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Social Workers

Volume 695: debated on Monday 8 October 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards the introduction of an allocated mentor and protected time for all newly qualified social workers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying how very grateful I am to those of your Lordships who have chosen to speak in this debate. The Government’s intentions and actions towards social work are encouraging and I look forward to the noble Baroness’s announcement of the spending plans in this area. However, there is a huge piece of work to be done if social workers are to finally receive the solid professional framework they have so long lacked. It will indeed require strong and consistent pressure from your Lordships’ House if this is to be achieved. I also thank my fellow trustees at the Michael Sieff Foundation and Dr Andrea Warman of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering for their advice and encouragement.

This debate on new social workers is particularly necessary because of Her Majesty’s Government’s welcome success in recruiting new candidates to the profession. Especially, young people are now coming forward to take the course for the new degree that superseded the two-year diploma. For instance, this summer I heard from an 18 year-old care leaver attending the Associate Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People In and Leaving Care, chaired by David Kidney MP, that she was about to read social work at university.

The Government have recognised that employers have found that the degree is not sufficient to entirely equip students for practice. It is vital therefore that they immediately implement their proposal for newly qualified social work status—a proposal akin to the very successful and established newly qualified teacher status—thereby guaranteeing new graduates reduced caseloads and increased supervision. Young people, such as that care leaver, put their faith in us to provide the necessary professional framework when they choose their course. We must not betray them. The children and adults who depend on them need us to retain them. Those children and adults also need us to ensure that their social workers’ practice is safe.

In the short time available I shall seek to consider the achievements made by the Government, to look at areas of disappointment, and then ask the Government the timescale for implementation of their plans.

However, I should first like to put this matter into context. Over decades, social work has been in decline. The fundamental resource for good social work—good supervision entailing a space for reflection on practice and firm management of professional conduct—has withered under the financial and political pressure on social work. Reflection has suffered most. It is crucial in this profession, where practitioners make relationships with, for example, schizophrenics, alcoholics and violent men and women who can seek to harm their partners and their children, that practitioners can have regular, private discussions with their line manager, an experienced supervisor who is trained to give effective supervision. It makes me sick to my stomach to think how many practitioners lack this sine qua non. On looking at two social work text books from 2006, I find there is no index entry for supervision in either work and no comment on the subject in the text. Without effective supervision, many social workers are working blind.

When guardians ad litem—advocates for children in public law cases—felt under threat seven years ago, we learnt that these practitioners, all social workers by background, were refugees from field social work. They wanted to stay in practice with vulnerable children but often felt that this was impossible in sometimes dysfunctional local authorities and chose therefore to work in the courts. The 2004 Local Authority Social Care Workforce Survey found vacancy rates for children’s field social workers at 11.4 per cent and turnover rates at about 10.6 per cent, the first figure being about five times more than that for nurses, teachers or police officers. There was about a 20 per cent vacancy rate in London and a very heavy dependency on expensive temporary staff.

My noble friend Lord Laming, in his forensic examination of the death of Victoria Climbié, expressed dismay that Mrs Arthurworrey, one of the principal social workers involved, was not receiving adequate supervision and had a caseload of 19 when the local authority’s own guidance stipulated a maximum of 12. Visiting a day centre for disabled young people in Hammersmith a little time ago, I was told that the turnover of social workers frustrated the families’ attempts to ensure that their children made a successful transition to adulthood. The advocate was not there for them. A string of different social workers could not be the effective advocates that these young people needed to secure services. Young carers speak of social workers flitting through their lives. Often young people attending the Associate Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People In and Leaving Care tell us how pained they are by their changes of social worker. One young man spoke of having five in less than two years.

So it is vital to retain these new social workers if social work is to be transformed into the effective, respected and professional institution it can be. Of course there are many excellent practitioners currently who do stay in post—children report this, too—but they are too often acting and working against the grain.

The Government have made welcome efforts to address the retention and recruitment of social workers through the registration of social workers; the three-year degree course, already mentioned, replacing the two year diploma and very significant increases in funding for social care training. Most welcome was the Options for Excellence White Paper of October 2006, the Government’s strategy for the social care workforce. An excellent document drawing on the expertise of all those involved with social work, including service users, it first introduced the option of newly qualified social worker status and provided a vision of a professional, reflective service constituted of learning organisations. Very sadly, its proposals were given no clear funding commitment by the Government at the time, much to the disappointment of those who contributed to it. I therefore look forward very much to learning the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review or other new thoughts on funding from the noble Baroness.

There have also been welcome Green and White Papers on children in public care, which have made it clear how frustrated social workers have been at not being able to spend time with their children and stick with them. The Care Matters White Paper has promised new measures of support for children and family social workers. Has similar progress towards the newly qualified social worker status been made for those social workers not practising with children?

I welcome the recognition by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in his letter of 16 February 2007, that:

“Many newly qualified social workers are thrown in the deep end with difficult cases right from the start of their employment, and where this happens the rate of burnout can be high”.

There is a great deal to welcome from the Government. However, when they first proposed newly qualified social worker status 12 months ago, Ian Johnston, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Work, said:

“We believe that Newly Qualified Social Work Status should be introduced immediately. The first new graduates entering work have now completed the social work degree. They should not have to wait to receive good supervision and limited workloads—we cannot afford to lose them from the workforce and waste the money already invested in them through the new degree programmes. This is urgent. They need specific support”.

A year has passed. Will the Minister reassure us that real protections will be put in place for all new social workers? Will the minimum standards insist that new social workers receive at least one hour of one-to-one supervision with their line manager once a week? When will that, and guidance on the maximum size of workloads, be introduced? When will the retraining of line managers and senior managers take place so that they are competent to give good supervision?

I welcome the refreshment of the children’s workforce strategy, which is currently being undertaken. Does the Minister recognise the huge cultural shift that will have to take place if the Government’s ambitions for children are to be attained? What progress has the new adult social care workforce strategy board made in implementing the Options for Excellence proposals?

Failure might mean that the 18 year-old care leaver I began with found herself overwhelmed. At the very worst, her decisions might lead to the death of a child. She might then be held up for vilification by the media, but we would know that it was we who failed that child and that brave woman by not providing the professional framework in which she could succeed. More generally, failure implies the continued haemorrhaging of social workers. No gradual accretion of experience on the front line and in management will be possible, but only that experience can eventually provide the expert, compassionate and professional institution that our vulnerable need.

I welcome the positive steps the Government are taking. A long journey has to be made. We have let down our social workers for too many years, and we must not miss this chance.

My Lords, I welcome this debate initiated by the noble Earl, who has been the champion of children in care for many years and now adds social workers to the list of those to whom he is prepared to give a voice. I should declare my interests, as I have worked as a social worker or in jobs related to social care all my life, including local government, the voluntary sector and regulation. At the moment, I am the chair of Grooms Shaftesbury, working with disabled people, many in residential care, and I am deputy chair of CAFCASS, the largest single employer of social workers in the country. I have the privilege of continuing to see the practice of social workers at first hand.

A golden thread is woven through social work. Despite huge changes in structures and frameworks through new legislation and protocols, the principles of good social work practice remain. The way we do it will change with new knowledge and experience, but much is constant: the need for clear, evidentially based assessment, especially around the safety of children and vulnerable adults; the use of relationships in helping people to resolve complex problems and change behaviour; the management of authority and the capacity to set boundaries; and maybe the ability to love the unlovable and to stick with people when everything seems impossible in their lives—principles that young social workers will need to implement from the very first day in their job. There has always been the suggestion that you should begin by giving a social worker the least complex cases, but you never know until you cross the threshold what is contained in the family’s dynamic.

I believe that the job is more complex today than it has ever been, yet we give less time for reflection and development to those to whom we have consigned these tasks on behalf of our society. When I was a young social worker, I could expect supervision from my team leader once a week until my competencies were secure and then on a regular basis to ensure clear thinking and objectivity. It was combined with group learning, sharing experiences that moved the learning curve up speedily, and it had the requirement for continuous learning and improvement. My manager had skills to pass on in both casework and case management. Sadly, we have been through an era where case management lost the dynamic element of understanding that is essential in the helping process. I hope that some of these skills are being revived, relearnt and passed on.

To illustrate the complexities that social workers face today and that were barely understood when I was a social worker on the ground, I want to give two different examples. The first comes from work that we are undertaking in CAFCASS to help our staff to understand and work with diversity. If there were time I would give your Lordships the statistics that we have on the highly complex groups of racial mix that we have to work with in CAFCASS, which means that our staff must understand diversity of different cultures and conditions. The patterns of family life throughout England are changing, with divorce, reconstituted families, dual-culture marriages and children and, as Sherry Malik, one of the directors of CAFCASS, put it in a recent speech, the fact that,

“the values and beliefs that people have are shaped by personal and unique circumstances which cannot be stereotyped”.

To work in this environment demands that CAFCASS is a learning organisation. We must therefore find ways of helping our staff to think through not only the technical issues before the court, but also the services that are meaningful and unique to the set of circumstances of each child and family involved. That takes time, and the better we work, the longer it takes.

My second example is from the world of adult disability, where increasingly the care given to those who are severely disabled or have complex learning difficulties, but nevertheless wish to live full lives, is bounded by risk assessment. Of course staff must balance risk with public scrutiny, but the smallest mistake that they make without proper consultation can lead to their total vilification.

Young social workers are more responsible than ever for the rationing of resources, need more than ever to understand increasingly complex situations and find themselves more than ever in the front line and accountable for their work. They deserve the support and pay that reflects that. As we have achieved time for development and decent salaries for teachers, is it not time that we did the same for our social workers? They carry the baton for the deprived and the sick, for those in trouble and in danger, for the abused and the abuser, on behalf of all of us. The least we can do is to give them support and a decent place and status in our society in return.

My Lords, one of the things that has most impressed me since I entered the House is the commitment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to issues of social welfare in this country; that is, to the welfare of its citizens, the welfare of social workers, who constitute such an important force for the alleviation of social problems, and the welfare of the social work profession, which is the best guarantee of standards in social work and of social workers being properly equipped with the skills that they need to do their job. The noble Earl not only evinces a strong commitment but is tenacious in following it up; hence this short debate tonight, which I congratulate him on securing.

In a short debate such as this, it is possible to make only a few points—I shall make four. First, expenditure on personal social services has increased substantially in recent years, by 10 per cent in real terms between 2003-04 and 2005-06. That is impressive by any standards and the Government deserve credit for it. Secondly, however, it is still not enough. Despite the Government’s best efforts, provision is falling further behind need on account of demographic and other factors, and the system is slipping deeper into crisis. There is a disconnection between the official picture presented in government rhetoric and what happens on the ground. In March 2006, the Local Government Association reported that seven out of 10 people receive social care only if their needs are substantial or critical. Eighty per cent of councils plan to tighten their criteria still further. That has forced many disabled and elderly people back on their own resources, leaving some to rely on family or friends for essentials and others simply to go without. We can see the results daily on the streets of our inner-city areas. The Comprehensive Spending Review must recognise that growth in spending on social care is being dwarfed by the growing needs of our ageing population.

Thirdly, how does the current situation impact on hard-pressed social workers, particularly new entrants to the profession? In a survey carried out a few years ago, social workers uniformly reported excessive case loads, acute stress and a feeling that new staff were thrown in at the deep end. It is little wonder that newly qualified social workers feel thrown in at the deep end, because there is no shallow end. Support for newly qualified social workers, which the noble Earl seeks, could do much to ease what must be one of the most difficult baptisms of fire for any professional. In such a pressured environment, new staff need to be given time to find their feet, which could not only help mistakes to be avoided—we all know what that can mean—but ensure that we improve retention rates, which, as we have heard, are an abiding problem for the social care workforce.

Fourthly, the suggestion in the Care Matters White Paper of a year-long qualification period for new social workers who work with children is welcome. I hope that the Department of Health will move in the same direction for those who work with adults. The first-12-weeks approach to the common induction standards for adult social workers is the minimum required for safety rather than a fully developed effort to help new staff to flourish. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government see the common induction standards as a first step.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this important debate and acknowledge his commitment to driving up standards in the social work profession and increasing respect for it. I declare an interest as a member of the Unison parliamentary group—a union that represents the individual and collective interests of some 40,000 social workers.

If the die had been thrown differently, I would not be here today, but would instead have been pursuing my original ambition to be a social worker. Unfortunately, when I graduated in 1976, cuts in the public sector by the then Labour Government meant that no new recruitment was taking place and I was forced to find alternative employment. Thankfully, as a result of the superb stewardship of the economy by our current Prime Minister, we have now been able to invest in public sector jobs rather than implement draconian cuts. That should make possible the radical reforms necessary to boost the morale of the profession and attract a wave of new recruits to an increasingly beleaguered service.

That the social work profession is not in a greater crisis today is because we collectively exploit the commitment and dedication of existing social workers, who are struggling to cope with increasingly complex case loads in departments that are perennially understaffed. In children’s services, for example, 12 per cent of vacancies are unfilled and the rate of annual staff turnover is 11 per cent. As a result, those who remain face impossible workloads, and levels of stress and burn-out escalate. We have to intervene to break that cycle. That is why the proposal in Options for Excellence to guarantee newly qualified social workers a reduced caseload, structured additional supervision and mentors could make a great difference. Investment at an early stage of career development is vital to protect new recruits from destructive early experiences, while protecting our original investment in their initial qualifications. Parallel with this policy is a need to broaden our recruitment base by investing in new routes into social work; for example, other categories of social care staff could be encouraged to enrol on part-time, work-based social work courses such as those being pioneered by Unison and the Open University.

The White Paper’s proposals include many welcome steps towards raising the status of the profession and beginning to tackle recruitment problems. However, there are a couple of developments about which I shall raise a note of concern. First, I fear that the proposal to pilot independent social work practices for children’s services could prove an expensive distraction and fragment rather than streamline provision. I hope that the Government will think again about it.

Secondly, the split in policy responsibilities for social work between DCSF and the Department of Health is fuelling speculation that a split between children’s and adults’ social work is being considered. Such a move would be damaging to the service. The current structures enable social workers to take a holistic approach, focusing on the needs of the family as a whole. Many social workers strengthen their experience by moving between child and adult provision during their career. Splitting the service would mean the loss of a broader and more informed perspective. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that it is not being seriously considered.

If we share a determination to transform and inspire the social work profession, we need to address core management and employment issues. For example, we need a real commitment to rooting out the blame culture that is targeted at social workers. We need proper systems of caseload management to banish impossible caseloads, tackle high levels of unpaid overtime and provide a better work/life balance. We need sustainable pay structures to prevent social workers remaining one of the lowest-paid graduate professions and to end employers’ reliance on expensive agency staff. We also need career routes and pay progression that reward front-line staff. Those issues are fundamental in addressing the morale of the profession and crucial to attracting the next generation into the sector. I look forward to the remainder of the debate and hope to hear some reassurance from the Minister that those issues are being addressed.

My Lords, I support the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his important objective of pressing the Government to do more to support new, young and inexperienced care workers. Child and family social workers have one of the most difficult as well as most important roles in our society. When a child is taken into the care of the state, their social worker often becomes the most important person in their lives. In explaining why, I shall quote from a report about social workers from July of last year. Roger Morgan, the children’s rights director, reported on the views of children about their care workers. In his conclusion, he quoted three things that children said—although I shall quote only two of them. He wrote:

“One care leaver told us their view of social workers, looking back on their time in care: ‘With children in care, they need to always know they have someone they can turn to and talk to. I never felt that. I ended up in and out of prison and felt like I had no support. The longest I had a social worker was 3 months, then from there I’ve had 14 different social workers. It’s hard because you get to know and trust one and it leaves”.

Another young person who is still in care said:

“It’s not rocket science! Kids just want to be wanted because when you are in care you feel like no one wants you. You just want people to listen, understand and be there on a regular basis so you know that you’ve always got someone to hang on to. It’s not too much to ask!”.

To develop their full potential, all children need the security and encouragement of long-term emotional attachment to at least one or preferably two or more responsible adults. In many cases, a child social worker has to pick up some measure of responsibility for this role when the parents fail. Without early secure attachment, most children will suffer emotionally and in terms of lack of social skills as they grow up. It is not sensible or fair to expect a newly fledged social worker to do their job effectively without at the beginning support and guidance. It has been incredibly unwise of local authorities over the years, and of successive Governments, to starve social services of the resources that they have needed to recruit, train and support the staff that they need to do the job properly. There have been many undesirable outcomes, of which the most obvious are the poor socialisation and anti-social behaviour of teenagers, the inability of young people to engage with school, leading to disruption, exclusion and poor employment prospects, and, of course, our prisons stuffed full of care leavers.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House this evening that she has been able to squeeze out of the Treasury the necessary funding to ensure that all new and inexperienced social workers can be allocated manageable case loads and can have the mentoring support that they need until they gain experience. It is we and not the children themselves who have created a society in which so many children do not have a happy, secure or functional family. The very least that we can do—and I believe that we have an absolute moral responsibility—is to ensure that public services that pick up the pieces for children in care are properly funded, staffed, trained and led.

My Lords, it is always a privilege to take part in a debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The way in which he returns time and again to the details of practice particularly for children’s social work is truly admirable. I congratulate him, too, on his timing of the debate. We are in the run-up to the CSR announcement, and it is important to take the opportunity to highlight the need for a well-trained workforce with status and clarity about its distinctive role within the wider field of health and social care.

Some 3.4 million people are employed in social care, working in more than 14,000 establishments. Of those, many are very small; more than 56 per cent of them employ fewer than 11 people and most employ fewer than 60 people. According to the Department for Work and Pensions and the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce, employees in social care have an older profile than other sectors. A very high proportion of people work part time and a high proportion are female or from BME communities. It is important that we consider such factors when we come to the more technical point on which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, wanted to focus. We know that within social care there are huge labour shortages, with more than 25 per cent of employers reporting vacancies. Those are most acute within personal social services.

In October 2006, Niall Dickson of the King’s Fund, writing on the future of social care, reported that there were three times the vacancy rates in social care that there were in other industries. Growing demands from children and young adults with very high levels of need and older people living with long-term conditions mean that there will be a growing demand on those staff. By 2014, it is estimated that there will be a need for an additional 1.6 million people to deal with care needs. However, by the end of this year, local authorities will have delivered £525 million of Gershon savings from social care, and there is a fragmentation of employment even further in social care. The days of large local authority social work departments are coming to an end, a consequence of which is that structured training programmes for large cohorts of staff is under threat. I say this as someone with experience of working with older people. Contracting and outsourcing of services—domiciliary care, for example—do not set a good precedent for investment in training in the social care workforce. That is the background against which the CSR report is to come out.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked in great detail about how, following the report on Options for Excellence, the newly qualified social worker qualification had come into being. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister two questions related to that. One is a key question. Do the Government believe that there is a case for linking the NQSW to the consolidation module within the post-qualification framework? Would newly qualified social workers be less likely to be subjected to double assessment, meaning less bureaucracy, if there was a link between the two systems for post-qualification? If the Minister agrees, do the Government agree that having that link would enable social workers to have the requisite knowledge and skills for working in difficult and complex settings such as with children and young people?

Secondly, do the Government agree that NQSW status should apply to all social workers in all settings, including criminal justice and health? If that status were to become recognised across all social work, not just children’s work, it would be a more efficient way in which to make sure that education and registration could be more efficiently managed, for example by the General Social Care Council.

It is clear that in future there will need to be a workforce which is well trained and competent. There will be fewer older, more experienced social workers to pass on their knowledge to younger people entering the profession. If we are to have the social care system that we want, we need to invest, and make sure that the employers continue to invest in training. I look forward to hearing the answers to the noble Earl’s penetrating questions.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has captured within the wording of his brief Question three issues that are absolutely central to any social work service worthy of the name. Those three issues are: adequate recruitment; appropriate training; and the concept of professionalism, which, as he indicated, is a sine qua non of modern social work and embraces a very wide as well as complex range of skills.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Earl not just on his Question but on his consistent championing of social work and social workers over the years, especially child social work, and on the first-hand knowledge that he always brings to our debates. This evening has been no exception. I hope that the Minister will listen very carefully to the views that he has put forward.

If you talk to any of the professional or voluntary bodies which are close to the delivery of social work, you will hear a pretty consistent story from them all. The story is of a workforce that, despite the welcome introduction of degree-level qualifications, is often struggling under a caseload that it cannot cope with properly. It is a story of well motivated men and women who are nevertheless burdened by too much administration as compared with field work; and who feel pulled in too many directions because there are not enough people on the ground to deliver the service. The Government are to be congratulated on having recognised the need for investing in social work training and on the quality agenda which they introduced in the Care Standards Act 2000. Those were essential steps in any move to rid social work of the negative perceptions of it that persist among the general public who have little appreciation of quite how difficult a job it is. To my mind, being a children's social worker, whether in the field of family support or child protection, is an extremely difficult job, yet society as a whole does not value the profession nearly as much as it should.

Public attitudes as much as anything else adversely affect the recruitment and retention of social workers. Until those attitudes change I am afraid that the profession is going to struggle. The public and the media have an unwelcome habit of focusing on the occasional failures of social work practice and ignoring its benefits and achievements, of which there are, of course, many. There emerges from this a culture of blame and pointing the finger instead of a realisation that the problems with which social workers have to deal are both hugely complicated and ones which society has itself created in the first place. Poor parenting, a lack of understanding about child development, the effects of poverty and drug misuse—all these societal failings contribute to children being maltreated or neglected and all in their different ways have to form part of a social worker's armoury of knowledge and experience. What is more, that knowledge and experience have to sit alongside a particularly important personal quality, which is the ability to communicate with adults and children of every kind.

That is a formidable skill-set and it is perhaps no wonder that many people are calling for degree courses in social work to be extended from three years to four. It explains why there is such widespread support for the concept of newly qualified social worker status and it is also why mentoring and protected time are so important. As the noble Earl indicated, that status would mean that newly qualified social workers would receive a level of support similar to that of newly qualified teachers.

The noble Earl is right—supervision of social work is essential at every level but never more so than for the newly qualified social worker who depends on experienced and unhurried guidance in those early months. What I hear from a number of sources, including bodies such as the NSPCC, is that in a stretched and understaffed department social work supervision is being eroded. Supervision used to mean, and should mean, an in-depth discussion of individual cases so as to get to the heart of sometimes tricky and sensitive situations and work out the way forward. What we are seeing more and more is an emphasis on meeting targets, which certainly entails supervision, but supervision of a very much lower order. Again, that is a worry.

If you do not put good support systems in place for new trainees, you get not just poor practice but demoralisation, burn-out and people leaving the profession because of bad early experiences. Indeed, a high turnover of staff at a more senior level fuels exactly the same thing lower down. What is the timetable for implementing the proposals in the Options for Excellence report? The noble Earl has got to the heart of a very important set of issues. I congratulate him warmly on that and, like him, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for providing us with an opportunity to discuss the important issues before us this evening. I pay tribute to his tenacity, his expertise and the way in which he keeps social work—especially the invaluable social care workforce—in the spotlight in the House of Lords.

This Government have set out a clear vision for social care, where people of all ages receive support to promote recovery, independence, inclusion, health and well-being; a social care system where people have the opportunity to exercise choice and control, developing their own solutions, and support to shape their lives through high-quality services. We can only achieve that through a skilled and accountable workforce that is valued by those who use its services, their carers and the wider community. In a social care setting, a well-motivated workforce, suitably trained and developed, confident in its own abilities, with the tools it needs to do its job, will mean better and improving standards of care, and there will be a direct impact on the services provided.

With an increasing number of people using direct payments and individual budgets to fund their care, there are many changes in the way in which services are delivered, and the number of employers has increased exponentially as people exercise more choice and control. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, was right to point out that there is a growing and more diverse demand as a result of demographic change. Such a dynamic and innovative provider service needs a suitably skilled workforce that can take on new roles and provide care in different ways, moving freely within and across organisations, across social care and local government, traditional primary and secondary healthcare boundaries and the independent and third sector.

Following the introduction of the three-year degree level qualification in social work, in September 2006, 1,333 students became the first graduate social workers. I was very pleased to hear the noble Earl say that there are enthusiastic young people who really want to follow that course. In 2007-08, the Government will issue £87 million to support social work students and the social work degree.

It is crucial that we continue to build on the investment that goes into training once students have qualified and have begun their professional lives. The General Social Care Council has developed a new framework for post-qualifying social work education. From this month, universities are offering specialist courses in working with adults, children and families, mental health, leadership and management and practice education. Post-qualifying education will enable social workers to continue their learning and development in their chosen specialist area. Social workers need to make sure that their skills are extended and updated throughout their working lives. A newly qualified social worker year would provide a very positive start. It would ease the baptism of fire mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Low.

There are so many expectations of these newly qualified professionals from those who receive services from them. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, presented us with a vivid picture of the challenges and the complexity that they face these days. It is well known that social workers suffer from burn-out and that social work suffers from a very high vacancy and turnover rate. To address those issues, we need a whole-system approach to social work, which includes support to newly qualified staff and career structures that support experienced staff to remain in practice and act as mentors for the rest of the workforce. Support to leaders and managers to enable them to manage the workforce creatively is crucial. The principle of proper induction for new staff is a matter of good management practice.

As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, a lack of support leads to demoralisation of the workforce. People who are supported and directed, who know the systems, processes and expectations of them and who are supported by managers in a real and practical sense are more likely to be more effective much more quickly than those who are not. They are also more likely to develop their full potential. It is also of benefit to employers to support effective development.

There is innovative work taking place throughout the country to drive forward the Options for Excellence proposals. Skills for Care, sponsored by the Department of Health, is undertaking employer-led innovation projects to develop new ways of delivering and evaluating induction and training programmes for newly qualified social workers. Newly qualified social workers have told us that they would benefit from more time to shadow and buddy experienced colleagues. Skills for Care is working with employers to develop a package to support newly qualified social workers, in particular mentoring, supervision, peer support and a range of professional development opportunities. Newly qualified staff are working with experienced practitioners to evaluate different methods to consolidate their degree training post-qualification.

To ensure that work on the ground is in line with the Government’s overall vision for social care, the Department of Health has established an adult’s social care workforce strategy board. Its purpose is to ensure the proposals set out in Options for Excellence are prioritised and that priority proposals are implemented effectively, ensuring that stakeholders work together to get best value from the resources available.

The proposal to develop a newly qualified social worker status—one of the longer term proposals from Options for Excellence—was primarily aimed at improving retention and workforce quality. Many new social workers have a challenging remit with a high number of difficult cases right from the start. Where this happens, the rate of burn-out can be high. Such a status would enable new social workers to build on their initial training, with strengths and development needs being identified, setting the pace and direction for their continuing professional development and engaging with the post-qualifying framework. Each newly qualified professional would have an allocated adviser to support their induction and have some protected time in their first year—perhaps 10 per cent.

I am pleased to say that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has begun a programme of work to develop proposals to introduce a newly qualified social worker—NQSW—status from 2008-09 for all new children’s social workers in their first year of practice following successful completion of their initial training. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will be glad to hear that £21 million per year has been allocated over the next three years. DCSF is looking to equip supervisors, particularly those who are newly appointed with the skills that they need to support newly qualified social workers. We are looking not only at working with the newly trained young people but at equipping their mentors.

DCSF has engaged with a number of local authorities and front-line workers who have raised concerns about the capacity and training for social workers and offered strong support for the development of an NQSW to help address these issues and problems relating to stress, burnout and caseload management. We are currently learning from other professions, notably teaching, where a newly qualified teacher status was introduced to facilitate better quality teaching and improve outcomes for children in schools. We are assessing the options for implementation to see if we can learn and draw on the success of the NQT status in teaching.

DCSF is working with stakeholders and delivery partners to consider how the scheme should be implemented. The department intends to publish more detailed proposals in the children’s workforce action plan later this year or early in the new year and aims to pilot the NQSW scheme from next year. That will run for three years and, depending on its evaluation, a roll-out will take place.

Officials in the Department of Health are working closely with DCSF in learning from the preliminary work being taken forward in children’s services to ensure that the same good practice and innovation can be taken forward in adults’ services at an appropriate point, without unnecessary duplication of work across departments. Timing in relation to adults’ services will depend on the results of tomorrow’s CSR, but I assure noble Lords that we want to roll out the scheme to adults’ services and we want the NQSW to be applicable to all newly qualified social workers. We are still looking at the options and are consulting with stakeholders. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, we are still considering whether there should be a link between the NQSW and the consolidation modules of the post-qualifying framework for social work education. I undertake to keep the noble Baroness informed.

I wish to highlight the public perception and image of social care, making it a career valued by society as a whole—an issue raised by the noble Earl. This is one of the best ways of attracting and retaining high-quality staff and will give people a sense of pride in their work and careers. In response to Dame Denise Platt’s review of social care, Ivan Lewis announced in April a five-point plan to put excellence at the heart of the Government’s vision for 21st century social care.

The centrepiece of the package will be a skills academy focused on developing world-class leadership and commissioning in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Clearly, this will be an important factor for the workforce and the newly qualified social worker proposals that we have discussed this evening. We are delighted that Chris Humphries, director general of City and Guilds, has agreed to chair the steering group to establish the academy. The steering group has now met with representatives throughout the sector and has agreed a vision for the academy and a work programme.

The five-point plan will complement and drive forward some of the suggestions from Options for Excellence, ensuring that a highly skilled, developed and supported social care workforce is at the centre of reforming social care for the 21st century.

My noble friend Lady Jones asked about rumours of a split in training for children and adult social work. We are not proposing to create separate social work degrees for children and adults and we want to maintain coherence between children and adult services. Links between the two services are already strong through measures such as placement opportunities, induction, continuing professional development and common work-based training opportunities as well as many other arrangements within individual organisations.

As many noble Lords have stated this evening, great progress has been made and money has been invested, but there is still a huge amount to do, especially as demands on the services are increasing day by day. Both Options for Excellence and the five-point plan demonstrate that excellence really is at the heart of our vision for social care and for a 2020 workforce, but clearly there is a vital role for stakeholders. The Government, employers, unions, people who use services, professional bodies and staff all need to play their part in promoting and selling a positive image of the sector and its huge contribution to the well-being of our citizens and communities. The workforce strategy is at the forefront of what we do and support for newly qualified professionals at the outset of their career is a key element of the strategy, as is continuing professional development and good human resource management practice.

I end by thanking social workers and social care workers for the extraordinary work that they do every day. As Dame Denise Platt highlighted in her review this year, and as we have highlighted this evening, for the most part that extraordinary and valuable work is invisible. I hope that this evening’s debate will help bring it visibility and I assure social workers that their work is greatly valued by this House.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 8.42 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.37 to 8.42 pm.]