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Social Work Associate Practice Programme: A Children’s Improvement Board Reference Document

The Children’s Improvement Board (CIB) have been working to improve performance in children’s services through development of the Social Work Associate Practice Programme (SWAPP), a programme to support front line managers in practice improvement in safeguarding and children’s care.

Following the decision by the DfE to withdraw funding from the CIB it was decided that this Reference Guide which had already been commissioned was a valuable document and should still be produced. This reflects the fact that regions and authorities are likely to continue with the model. There is also much of the content that is more broadly applicable within the context of peer support and peer challenge which is also likely to continue within the regions. A great deal of the content is also useful in thinking more broadly about how children’s services are led and managed.

There are two main audiences for the reference document. The first of these audiences are frontline managers who will be SWAPPed to provide support between local authorities in order to learn and disseminate best practice in the management of child protection and care services. The second of the two audiences are the more senior managers and other staff who will enable or manage these programmes.

Simply moving managers around the system and hoping some good practice will rub off is unlikely to achieve significant change. It will be important that the frontline managers who are part of these SWAP programmes are helped in understanding the task they are being asked to undertake. It will be equally important that the organisations create suitable conditions in which frontline managers can create change. Consequently the twin aims of the reference manual are:

• Helping frontline managers understand the tasks they are being asked to undertake and to help them understand how they will go about it;
• Helping organisations create the conditions to support frontline managers in this role.

What’s in a name? We are referring to this as a Reference Document rather than for example using the term manual or toolbox. This is an important distinction reflecting the fact that there is a recognition that prescriptive national guidance can inhibit local practice and often fails to take account of the variety of conditions that exist in local contexts. It also recognises that professionals need to use their judgement to develop such programmes to meet local needs. So this is a guide to inform local development rather than an instruction manual.

Underpinning the reference document is the understanding that the national and local contexts in which social services are delivered to vulnerable children has changed:

• Significant reductions in the funding of the range of agencies that deliver services;
• The impact of the Munro Review and moves towards a more systemic approach o the management of children’s services;
• A recognition that prescriptive guidance and process management limits the ability of services to flexibly meet diverse need;
• An understanding that we need to ensure that vulnerable children receive effective services from across a range of agencies (the child’s journey);
• How we monitor, quality assure and inspect services needs to based on outcomes and the child’s experience of their journey.

In other words the system conditions have changed and we need to change how we run and manage organisations in response to that change. The SWAPP Reference Document is designed to help local areas improve that process at the front-line. The Reference Document is intended to assist with local thinking and also provide access to further practical resources that can also help to further develop that thinking. Whilst not located in a single model a thread that runs throughout, is the need to recognise complexity and think systemically about the issues local areas face.