Friday, 31 October 2014

Child Protection Social Work – the Skills Crisis

The Local Government Association (LGA) in England is calling for an urgent review of the social work skills crisis. The LGA argues that acute problems have resulted following the 'Baby Peter' scandal. Research undertaken by the organisation has found that social workers say they have been "run through the mill" and criticised unduly. This is causing many to consider leaving the profession.

Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, is reported as saying:

 "With tens of millions of pounds currently spent on grants for social work trainees with no assurance that they will find their way into any of the many vacancies around the country, we need to get smarter and ensure that these resources are available to councils who can act more flexibly to respond to local need.

"In many areas career development for existing social workers and recruiting experienced managers are higher priorities than getting more people through social work courses. With 60 per cent of children's services departments reporting rising recruitment challenges and a 50 per cent rise in the number of referrals to children's social services, we need to use all available resources in the most effective manner so that we have a workforce fit for the challenges our society faces in keeping children safe and giving them a fresh start when things go wrong at home."

I agree with a lot of that. My long held view is that there is no point in subsidising qualifying training and designing schemes to fast-track new recruits, if they are not going to stay in the job, not just for a couple of years but for most of their careers.

High and ever rising caseloads, high levels of bureaucracy, poor administrative support, aggression and violence from members of the public, low professional esteem, the prevalent blame culture and the way in which they are treated by some sections of the press, has proved too much for many experienced social workers who have moved on. These are exactly the people who should be retained, because what is required at the front-line is experience.

Work needs to be done on how to design jobs and working conditions to minimise the negative aspects of the job. An easy target would be using new technology and smart thinking to reduce the administrative burden. But instead the last twenty years has seen a decline in traditional administrative support combined with the introduction of IT systems which seem to have been designed to frustrate and stress their users, not to mention making simple tasks difficult. And a plethora of initiatives, largely from central government (but with local elaborations), has resulted in various kinds of frameworks and systems being imposed which just make the work even harder, with no proven benefits.

The only sure way to redesign jobs to improve job satisfaction is to work closely with the people who are actually doing the work. Find out what their needs are. Find out what they find difficult. Find out what frustrates and stresses them. Then work with them to remove the worst features and to introduce new and better ways of working.