Children’s social work reform (England)

The Government’s plan to radically reform Children’s social work in England have been continuing apace.  They have recently announced some major new changes which are outlined in this short policy paper.

Here is a summary of the main features of the paper:

  • The assessment and accreditation scheme for children’s social workers, which is currently being piloted in 26 councils, will be rolled out across the country so that children’s social workers at every level will be fully assessed and accredited by 2020.
  • A system of assessment and accreditation for practice leaders will also be put in place.
  • An extra £100 million will be invested into the Frontline social work scheme which is aimed at attracting young graduates into the profession.  Councils from the North East of England will also start to take part in the scheme from this year.  The Step Up to Social Work scheme will also be expanded.
  • A new body will be set up in order to drive up standards in social work and raise the status of social workers.
  • Innovation in children’s social work will be encouraged and ‘unnecessary regulations and guidance’ will be rolled back.  Regionalisation of services is being encouraged.  It says that core social work functions at ‘poor performing’ local councils should be overtaken by nearby councils that have been highly rated.  Service delivery models outside of the control of any local councils, such as independent social care trusts, are also encouraged.

The stated rationale for these changes is to improve and change the circumstances of vulnerable children.  However, UNISON has major concerns over the approach taken by the Government.

There is unsurprisingly no mention of how the Government’s sustained cuts to local council budgets and its sustained attack on the whole social work profession has contributed to the myriad of pressures facing children’s social care services.  The Government’s plans offer no remedy to the main problems facing children and family social workers, such as their increasingly high caseloads and stress levels, the high rate of staff turnover rates and poor levels of morale.  There is also no mention of how the Government’s austerity agenda has compounded the problems faced by children and families across the country that social workers then have to address.  The Government’s narrative in putting forward these reforms places the blame on children and family social workers whilst their actions fuel inequality and demand on increasingly scarce council resources.

The plans to have children’s social care services either taken over by a nearby council or run by an independent social care trust represents another step towards the privatisation of this essential and extremely sensitive public service.  Councils will continue to be starved of funding and many will be effectively pushed to ceding control of their children’s services.

It also remains to be seen how durable and effective the Frontline and Step Up Schemes actually are.  Both schemes are also still in their infancy and there has not been enough rigorous assessment to establish whether they will make a positive and lasting difference to children’s social work.  The money spent on these fast-track schemes is also being given at a time when social care budgets across the country remain under the most intense pressure.  There is also no consideration how they will fit with local pay and grading structures.  It is also unclear what effect these schemes will have on the more traditional social work educational programmes.

The decision to have all children and family social workers assessed and accredited by a scheme that is only just being trialled is also worrying.  There has been no analysis of how suitable the scheme actually is and there is no information about key issues such as what will happen to social workers who fail the assessment process.  UNISON is about to begin the process of surveying social work members in councils where the scheme is being piloted to try and gauge its effectiveness and suitability.  Ultimately, a new assessment and accreditation scheme will not address the many deep seated and underlying problems affecting the sector such as excessive workloads and an increased reliance on agency workers.

The Health and Care Professions Council is currently the regulator for social workers and it is unclear what will be eventually replace it to assess and accredit all social workers (both children and adults).  This new body will also be asked to try and raise the quality of social work, education, training and practice in both children’s and adult’s social work, just a few months after the Government closed down the College of Social Work.

We are very keen to hear member’s views on the of the Government’s plans.  Family social worker members can send their views to

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