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Social Workers

Volume 589: debated on Monday 1 December 2014

14. What steps she is taking to ensure that local authorities recruit and retain an adequate number of qualified children and family social workers. (906343)

Since 2010, we have invested more than £0.5 billion in social worker training and improvement. The number of registered children and family social workers has risen to 24,845. Programmes such as Step Up to Social Work, the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment and, more recently, Frontline are all righty focused on bringing high-quality people into social work to improve the retention and status of social workers and, most importantly, the outcomes for children.

I am grateful to the Minister for highlighting the need to attract more people into social work in the difficult area of child protection, but is it not important for councils to strike the right balance between newly qualified social workers and experienced staff? If we expect newly qualified social workers to carry too high a case load and we do not provide the right support, that will not only damage retention, but have a negative impact on vulnerable children. What will he do to address that further?

I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that newly qualified social workers get as much support as possible when we bring them into the profession, so that they see it as a legitimate career to remain in and so that too many of them do not leave it too soon. That is why the chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler, recently proposed an approved child and family practitioner accredited status, and said that we must ensure that we have accredited supervisors and a practice leader in all children’s services to lead practice from the front. On top of that, there has been better collaboration across the local authorities in areas such as the north-east, where the hon. Lady’s constituency is based, to look at social worker need in the region and keep vacancy rates as low as possible.

Will my hon. Friend expand on the contribution that programmes such as Frontline and Step Up to Social Work are making to bring high quality people into social work? What plans does he have to continue with them?

Frontline and Step Up unashamedly attract the brightest and best graduates into social work, making them very much the Teach First of social work. They have been extremely successful, with 25 people applying for every place in Frontline. We have just announced the fourth cohort of Step Up to Social Work for January 2016 and we are supporting a third year of Frontline. That will ensure that high-quality graduates go into social work and will be its future leaders. It will also help to improve the status of social work across the country.