Report : Think Ahead – Meeting the workforce challenges in mental health social work

This report examines the challenges facing mental health social work, and offers a blueprint for a fast-track programme that could better recruit and train high-calibre graduates for the profession.

The rise in demand for mental health services over recent years, coupled with funding cuts by commissioners, are putting these services under enormous strain. More effective and well-resourced mental health services are essential in order to support people to live meaningful and independent lives.

Social workers are central to community mental health services. Trained to focus on the social aspects of mental health, they also play important roles in safeguarding, and in assessing people’s entitlement to services. Yet despite a number of recent attempts to improve the status of the social work profession, challenges remain concerning the recruitment, education and effectiveness of social workers in mental health teams, including a shortage of good quality social workers to work in mental health settings in some areas. Not only is social work missing out on potential sources of talent, but social work education does not always provide students with sufficient practical education, particularly in the area of mental health.

The key to success lies in recruiting a highly skilled workforce, committed to the principles and practice of working in partnership across different professional disciplines. There is therefore a need for a cadre of highly trained social workers who are able to lead the integration agenda in mental health.

This report, commissioned by the Department of Health, proposes the creation of a fast-track graduate recruitment programme, provisionally known as ‘Think Ahead’, to attract high-calibre individuals into employment as mental health social workers within integrated teams. It considers the challenges facing mental health social work in England, examining the issues of recruitment, education and training, and the position of social workers within integrated mental health services, and surveys evidence from graduate recruitment schemes in similar fields to inform the design of the proposed new programme and ensure that it attracts the best and the brightest into mental health social work.

Click here to download the complete results of the survey of directors of adult social services conducted as part of this research (spreadsheet).