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Is Front-line Child Protection Working?
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It is clearly evident that the strain on front line social work is at breaking point. Children’s social work in particular is under enormous strain both from the pressures of inadequate funding and from a poorly trained and badly supported workforce.
Tackling this problem is no mean task and requires some serious rethinking on how to improve upon the quality and training of the workforce to ensure the effectiveness of frontline staff.
Over the past five years there has been an increasing number of highly skilled social work professionals, with vast numbers of years of experience who have reached the point of burn-out. They have become disillusioned with an ever more demanding and difficult role, particularly in front line child protection work and, as such, have begun to leave the profession in alarming numbers. Therein lies the problem. There are insufficient high quality, well trained and experienced qualified Social Workers coming through the ranks that are required to fill the increasing number of vacancies and thus leaving our vulnerable children at risk.
Last year it is estimated that there were around 1500 vacancies in front line child protection social work most of which tend to be concentrated in the most deprived areas of the UK in and around major inner city conurbations. Despite efforts to tackle this crisis, there are major concerns regarding the calibre and competency of newly Qualified Social Workers. It is clearly evident by virtue of the fact around 95% of social work graduates are not from one of the Russell Group Universities which indicates that Social Work is not deemed to be an attractive profession.
At Entrust Social Care Ltd, one of the UKs leading independent social work businesses, the majority of vacancies are in front-line child protection work and, despite enhanced pay and benefits being offered, fewer and fewer social workers are prepared to carry out these highly demanding roles. The problem is further compounded in that those that are working in this sector are subject to such demanding and stressful expectations that the levels of long term absence through sickness is increasing all the time. In the past, there has generally been an adequate supply of locum social workers who would fill these vacancies on a temporary basis. However, over the past few years, due to the gradual erosion of the benefits to be gained from working as a locum social worker, such as flexible working patterns, enhanced rates of pay limited company working etc. it has become increasingly difficult to fulfil these requirements and it does not appear that the situation is likely to improve any time soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse.
Should we therefore be revisiting how we recruit and train our social workers? Is it realistic to expect a twenty-one years old Social Work Graduate to move straight into front-line social work directly after leaving university? Of course, this is not a realistic proposition but for some authorities, due to unprecedented unmanageable workloads, this has become the only option.
We therefore not only need to be looking at how we attract the best people into what is widely considered to be one of Britain’s toughest and most stressful professions, but also to look at working patterns, recognise the levels of stress endured and consider whether extended breaks, as is the case with the teaching profession, may help alleviate some of these problems.
Entrust Social Care Ltd has been supplying qualified and unqualified social work staff in this sector for the past fourteen years. However, in recent years, possibly due to the number of high profile child protection cases that have failed, there has been a reluctance to rely on social work assistants in the work place and too much emphasis placed on Social Work Graduates. Surely it is time that we returned to “on the job” training? The general consensus amongst the majority of front-line social work staff, is that there is far too much reliance on paperwork, systems and “ticking boxes”. Entrust Social Care Ltd believe that there is a solution to this crisis. However, it would require serious restructuring of the public sector social care workforce. The answer is simple: Every Social Worker should be allocated an apprentice, or assistant social worker, who works alongside them on a daily basis, assumes responsibility for much of the nugatory work such as “ticking boxes” and inputting data into systems, who will ensure consistency during holidays and other periods of absence and, most importantly, is subject to extensive training over a five year period that ultimately leads to the necessary qualifications required to make the step up to being a qualified social worker.
Entrust Social Care is a leading Social Worker recruitment business supplying all levels of Social Worker personnel to Childrens Services, Adult Services and Mental Health Services across the UK.
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