Social work training ‘grossly deficient’, says Martin Narey

Universities are producing social workers who are “inadequately prepared”, the government’s advisor on children’s social care has said in a highly critical report.

Sir Martin Narey was asked to look into social work degrees following a number of cases where vulnerable children died despite having contact with social workers.

He found that some training courses were “grossly deficient”.

Mr Narey said: “We are producing some very good social workers, but we are producing some who are inadequately prepared and standards between universities for example are very variable.

“Too many (social workers) are ill prepared for the important job of child protection. They don’t know enough about child development, child neglect, child attachment.”

Under the current system, social workers qualify with a university degree, but there is no coherent set of guidelines regarding the syllabus, and in many cases courses have no special focus on the needs of children.

Mr Narey said that inadequate focus on child protection persisted in spite of a number of previous investigations which recommended change.

Recommendations were made following the deaths of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old girl who died after being tortured by her guardians in 2000.

“Baby P” – whose real name was Peter Connelly – died in 2007 from dozens of injuries despite numerous visits by health and social services to his home.

Most recently, Daniel Pelka was killed by his mother and her partner last year following “terrifying and dreadful” abuse.

But Mr Narey said previous calls for change had not been heeded, and that there was still too much emphasis on helping families as a whole, rather than putting the needs of at-risk children first.

“Children’s social workers need special training,” Mr Narey said. “Children’s social workers have to be pretty ruthless in putting the interests of the child before the interests of the family. If it means therefore that support isn’t working and a child is in danger, yes they need to be taken into care.”

In response, the College of Social Work (TCSW) Chair, Jo Cleary said: “This report testifies to the enormous contribution of social workers and recognises the credibility and strength of The College of Social Work in promoting the highest standards of practice.”

“It is vital that everyone qualifying as a social worker is of the highest calibre and has the necessary knowledge, skills and resilience for working in what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging of public services.”

The College also noted that a further report on social work education, commissioned from Professor David Croisdale-Appleby by the Department of Health, is due to be published imminently and The College will carefully consider his recommendations alongside those in Sir Martin’s review.

Jo Cleary said:  “The College is equal to the challenge set out for us by Sir Martin and we look forward to discussing both sets of recommendations with the Government in due course.”

“Sir Martin has proposed some significant changes in social work education and the regulation of the profession.  His recommendations would have considerable implications, both for The College and our members, employers, academics, other partners and stakeholders.  We will work closely with them, together with the Government and the Chief Social Workers, to consider the implications of these proposals,” she said.  

The British Association of Social Work said there was scope to improve training offered at some universities and that it wanted to see high calibre students entering the profession.

Chief executive Bridget Robb said: “Sir Michael clearly has the best interests of children at heart but… university education is only part of the story.

“Social workers must have high quality on-the-job placements.”

Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said: “Martin Narey’s report on the education of social workers comes at a crucial time in the reform of social care and wider children and families services.

“It puts a welcome spotlight on the many gaps and inconsistencies that currently exist in social work education … These issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”