Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Stepping up but not staying in?

I was interested to see that the Department for Education has published a research report into the views of Step Up to Social Work trainees [1]. Step Up to Social Work is a master’s level professional qualifying training route into children’s social work intended to attract academically ‘high flying’ candidates. It involves a partnership between employers and universities.185 trainees started the training in September 2010 followed by and 227 in March 2012.

The programme’s contribution to reducing the workforce shortfall is modest, government figures showing that there are approximately 3,800 children’s social worker vacancies in England [2].

What caught my eye on page 118 of the report was a discussion about the students’ future plans. Only six per cent expressed an intention not to stay in social work at all, but, what the report’s authors refer to as “far more comments” referred to spending only a short period in children’s social work, usually about two years.

The report quotes examples of several students who clearly intend to move on quickly. One student is quoted as saying that s/he did not intend to stay in social work for longer than two years, hoping eventually to work with young people “… in another less confrontational context”. Another was seeking “… more direct work with families…” and hoped to move into therapeutic work. Another said that budget cuts and high caseloads made the job less appealing.

All that confirms my own view that the main cause of excessive vacancies in children’s social work in Britain is failure to retain and not so much failure to recruit. A workforce that is composed largely of recently qualified people who intend to move on as soon as the opportunity arises is not what we want. We want a highly experienced workforce of people who have chosen children’s social work as a long-term career.

Sadly retention is not just a matter of concocting some fancy little schemes with zappy sounding names. It is about changing the culture of the organisations that employ children’s social workers. That is hard but it is the only lasting solution.

[1] The Views of Step Up to Social Work Trainees - Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 Research report April 2014 by Dr Mary Baginsky and Professor Jill Manthorpe, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College, London