Major social work reform announced

Guidelines will be introduced to ensure all social workers have manageable workloads, high quality supervision and time for professional training, the children’s secretary, Ed Balls, and the health secretary, Andy Burnham, will announce later today.

The new standards form part of a package of proposals from the Social Work Taskforce, which was set up in the wake of the death of Baby P to improve social work and increase the self-esteem of a profession knocked by widespread public criticism. The taskforce publishes its final recommendations today.

The government has said it will accept all 15 proposals to reform pay, and improve the quality of social work degrees and the calibre of new recruits.

For the first time, social workers will need a licence to practise. This would only be granted after newly qualified social workers complete a probationary year at the start of their career.

There will not be a national cap on caseloads, but a new IT system will be developed to improve how workloads are monitored and forecast, while employers will have a duty to provide better support and supervision of social workers. Employers will have to work with unions to reform social workers’ pay so that it reflects their career development and progression. Ministers will say that if this does not happen locally the government may introduce a national pay review body along the lines of those already in place for nurses, teachers and the prison service.

Training for new entrants to the profession will be overhauled to improve the calibre of graduates and newly qualified social workers, while a new, practice-based masters qualification will be introduced to keep social workers’ skills and specialist knowledge up to date as their career progresses. And an independent National College of Social Work will be established to represent and strengthen the voice of all social workers.

Speaking this morning, Ed Balls said he hoped the new proposals would help restore morale among social workers and ensure they were given the public recognition they deserved.

“This is a really tough profession and it never gets any positive headlines,” he told GMTV. “It only ever gets in the news when it goes wrong, and a year ago we had the tragedy in Haringey, the death of Baby Peter.

“We have said, ‘Let’s try to get something good come out of this tragedy’.

He added: “I think it is the first time we have ever really said loud and clear we are going to stand up for social workers but also give them the training, the support and sometimes the challenge they need.”

Balls was speaking alongside musician and actor Goldie, who is one of several stars backing a government recruitment campaign for more social workers.

Paying tribute to Goldie’s contribution, the children’s secretary said: “Goldie’s TV ad has been completely astonishing. We have had over 50,000 people register to say that they would like to be social workers, which is absolutely brilliant.”

Goldie, who spent a large part of his early life in the care of social workers, said they were potential life-savers.

He said: “There is an analogy that I pointed out to a friend – if a doctor saved somebody’s life after having an accident, a social worker, over a longer period, is doing the same job, steering someone away from a possible mental breakdown later on in life, before something is going to happen.”

Moira Gibb, the chief executive of Camden council and chair of the taskforce, is to announce: “Over the last year, the Social Work Taskforce has been listening to the concerns of service users and social workers, and those who work with them about the difficulties social work faces. The profession, knocked by widespread public criticism in individual cases has been low on the esteem and self-belief needed to drive forward the improvements required to make social work the high quality profession we know it can become.

“Working with the building blocks set out in our interim report, we have put forward a comprehensive reform programme to help transform the social work profession. I wish to thank the many contributors to our research and am delighted that the government has accepted in full our programme of reform.”

An implementation plan – including the crucial detail of how these measures will be funded – is to be published early next year. This will be overseen by a new social work reform board, chaired by Gibb, which is also due to be announced today.

Ministers have already accepted the taskforce’s earlier recommendations on reforms to the Integrated Children’s System, the database used by social workers to manage their caseloads, and in May the government announced £109m of funding for children’s social work, with £58m earmarked for recruitment and retention.