The Prato moment: thinking about leadership in social work education

Mary Baginsky, Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, introduces an invited post by Professor Charlotte Williams:

I was fortunate to have attended the second colloquium held at Monash University’s Prato centre. This is the second year that the group has come together to explore social work education. Prior to a more formal summary of proceeding, Professor Charlotte Williams, Professor and Deputy Dean of RMIT’s Social Work in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, reflects on the context and culture within which the discussions took place. In so doing she made me realise how much I miss the intensity of the discussions, the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and the time to talk and disagree.—Mary Baginsky

Professor Charlotte Williams writes:

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Professor Charlotte Williams

There’s a special magic about Prato that is so conducive to commune. The ambition of the Prato Group, a collaboration of Social Work educators, reflects many of the attributes of this ancient and vital textile producing city in which it was inaugurated. The Prato textile enterprise with its yarns, designs, collective and innovative technologies has approached its futures over an 800-year history with enormous creativity, energy and pragmatism in an effort to remain relevant, stable and future-oriented. Through epochs of profound social, economic, political and technological change the ability to anticipate, capture and engage judiciously with disruptive forces and to lead through change has meant a threatened industry thrived largely through the efforts of small and distributed artisans working with common purpose. Continue reading

The Prato Moment

imageProfessor Charlotte Williams OBE reports from Prato, Italy, on an international colloquium organised by the Deans of Social Work Education in Australia on 12-13 September 2016, at which Jill Manthorpe and Mary Baginsky participated. (570 words)

There are few opportunities to bring together a group of individuals in leading roles in social work education cross-nationally; particularly so in providing them with the thinking space to reflect critically and strategically over a two day ‘lock in’. This gathering could never be representative; it could never be comprehensive in the scope of issues, perspectives or topics it engaged with, nor could it be conclusive. Those ambitions are best left to the International Association of Schools of Social Work. But it did bring together a group of ‘thought leaders’, people who happened to hold significant positions across social work education East to West, in a catalytic moment. There was, we all hoped, an opportunity with some potential to reimagine social work education, present and future. Continue reading

Student placements in children’s service departments: lessons from Canada

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

Mary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. Here she suggests how universities and social work services could be brought into closer partnership.

Both Martin Narey’s and David Croisdale-Appleby’s reviews of social work education have reported on the shortage of placements for social work students, as well as raising questions about consistency in the quality of those that do exist. The President of the Association of the Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), Andrew Webb, has also said that there is neither the range nor breadth of placements to keep pace with student numbers. Martin Narey went so far as to say that the endorsement process should include an evaluation of the quality of practice placements and recommended that universities which fail to provide every student with at least one statutory placement (or an alternative which is genuinely comparable and accepted by employers as comparable) should not receive endorsement from The College of Social Work. There is, perhaps, an alternative approach whereby the placements a student has completed on their registration are recorded. Anyone who had not completed a statutory placement in the relevant sector would then be required to do one subsequently if they wished to be employed in a statutory setting. The cost effectiveness of this would need to be calculated.

However, making this and similar suggestions does not get away from the seriousness of the situation facing courses and students, but neither is it confined to social work students. The Nursing Times (12 February 2014) reported that student nurses are struggling to get good practice placements because hospital wards are overstretched and staff too busy to supervise them.

It is not surprising that the pressures under which children’s service departments are operating and the number being judged to be inadequate by Ofsted are having an effect on the willingness of managers and practitioners to take students on placements. I am well aware of good practice around the country where universities and local authorities have established strong working relationships. They are usually distinguished by a commitment of the university and/or the local authority to take on responsibility for placements at a relatively senior level. This is usually linked with a commitment on the part of local authorities to embed placements in their workforce strategies and on the part of universities to provide a high level of support, not only to students but also to authorities. As training budgets are slashed and more authorities struggle to retain experienced staff such support from universities is an important factor in being placement-possible if not placement-friendly. In the past some authorities have complained that they have had to take what (and whom) universities have offered but the world has moved on. It is in the interests of both parties to collaborate over the training of existing and future practitioners and this is the conclusion that more authorities and universities are reaching.

Thirty-five years ago Hayward (1979) wrote that:

The assessment of practice aspects of the course has traditionally been regarded as different in quality and far more problematic than the assessment of coursework. (p.175)

Assessment of student practice is still the issue that is commonly cited by practice educators and university tutors as the one that is most likely to lead to disagreement, whether this is in terms of practice educators’ concerns about aspects of the student’s practice or perceived generosity or leniency of one party. On a recent visit to Canada I encountered two initiatives that could be introduced in this country and which have brought universities and social work services into closer partnership.

First, there are many examples in the literature that illustrate how individuals come to quite different outcomes when making an assessment and there are also many examples in the literature of attempts to devise competency-based checklists. One of the most reliable is the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). The OSCE is used as an assessment tool for licensing exams in nursing, medicine, midwifery and other subjects in the UK, Australia, Canada and the United States. It is used to assess knowledge, clinical skills, and the transfer of knowledge into practice while providing a standardised assessment method irrespective of variations in client or assessor. Marion Bogo, Professor of Social Work at the University of Toronto, has developed an OSCE for social work which is now being used and adapted across Canada and USA. It consists of ‘laboratory’ interviews and structured reflective exercises to see how the student has integrated concepts. OSCE performance and reflections are rated on standardised scales. Initial tests and subsequent applications have shown that the test is a valid tool for assessing practice, even though further development is required. It is being adopted in a number of countries and the question arises as to why it is not as prominent in this country. It is time and labour intensive which, in the current climate, is likely to prove a disincentive. But it is hard to remember a time when this would not have been the case. As well as a potentially more reliable way of assessing students it also offers the opportunity for universities and practitioners to work together on its development.

The second suggestion comes from a visit to McGill University in Montreal. Anyone taking a student on placement who is attending McGill is required to take a course on supervision before the placement. Not only is this a way of attempting to ensure the quality of placements, it means practice educators engage with McGill at an early stage and the university then builds on this relationship in a number of ways. One way is by inviting their practice educators to regular meetings with the faculty members of the Social Work department. I was fortunate to be able to attend one of these meetings and I was struck both by the understanding of the course that the practice educators displayed and by the breadth and depth of the discussion. So while administrative and progress issues around the actual placements were covered, there was much more discussion of issues around the integration of theory and practice and of specific elements of the training. It was evident that there was a shared understanding of the curriculum, which must in turn benefit all involved but most of all the students on placement. It represented a real partnership of practice and academy that is often talked of but not often achieved in England. It is a model that would transfer to this country but again one that demands a significant level of commitment.

It may not seem the most sensible approach to suggest initiatives that will take even more time and application. But it seems that while social work courses have been forced to address the criticisms leveled against some academic input for its lack of rigour and consistency, similar standards need to be applied to placements and ones that go beyond the revised Practice Educator Professional Standards, however welcome these have been. Practice and professional trainers need to address this subject together. They will find many ways of doing so but perhaps these two examples could be in the portfolio of actions they consider.

Dr Mary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. Follow Mary on Twitter: @abbotsky

Reference:

Hayward, C. (1979) A Fair Assessment: Issues in Evaluating Coursework. London: CCETSW.

Compassion and consistency – the key to enabling positive change

Natalie Atkinson

Natalie Atkinson

In this, her second guest post at the Social Care Workforce blog, Natalie Atkinson, a student at the University of Cumbria, updates us on her progress in getting support from her local authority for her studies. There is also news of an upcoming BBC 3 documentary on young people’s experience of the Criminal Justice System and prison. Natalie took part in the Communities of Practice programme: Delivering on the integration agenda for people with multiple and complex needs as an ‘expert by experience’.

Taking part in the ‘Communities of Practice’ research programme run by the Social Care Workforce Research Unit (SCWRU) and Revolving Doors Agency as an expert by experience, has been the start of an amazing year. Having been given the chance to positively use my own ‘lived experience’ to assist in improving front line collaborative responses to people facing multiple needs and exclusions, has given me more confidence to succeed. I never imagined that writing a guest post for the Social Care Workforce blog back in July would play such a huge part in opening doors of opportunity; the power of social media in today’s society is immense. Following on from the guest post I became a contributor for ex-offender.co.uk and was drawn into the world of Twitter; now I am probably classed as a ‘tweeter’.

In November 2013 I finally won my battle with the Local Authority (LA) and received commitment from them to support me through my journey in higher education but more importantly received an apology for how my case had been handled. At the age of 21 I felt that I had been abandoned by Children’s Services when they closed my case and this ultimately made me resent the LA. Yes, Children’s Services have shown compassion and heart in my case, but how many other young people are out there who are not in a position to challenge the decisions that are made about them by different LA’s? Consistency needs to be demonstrated throughout the care system as that is one of the main things a lot of looked after children do not experience. I consider myself to be lucky enough to have the determination and support to challenge decisions.

With only seven months until I graduate with a BSc in Policing, Investigation and Criminology from the University of Cumbria, I still find myself pinching myself to see whether it’s all been a dream. However, the closer I am getting, I am starting to realise that it is reality and this is actually the start of a new chapter in my life. I no longer have to feel ashamed of being a care leaver and an ex-prolific offender because I am actually able to use this to challenge the judgement and prejudices that exist. I can stand as a prime example that you should never give up on a child or a young person and hopefully this will empower individuals, who are in a similar position to one that I have once been in to make changes.

Having left school at such a young age and spending my time snowballing through the Youth Justice System and then the Criminal Justice System (CJS) makes me appreciate the importance of education. A big part of my journey has been returning to education and discovering that I can use my ‘lived experience’ to assist in gaining academic knowledge and I plan to carry on studying and go on to complete an MSc and then a PhD. I have recently been appointed as a Service User Trustee for Homeless Link and I am hopefully able to use my own life experience to campaign for continued and improved support services. One of the biggest opportunities to arise from the guest blog for SCWRU and being a contributor for ex-offender.co.uk has been to use my own experiences as a basis for a BBC 3 documentary on young people’s experience of the CJS and prison, which is due to be aired in April 2014.

Since a young age my life has been like a roller coaster and to this day I still consider my life to be the same but the only difference is, is that I am now part of a positive roller coaster and I get to decide the route I take. I am not able to say for sure what the future will hold for me, but what I do know is that I will always be standing behind the children and young people that are labelled by society; saying if I can do it then so can they. My mission is not to change the world but to challenge the policies and practices that effect children and young people and hopefully one day I might be in a position to influence change.

Natalie Atkinson was an expert by experience on the Communities of Practice programme. Lead researcher at King’s on this project was Senior Research Fellow, Dr Michelle Cornes.

Follow Natalie on Twitter @Nat89atk

All change for social work – shifting the pieces but not the problems?

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. Dr Baginsky, who leads a seminar on 3 December 2013 on Retaining experienced social workers in children’s services, here responds to the comments of the Education Secretary yesterday.

In speaking to the NSPCC on 12 November 2013 Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for Education, has pledged to overhaul the child protection system and reform social work training. It is not clear what the former will entail, but there is no mention of the multi-agency approach that has underpinned the system that has come to be known as ‘child protection’. There are references to failing authorities, Birmingham being specifically identified, as well as the success of Hackney. If only everything was so clear-cut. Money was available to achieve the reported transformation of Hackney—a great deal more would be required to do the same in Birmingham and that level of financial support does not seem to be forthcoming at a time when we are told the biggest cuts to council budgets are still to come. In addition we have lost the Children’s Improvement Board just at a time when it is needed to support ‘failing’ and ‘failed’ authorities and facilitate peer support that has been shown to work well.

How many social workers will be saying ‘no more system change for child protection and no more change for initial social work training’? Again it is not clear what is intended for social work training. The Secretary of State says that Step Up has been successful, but not successful enough at recruiting sufficient great people. So would one solution not be to extend the numbers on Step Up instead of supporting another route? But then do we know which people are now being recruited onto courses? Money would be well spent in improving the data sets around social work education so we can move from anecdote and guesswork to a position where we are able to make confident statements.

In the past six years there has been a range of initiatives that have transformed social work education, alongside the recommendations that came from the Social Work Task Force. The money to support many of these has now disappeared, but they have influenced practice and many local authorities are trying to sustain the work. Although based on anecdote it is anecdote that arises from numerous conversations around the country—many local authorities are commenting on the noticeable improvement in the quality of their newly qualified social workers. This is not to say that everything is perfect but we do need to acknowledge the strides that have been made. The really sensible thing would be to try to maintain this improvement and take steps to retain those committed and intelligent entrants who are already coming into the profession. The image that the Secretary of State appears to have of social work education and social work students will not help. Too much listening to the radio programme ‘Clare in the Community’ perhaps—which is so funny because it is so extreme and atypical.

Mary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. She is author, with Claire Teague, of Speaking from Experience: the views of the first cohort of trainees of Step Up to Social Work (Department for Education, June 2013).

Dr Baginsky leads a seminar on 3 December 2013 ‘Retaining experienced social workers in children’s services: the challenge facing local authorities in England’ based on her report of the same title (August 2013)—places still available, attendance is free.

@abbotsky | @scwru

Online dementia training – the future?

In this guest post Professor Rose-Marie Dröes of the Department of Psychiatry at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam relates her experience of developing an online training portal for carers of people with dementia.

It has been a long journey, but our new STAR Training portal was officially launched on 11 October 2013 at the Alzheimer Europe conference in Malta.

This European Lifelong Learning project (known as STAR) has created an online training portal with eight course modules covering the key competence areas for carers of people with dementia. Each module is available at two levels and we hope that the course will serve all kinds of carers, both family carers and professionals. The authors of the course modules are dementia experts from the Netherlands, UK, Sweden and Italy. The project has also included participants from Malta and Romania. Pilots are starting, and anyone can register and try it out.

STAR project

I have learned many things myself in this project, for instance, to really focus on the most relevant themes to include in the course modules so that they will be really useful for family carers and untrained volunteers, but also for professionals.  Also, I have had to learn how to effectively use different web-based interactive strategies to support the e-learning process.

What has been most exciting has been to work together both with dementia experts from different European countries and technology experts who have been able to help us to operationalize our ideas about e-learning for dementia care. This enabled us to compose an e-learning course in different languages and at the same time one that is adapted to different cultures.

But I have also found several things challenging as a researcher. For instance, the writing of the modules, adapting them to the different countries, developing and implementing games, film clips, and tests all took a lot of time. We probably underestimated this in the timeline of the project. As a result we had little time to evaluate the long term effects of the course, that is to say, how it impacts on the knowledge and attitudes of informal carers and professionals. This would be interesting to investigate.

Would I get involved in such a project again? Certainly yes! I think it is very rewarding to be involved in European projects in which educational products and psychosocial interventions are developed and evaluated which in the end may be used in dementia care throughout Europe.

My advice for new researchers, therefore, is to get in touch with international research groups, such as the Interdem network on research into timely psychosocial interventions, and to try to participate in joint international research projects.

Together we can make a much larger impact on innovations in dementia care in Europe.

Professor Rose-Marie Dröes is based at the Department of Psychiatry at the VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands: rm.droes@vumc.nl

The Alzheimer Europe conference in Malta at which STAR was launched took place 10-12 October 2013. Twitter hashtag: #23AEC. The conference was also attended by Social Care Workforce Research Unit Director, Professor Jill Manthorpe: see Unit news items.

A new approach to social work recruitment in the United States

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

Mary Baginsky, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s and an expert on the UK Step Up to Social Work programme, reports on a New York initiative, the Children’s Corps.

I have also come to learn the difference between ‘feeling unsafe and just feeling out of place’. There have been many times when I feel out of place but I am getting over that.—A Children’s Corps Programme member

There is an increasing interest in the United States (US) in trying to ensure that those who are employed in children’s welfare services know what is ahead of them. What have been called ‘realistic job interviews’ attempt to give applicants a deeper insight into what the job entails. They are proving to be reasonably effective where the job is complex or difficult and where there are high turnover rates early on in careers, as well as where aspects of the work may not be fully understood by applicants. By giving them a real idea of the challenges the chances of retaining good staff increase. In the UK many of those recruiting onto social work programmes already do this explicitly or implicitly. We are also seeing some targeting of resources (such as the bursary) at people with prior experience with the idea that this will pay dividends in quality and retention.

The UK Step Up to Social Work programme has now recruited its third cohort. It is targeted at those with a good degree (defined as a first or upper second) as well as significant experience with children and young people. Time will tell what the retention rate is like but the feedback from trainees indicated that their prior experience was invaluable, even if they felt it was not always recognised by the universities or agencies where they were based. On the other side of the Atlantic another similar initiative has also just recruited its third cohort. Once again experience is at the heart of the thinking about how to attract and retain good social workers of the future.

Based in New York, Fostering Change for Children recruits college graduates as well as existing professionals on to the Children’s Corps programme. They all have to be prepared to commit to work in foster care and preventive services in New York City (NYC) for two years. The hope is that many of those who are accepted onto the programme will go on to qualify and practise as social workers. In fact some of those in all three cohorts already have a Bachelors degree in Social Work and see the programme as a way of gaining experience before embarking on a Master’s course. Since 2011, 88 Children’s Corps members have been placed in jobs in foster care agencies and preventive programmes across NYC. The receiving agencies are not expected to provide any additional support and the Corps members are no different from any other employee.

The Children’s Corps programme was inspired by Teach for America and shares its hallmark traits of emphasizing selection, training and support. Its message is that child welfare work is rewarding, but is also complex and demanding; it takes a strong and motivated individual to succeed in the field. The application and recruitment process is rigorous and involves realistic interviewing techniques and resilience testing to try to ensure they get people prepared for tough work in difficult environments. The programme starts with a five-week intensive summer school, but there is no funding to support the participants so they must have or need to find the resources to survive in New York without a stipend. The staff of Fostering Change for Children realise that there is a danger that it will therefore tend to attract those who have enough funds or supportive parents to see them through.

In May I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time with four Corps members while I was in the US as part of my Churchill Fellowship. Two of the four did not fit this profile. One had come to the US from the Caribbean when she was eight and said she had always been encouraged by her mother to give back to the society where they had made their home. She had recently married and the couple was able to live on one salary until she started earning. Another member had borrowed money from her family that she paid back when she started to receive a salary.

While the summer school was said to be excellent they all admitted that they had faced a steep learning curve when they joined their agencies. The average turnover in fostering agencies in NYC is 40 per cent, which meant that those coming towards the end of their second year had seen almost all their original colleagues leave. To say they were dealing with very difficult cases is an understatement and, at times, they had all wondered if they could go on. The quality of the supervision they received in the agencies had varied as this person told me:

For the first nine months of my job when all these workers were leaving it was a very negative work environment – it was not supportive and you were very much on your own. You had seven families assigned to you – I had 19 children assigned as a result. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what I was supposed to be doing. I had some really old cases that were very hard. I thought about quitting every other day – may be at one point every day. I used to come home late at night after working a 12-hour day and I would cry – I was so exhausted. I did not know how I’d be able to go back the next day. It was very hard.

This person did not quit and is now studying for a MSW. But, as with her colleagues, she attributed her survival to the support she received from Children’s Corps. Not only does each member have a mentor whom they can use as much or as little as they want, the organisation provides monthly training sessions that also offer the opportunity for peer support as well as additional training. The retention level has been good across the early cohorts. Of the four Corps members I met three intended to qualify and practise as social workers and the fourth is deciding between that and going on to become a clinical psychologist, where she admitted she would earn more and probably attract more professional respect. The experience they have gained means that those going into the profession do so with a very realistic expectation of what the work is like. They have also learnt that if they are to stay in the profession they will have to seek out support if it is not immediately available.

Mary Baginsky is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. She is author, with Claire Teague, of Speaking from Experience: the views of the first cohort of trainees of Step Up to Social Work (Department for Education, June 2013). Follow Mary on Twitter: @abbotsky

Go to the Fostering Change for Children websiteChildren’s Corps blog