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Frontline: Improving the children’s social work profession

Children’s social work is under enormous strain. Chr onic funding pressures, a ballooning workload and a poorly trained and supported workfor ce have all combined to put vulnerable children’s lives at risk.

Tackling this problem will require action in a number of ar eas. In particular, there is a need to improve the quality and training of the workfor ce. The nature of social work means that it is heavily dependent on the ef fectiveness of its frontline staff.

Despite the importance of an effective workforce, social work has struggled to r ecruit and train enough high-calibre staff, it has suffered from a perception of low prestige, and it has been criticised for offering degree courses that provide inadequate training.

This paper investigates the nature and extent of the problems facing the children’s social work profession. Last year, there were around 1,350 vacant jobs in this field, many of which were concentrated in certain areas. Despite a concerted effort to tackle this shortage of workers, there are widespread concerns about the skills, competencies and calibre of new recruits to the profession. For example, in 2011 less than 6 per cent of people who started training to be a social worker came fr om a Russell Group university – social work is clearly not viewed as attractive for these graduates.

This paper argues that a graduate fast-track pr ogramme, run by a dedicated social enterprise, could help to address these problems. Drawing on the success of the Teach First scheme, the organisation would provide work-based training for high-potential new recruits. This new programme – Frontline – would help to attract the best people into one of Britain’s toughest professions, and in the long term cr eate a movement of leaders to challenge social disadvantage.