good precedent for investment in training in the social care workforce. That is the background against which the CSR report is to come out.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked in great detail about how, following the report on Options for Excellence, the newly qualified social worker qualification had come into being. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister two questions related to that. One is a key question. Do the Government believe that there is a case for linking the NQSW to the consolidation module within the post-qualification framework? Would newly qualified social workers be less likely to be subjected to double assessment, meaning less bureaucracy, if there was a link between the two systems for post-qualification? If the Minister agrees, do the Government agree that having that link would enable social workers to have the requisite knowledge and skills for working in difficult and complex settings such as with children and young people?

Secondly, do the Government agree that NQSW status should apply to all social workers in all settings, including criminal justice and health? If that status were to become recognised across all social work, not

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just children’s work, it would be a more efficient way in which to make sure that education and registration could be more efficiently managed, for example by the General Social Care Council.

It is clear that in future there will need to be a workforce which is well trained and competent. There will be fewer older, more experienced social workers to pass on their knowledge to younger people entering the profession. If we are to have the social care system that we want, we need to invest, and make sure that the employers continue to invest in training. I look forward to hearing the answers to the noble Earl’s penetrating questions.

8.18 pm

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has captured within the wording of his brief Question three issues that are absolutely central to any social work service worthy of the name. Those three issues are: adequate recruitment; appropriate training; and the concept of professionalism, which, as he indicated, is a sine qua non of modern social work and embraces a very wide as well as complex range of skills.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Earl not just on his Question but on his consistent championing of social work and social workers over the years, especially child social work, and on the first-hand knowledge that he always brings to our debates. This evening has been no exception. I hope that the Minister will listen very carefully to the views that he has put forward.

If you talk to any of the professional or voluntary bodies which are close to the delivery of social work, you will hear a pretty consistent story from them all. The story is of a workforce that, despite the welcome introduction of degree-level qualifications, is often struggling under a caseload that it cannot cope with properly. It is a story of well motivated men and women who are nevertheless burdened by too much administration as compared with field work; and who feel pulled in too many directions because there are not enough people on the ground to deliver the service. The Government are to be congratulated on having recognised the need for investing in social work training and on the quality agenda which they introduced in the Care Standards Act 2000. Those were essential steps in any move to rid social work of the negative perceptions of it that persist among the general public who have little appreciation of quite how difficult a job it is. To my mind, being a children's social worker, whether in the field of family support or child protection, is an extremely difficult job, yet society as a whole does not value the profession nearly as much as it should.

Public attitudes as much as anything else adversely affect the recruitment and retention of social workers. Until those attitudes change I am afraid that the profession is going to struggle. The public and the media have an unwelcome habit of focusing on the occasional failures of social work practice and ignoring its benefits and achievements, of which there are, of course, many. There emerges from this a culture of blame and pointing the finger instead of a realisation

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that the problems with which social workers have to deal are both hugely complicated and ones which society has itself created in the first place. Poor parenting, a lack of understanding about child development, the effects of poverty and drug misuse—all these societal failings contribute to children being maltreated or neglected and all in their different ways have to form part of a social worker's armoury of knowledge and experience. What is more, that knowledge and experience have to sit alongside a particularly important personal quality, which is the ability to communicate with adults and children of every kind.

That is a formidable skill-set and it is perhaps no wonder that many people are calling for degree courses in social work to be extended from three years to four. It explains why there is such widespread support for the concept of newly qualified social worker status and it is also why mentoring and protected time are so important. As the noble Earl indicated, that status would mean that newly qualified social workers would receive a level of support similar to that of newly qualified teachers.

The noble Earl is right—supervision of social work is essential at every level but never more so than for the newly qualified social worker who depends on experienced and unhurried guidance in those early months. What I hear from a number of sources, including bodies such as the NSPCC, is that in a stretched and understaffed department social work supervision is being eroded. Supervision used to mean, and should mean, an in-depth discussion of individual cases so as to get to the heart of sometimes tricky and sensitive situations and work out the way forward. What we are seeing more and more is an emphasis on meeting targets, which certainly entails supervision, but supervision of a very much lower order. Again, that is a worry.

If you do not put good support systems in place for new trainees, you get not just poor practice but demoralisation, burn-out and people leaving the profession because of bad early experiences. Indeed, a high turnover of staff at a more senior level fuels exactly the same thing lower down. What is the timetable for implementing the proposals in the Options for Excellence report? The noble Earl has got to the heart of a very important set of issues. I congratulate him warmly on that and, like him, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

8.24 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for providing us with an opportunity to discuss the important issues before us this evening. I pay tribute to his tenacity, his expertise and the way in which he keeps social work—especially the invaluable social care workforce—in the spotlight in the House of Lords.

This Government have set out a clear vision for social care, where people of all ages receive support to promote recovery, independence, inclusion, health and well-being; a social care system where people have the opportunity to exercise choice and control, developing their own solutions, and support to shape their lives

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through high-quality services. We can only achieve that through a skilled and accountable workforce that is valued by those who use its services, their carers and the wider community. In a social care setting, a well-motivated workforce, suitably trained and developed, confident in its own abilities, with the tools it needs to do its job, will mean better and improving standards of care, and there will be a direct impact on the services provided.

With an increasing number of people using direct payments and individual budgets to fund their care, there are many changes in the way in which services are delivered, and the number of employers has increased exponentially as people exercise more choice and control. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, was right to point out that there is a growing and more diverse demand as a result of demographic change. Such a dynamic and innovative provider service needs a suitably skilled workforce that can take on new roles and provide care in different ways, moving freely within and across organisations, across social care and local government, traditional primary and secondary healthcare boundaries and the independent and third sector.

Following the introduction of the three-year degree level qualification in social work, in September 2006, 1,333 students became the first graduate social workers. I was very pleased to hear the noble Earl say that there are enthusiastic young people who really want to follow that course. In 2007-08, the Government will issue £87 million to support social work students and the social work degree.

It is crucial that we continue to build on the investment that goes into training once students have qualified and have begun their professional lives. The General Social Care Council has developed a new framework for post-qualifying social work education. From this month, universities are offering specialist courses in working with adults, children and families, mental health, leadership and management and practice education. Post-qualifying education will enable social workers to continue their learning and development in their chosen specialist area. Social workers need to make sure that their skills are extended and updated throughout their working lives. A newly qualified social worker year would provide a very positive start. It would ease the baptism of fire mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Low.

There are so many expectations of these newly qualified professionals from those who receive services from them. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, presented us with a vivid picture of the challenges and the complexity that they face these days. It is well known that social workers suffer from burn-out and that social work suffers from a very high vacancy and turnover rate. To address those issues, we need a whole-system approach to social work, which includes support to newly qualified staff and career structures that support experienced staff to remain in practice and act as mentors for the rest of the workforce. Support to leaders and managers to enable them to manage the workforce creatively is crucial. The principle of proper induction for new staff is a matter of good management practice.

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As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, a lack of support leads to demoralisation of the workforce. People who are supported and directed, who know the systems, processes and expectations of them and who are supported by managers in a real and practical sense are more likely to be more effective much more quickly than those who are not. They are also more likely to develop their full potential. It is also of benefit to employers to support effective development.

There is innovative work taking place throughout the country to drive forward the Options for Excellence proposals. Skills for Care, sponsored by the Department of Health, is undertaking employer-led innovation projects to develop new ways of delivering and evaluating induction and training programmes for newly qualified social workers. Newly qualified social workers have told us that they would benefit from more time to shadow and buddy experienced colleagues. Skills for Care is working with employers to develop a package to support newly qualified social workers, in particular mentoring, supervision, peer support and a range of professional development opportunities. Newly qualified staff are working with experienced practitioners to evaluate different methods to consolidate their degree training post-qualification.

To ensure that work on the ground is in line with the Government’s overall vision for social care, the Department of Health has established an adult’s social care workforce strategy board. Its purpose is to ensure the proposals set out in Options for Excellence are prioritised and that priority proposals are implemented effectively, ensuring that stakeholders work together to get best value from the resources available.

The proposal to develop a newly qualified social worker status—one of the longer term proposals from Options for Excellence—was primarily aimed at improving retention and workforce quality. Many new social workers have a challenging remit with a high number of difficult cases right from the start. Where this happens, the rate of burn-out can be high. Such a status would enable new social workers to build on their initial training, with strengths and development needs being identified, setting the pace and direction for their continuing professional development and engaging with the post-qualifying framework. Each newly qualified professional would have an allocated adviser to support their induction and have some protected time in their first year—perhaps 10 per cent.

I am pleased to say that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has begun a programme of work to develop proposals to introduce a newly qualified social worker—NQSW—status from 2008-09 for all new children’s social workers in their first year of practice following successful completion of their initial training. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will be glad to hear that £21 million per year has been allocated over the next three years. DCSF is looking to equip supervisors, particularly those who are newly appointed with the skills that they need to support newly qualified social workers. We are looking not only at working with the newly trained young people but at equipping their mentors.

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DCSF has engaged with a number of local authorities and front-line workers who have raised concerns about the capacity and training for social workers and offered strong support for the development of an NQSW to help address these issues and problems relating to stress, burnout and caseload management. We are currently learning from other professions, notably teaching, where a newly qualified teacher status was introduced to facilitate better quality teaching and improve outcomes for children in schools. We are assessing the options for implementation to see if we can learn and draw on the success of the NQT status in teaching.

DCSF is working with stakeholders and delivery partners to consider how the scheme should be implemented. The department intends to publish more detailed proposals in the children’s workforce action plan later this year or early in the new year and aims to pilot the NQSW scheme from next year. That will run for three years and, depending on its evaluation, a roll-out will take place.

Officials in the Department of Health are working closely with DCSF in learning from the preliminary work being taken forward in children’s services to ensure that the same good practice and innovation can be taken forward in adults’ services at an appropriate point, without unnecessary duplication of work across departments. Timing in relation to adults’ services will depend on the results of tomorrow’s CSR, but I assure noble Lords that we want to roll out the scheme to adults’ services and we want the NQSW to be applicable to all newly qualified social workers. We are still looking at the options and are consulting with stakeholders. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, we are still considering whether there should be a link between the NQSW and the consolidation modules of the post-qualifying framework for social work education. I undertake to keep the noble Baroness informed.

I wish to highlight the public perception and image of social care, making it a career valued by society as a whole—an issue raised by the noble Earl. This is one of the best ways of attracting and retaining high-quality staff and will give people a sense of pride in their work and careers. In response to Dame Denise Platt’s review of social care, Ivan Lewis announced in April a five-point plan to put excellence at the heart of the Government’s vision for 21st century social care.

The centrepiece of the package will be a skills academy focused on developing world-class leadership and commissioning in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Clearly, this will be an important factor for the workforce and the newly qualified social worker proposals that we have discussed this evening. We are delighted that Chris Humphries, director general of City and Guilds, has agreed to chair the steering group to establish the academy. The steering group has now met with representatives throughout the sector and has agreed a vision for the academy and a work programme.

The five-point plan will complement and drive forward some of the suggestions from Options for Excellence, ensuring that a highly skilled, developed and supported social care workforce is at the centre of reforming social care for the 21st century.

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My noble friend Lady Jones asked about rumours of a split in training for children and adult social work. We are not proposing to create separate social work degrees for children and adults and we want to maintain coherence between children and adult services. Links between the two services are already strong through measures such as placement opportunities, induction, continuing professional development and common work-based training opportunities as well as many other arrangements within individual organisations.

As many noble Lords have stated this evening, great progress has been made and money has been invested, but there is still a huge amount to do, especially as demands on the services are increasing day by day. Both Options for Excellence and the five-point plan demonstrate that excellence really is at the heart of our vision for social care and for a 2020 workforce, but clearly there is a vital role for stakeholders. The Government, employers, unions, people who use services, professional bodies and staff all need to play their part in promoting and selling a positive image of the sector and its huge contribution to the well-being of our citizens and communities. The workforce strategy is at the forefront of what we do and support for newly qualified professionals at the outset of their career is a key element of the strategy, as is continuing professional development and good human resource management practice.

I end by thanking social workers and social care workers for the extraordinary work that they do every day. As Dame Denise Platt highlighted in her review this year, and as we have highlighted this evening, for the most part that extraordinary and valuable work is invisible. I hope that this evening’s debate will help bring it visibility and I assure social workers that their work is greatly valued by this House.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 8.42 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.37 to 8.42pm.]

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