Councils want more from social work training

New social workers joining councils are ill-equipped to tackle difficult work with vulnerable children and families, MPs have been told.

Fresh evidence of a gulf between what employers want and the training given to social work students, emerged during the children, schools and families committee’s ongoing inquiry into the training of social workers.

Jane Haywood, chief executive of the Children’s Workforce Development Council, called for “systematic change” in the training and support given to the workforce.

“Our employers do need [for] them to understand what it’s like to operate as a children’s social worker in a children’s services context,” she said.

“They do need to be able to do the reports, start to do some of the analysis and some of the casework.”

But university representatives defended the generic social work degree, saying graduates needed a rounded understanding of family problems.

Prof Sue White, chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work, admitted it was hard to prepare newly qualified social workers for some of the tasks they faced.

But she said this was not helped by the fact senior managers in children’s services without a social work background could have a poor grasp of the sector.

“For some employers in children’s services people at high levels don’t necessarily really understand what the social work task is. So maybe expectations are very high,” she said.

She said new social workers reported a lack of support and there was a dire shortage of work placements, which gave students vital on-the-job training.

Both higher education and employer bodies flagged up the need for better joint working between universities and councils.

“Where partnership is really good there doesn’t seem to be this difference in expectation between the employer and the university,” said Mike Wardle, chief executive of the General Social Care Council.

He said councils should be much more involved in selecting social work students for placements and assessing their skills.