Social workers in England say they are left feeling patronised and side lined by the approach taken by the Government to social work reform. In a response to the Education Committee inquiry on social work reform, social workers say they want a more positive, inclusive relationship with the Government such as experienced by colleagues in other countries.
One social worker told BASW: “I am deeply concerned about the manner in which the government describes the current social work workforce as if we are useless.” Another said: “Am I incorrect in my understanding that the only country who doesn’t seem to respect our profession is England? I look overseas with perhaps misguided envy but conversations with international social workers do not seem to have the same issues we have, perhaps we need to understand why we are so disrespected in this country.”
The Education Committee inquiry was launched in the wake of a memorandum from the Department for Education (DfE) outlining the Government’s approach to social work reform. The Government’s strategy includes strengthening career pathways in front line practice with three levels of accredited practice backed by Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS) of what practitioners should know at each level. An expansion of Frontline and Step Up to Social Work – fast-track education entry routes aimed at attracting high-achieving graduates into the profession – is also part of the reform strategy.
BASW members responding to the inquiry expressed concern that the inquiry was undermining the existing workforce, already under pressure in a climate of cuts, fuelled by an agenda to privatise. The emphasis on fast-track training without concerted effort to improve existing workplace conditions was also questioned. BASW members said the current average time spent in the profession of just eight years showed more effort was needed to retain the existing workforce and protect them from ‘burn-out’.
BASW Chief Executive Bridget Robb said: “Social workers are deeply troubled by the approach embedded within The Child Protection Implementation Task Force, which appears to take a position from the outset that the social work profession is ‘failing’. The deficit perspective is both incorrect and damaging for service users, professionals and society in general. It is unacceptable that there is no social worker as a member of this group.
“The timing and expenditure on ‘fast track’ training schemes has split the profession. Step up to Social Work was controversial when it started, but is now regarded as a good innovation and is turning out good social workers. Frontline is extremely well resourced with some interesting innovations in its delivery, but is as yet unproven as to how its students will manage when the programme finishes and how long they will remain in the workforce. It therefore feels premature to be relying on it so heavily for future workers.
“There must be evaluation of the effectiveness of recent reforms. The last decade has seen a deluge of high level committees, groups, reports, legislation and central and local government instruction which have variously not been effectively supported, implemented or allowed to mature due to a combination of a lack of will, time and resources. Hence it is the context of the work that is the ‘failure’, not the social work profession.
“These attempts to undermine the profession are counterproductive and ultimately negatively impacts on the people who use our services. It affects their confidence in social workers and makes people less likely to engage with us. A member commenting on substandard office environments said “A factor that is often overlooked is the service user’s perception of our profession. If they see that we are provided with grubby overcrowded working conditions this gives them a measure of the value placed upon us by our employers and, by extension, how they are seen in the grand scheme of things”. Social workers are the experts in their field and they must have a seat at the table when the future of their profession is being agreed”.
Read BASW’s submission to the Education Committee inquiry on social work reform HERE