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Social Work

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have today accepted the recommendations of the social work task force. This is an important moment for social workers in England. It will make a big difference for the many children, young people, families and adults in vulnerable circumstances in our society who depend on their support.

The task force was established to conduct a nuts and bolts review of social work and to put forward the reforms needed to secure excellent front-line practice. Its recommendations, which cover children’s and adult social work, have been considerably influenced by the work of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee in its report on the Training of Children and Families Social Workers. We are very grateful to it for its important contribution.

The task force’s recommendations, all of which we are accepting, will make a real difference to the support that social workers receive, the training and education they can access and to the status and public understanding of their work—they will also make a difference that must be sustained for future generations of social workers and those thinking about entering the profession now. These recommendations include:

a career structure for social workers so that experienced practitioners can progress in front-line roles as well as in management. This must ensure that social workers are appropriately rewarded for their work;

a new and independent college for social work, led and owned by the profession, which must establish a stronger voice for social work and exercise appropriate influence over national policy-making and public debate; and a programme of work to improve public understanding of social work and of the essential contribution social workers make;

a new standard for employers to ensure that all employers put in place the conditions that social workers need to practice effectively, including high-quality supervision, time for continuing professional development and manageable workloads;

reforms to initial social work training, so that people of high calibre enter social work and all students receive good quality education and practise learning placements, equipping them for the challenges they will face when they begin to practise;

a new licensing system, which will introduce an assessed probationary year in employment for new social work graduates. This must ensure that they are both properly supported in their first year in practice and are properly assessed before they are fully licensed;

a revamped framework for continuing professional development, underpinned by a practice-based Masters qualification, so that all social workers can keep their skills up to date and develop specialist knowledge as they progress in their careers; and

all this in addition to the reforms to the integrated children’s system the task force has already proposed and the Government have accepted. Over the next few months these should significantly reduce bureaucracy on the front line.

The task force has said that to deliver this change, we need to work with the profession, employers and social work educators through a comprehensive reform programme which will require commitment over a number of years. As Secretaries of State for Children and for Health, we are determined to do that, and will continue to work together to provide strong leadership and drive.

We must ensure that the momentum the task force has established is maintained. So we are grateful to Moira Gibb, who has ably chaired the task force and brought so many different interests to the table, for agreeing to establish a new Social Work Reform Board, which will oversee the development and implementation of the reform programme.

The task force says that the profession should establish a college of social work, to develop a more powerful and equal voice in shaping policy and reform. We have therefore agreed that the Government should work with the profession to help it to establish the college of social work as soon as possible. Our civil servants have begun discussions with key representative organisations—as well as with social workers on the task force—about how best to do this. The college must be led by the profession and will be an independent institution and not a government body.

We want to see the college acquire royal status to give the profession the standing it deserves and the status it needs to influence national policy-making and public debate. The college will have to establish itself as a credible, independent voice for social work and for the profession, and while Government will provide it with start-up support the college will need to work with social workers to determine its independent funding and governance arrangements. It may also wish to explore the potential to expand its coverage to other parts of the UK.

Early in 2010, the Government—with the support of the Social Work Reform Board—will publish an implementation plan for reform of adult and children’s social work. This will set out how we will put in place the key elements of the reform programme, making a sustained commitment to improvement for the future.

Social workers, and those who educate and employ them, have been important members of the social work task force. Many more have contributed to the development of their recommendations through the impressive programme of regional events, visits to local areas and consultation processes and through their extensive survey of social worker workloads. Service users have also played a vocal and critical role on the task force and by contributing their perspective of the difference that social work—and really good social workers—can make for them.

We must act quickly, ensuring that our actions have lasting impact—making a difference not just for the current generation of social workers, but for those who will follow them over the next decade and beyond. This is of potential benefit to all of us in society who may need social work services at any time in our lives. And we must act together. As Secretaries of State for Children and for Health, that is what we intend to do. To succeed, we will need employers, educators and the profession to rise to the task force’s challenge and seize this opportunity.

We have written today to all social workers in England to thank them for their work and to explain how we are responding to the task force’s report, to local authority employers and to higher education institutions to explain what this means for them, and to honourable Members of this House, to ask for your help in celebrating the work of social workers and those who employ and educate them, encouraging them to seize this important opportunity.

I am placing copies of the report and our response in the Libraries of both Houses.