Where next for social work?

Andy Tullis reports on the latest ‘reforms’ to social work

What the Tories are Lining Up for You.

The Governments plans to radically reform Children’s Social Work in England are coming on apace (see DfE paper “Children’s Social Care Reform – A vision for Change” 2016).

The Assessment & Accreditation Scheme, currently being piloted in 26 Councils, is scheduled to be rolled out so that all children’s SWs will all be fully assessed and accredited for a new Family Practitioner role by 2020.

However, a recent Education Committee inquiry has been told that Children’s social work accreditation risks being ‘punitive’ not supportive, by Professor Brigid Featherstone, chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work.

Featherstone told the committee social workers recognised the need to develop their skills but questioned whether the “seemingly one off” assessment model was the right way forward. She said: “I do think in the current climate, in the context of austerity, more economically sustainable ways of developing our workforce might have been looked at without the punitive ethos of assessment and accreditation.

The assessments are being developed by a consortium led by audit firm KPMG under a £2m government contract. Social workers will be tested against the knowledge and skills statement produced by Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children.

UNISON are also raising concerns about lack of analysis on the suitability of the scheme and clarity on key questions such as what happens if an SW fails the accreditation process?

Other features of the government paper include recommendations that core social work functions of “poor performing” Councils be taken over by nearby Councils that have been rated highly and the encouragement of alternative models of service delivery such as Independent Social Care Trusts (see article on Swindon).

A £100 million investment into the “Frontline Social Work Scheme” aimed at attracting young graduates to the profession (pilot schemes start in the North East England this year) and an expansion of the Step Up To Social Work scheme already underway.

UNISON raise further concerns about the lack of analysis regarding the durability of the Frontline and Step Up schemes, lack of rigorous assessment on whether they will make a positive lasting impact on the profession, how they will fit with local pay & grading structures and the huge cost of these schemes at a time when social care budgets nationally remain under intense pressure. How these schemes will impact on more traditional SW educational programmes is also unclear?

There are also proposals to replace the HCPC, the current regulatory body for social workers, with yet another ‘new’ body to drive up standards in Social Work, Education, Training and Practice, but again it is very unclear what this will eventually entail in terms assessing and accrediting social workers (both Adults and Children’s service) especially since the Government closed down the College of Social Work in June 2015.

The Paper unsurprisingly makes no mention of how the Government’s sustained austerity agenda has compounded the problems faced by children and families across the country which social workers then have to address.

UNISON resist the narrative of these reforms intended to place blame on Children & Family SW’s while government cuts fuel inequality and demand on underfunded Council resources.

UNISON resist the government pressures on local councils to cede control of their Children’s Services to Independent Trusts and Social Enterprises for financial reasons as just another step towards privatisation. We call on Labour Councils to refuse to implement government cuts and work with Trade Unions in fighting Tory austerity.

Step Up to Social Work is an intensive training programme that covers everything trainee social workers need to know in 14 months (full time).

Applicants must have a recognised qualification in any discipline except social work from a UK higher education institution (or an approved overseas equivalent).

FRONTLINE: is a five-week residential training programme, then two years working in a Local Authority child protection team where trainees “kick-start your career in social work”. The first year qualifies trainees as a social worker through direct work with children and families. The second year leads to a full Master’s qualification and status of a newly qualified social worker.

Council to regain control of social work from provider following performance issues

Swindon council has given notice on its contract with SEQOL to deliver adult social care services on the council’s behalf, including assessment and care management services for older people and hospital social work.

These social work services will be taken back in-house by the council, a decision which follows the authority’s “insourcing” of the learning disability care management function previously undertaken by SEQOL last year. Social work staff will be transferred to the council though a report to the council’s cabinet in February said there would be “significant implications” for senior and back office staff and potential redundancies.

Other social care services run by SEQOL – including day services, two residential homes, Shared Lives, Telecare and Reablement – are to be retendered.

SEQOL, which was set up in 2011, is an integrated social enterprise delivering adult social care and community health services on behalf of the council and Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group.

The decision not to recommission SEQOL has been driven by performance problems, including increasing levels of delayed discharges, residential care admissions and high-cost home care packages, financial pressures on Swindon’s health and social care system.

“The insourcing of social work is based on quality and management oversight,” head of commissioning – children and adults Sue Wald told last week’s Association of Directors of Adult Social Services spring seminar. “We don’t think there’s enough management oversight of cases and not enough social work expertise within the social enterprise.”

The average daily rate of delayed discharges from hospital attributable to social care, or to both health and social care, per 100,000 population was 6.9 in Swindon, compared to a national average of 3.7, in 2014-15. The costs of excess bed days to the NHS in Swindon rose by £400,000 last year.

Also, there was an increase in the number of high-cost care packages, with the number of monthly domiciliary care hours purchased rising from 7,000 in January to 8,500 in December 2015. Also, the number of funded care home placements rose from 320 to 350 during that time. The budget impact of this is a projected overspend in older people packages of £1.7m in 2015/16.”

The council said the pressures on services meant that they could not continue to be delivered in the same way. It estimated that £1m could be released by retendering for services currently run by SEQOL while a further £1.6m could be released for frontline health and social care services by removing the management and back office costs of the SEQOL contract.

UNISON see the above as another example of the failures of “outsourcing” of services that would be far more cost effective and efficient when kept “in-house” under Council control.

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