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.

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