In Sir Martin Narey’s review there is commentary from himself and students alike about the lack of preparation of students to undertake statutory Social Work. I do not believe it is the duty of a university to prepare students for a particular track of Social Work. I believe an undergraduate degree should provide a generic or generalist view of the profession and present students with options. I wholly disagree with this job training track that seems to be present in Social Work education here. Yes there are particular skills needed to work with children and those to work with adults. However, these skills can be largely categorised and the basis for each taught within Social Work education to be honed and specialised depending on where a Social Worker chooses to work. It is more than possible to offer a generic agree with an additional certificate in statutory Children’s Social Work of Adult Social Work (which I think should be funded by local authorities as they are asking the universities to prepare their workforce). But there definitely needs to be a generic set of transferrable skills taught to anyone seeking entry into the Social Work profession.
Not every social worker strives to be a child protection or adult social worker. Those who have read my blogs have seen my support of 101 Social Work Careers because it encourages Social Work in various settings, which is what I feel the education in England does not. The Social Work degree here doesn’t prepare you to be a Social Worker; it prepares you to be a child protection Social Worker or an Adult Social Worker. They are not training Social Work professionals they are trying to build a workforce and I do not agree with this. There is no lack of Social Workers. There is a lack of Social Work professionals with quality skills and experience that can do the work employers need them to do without further development before they undertake the full scope of their job duties.
In England there are a high proportion of international Social Workers. As I said, they are not training students to be Social Work professionals. They are training social worker to work in specific segments of the field. My social work degree prepared me to work with various groups of clients; which is why I was more than prepared to be a Social Worker in England. There is speculation that there isn’t even a shortage of Social Workers. What are missing are social workers in whom employer can place their confidence. It isn’t quantity that is missing, it is quality. My alma mater has even started a separate specialism for Child Welfare Education for Baccalaureates, an educational opportunity for undergraduate social work majors to prepare for employment in one of Pennsylvania’s 67 public child welfare agencies.
Basically, Social Work education should cover those universal skills that would be needed on any Social Work job. More specific training (court skills, form f assessments, partnership working, lone working, case management, etc.) should be taught on the job. I must reiterate, Social Work education should cover transferrable skills present in Social Work and job specific skills should be taught on the job.
Any education program needs to include a written statement and interview. I would also argue that there needs to be psychometric testing as part of the assessment, specifically verbal reasoning as this specifically relates to analysis and a written exercise to evaluate their abilities.
As someone who was trained at both the Bachelor’s level and the Master’s level in the US, I argue that an undergraduate degree should be a generalist degree, providing prospective Social Workers with generic skills to be able to work in either children’s or adult’s Social Work. I think the next step could be certificate training in children’s or adults if a Social Worker chooses. Masters level courses in the NY follow the trend of Clinical Social Work, Administrative Social Work, Community Organizing which gives the student more specialized skills to progress his/her career.
In my view Bachelors level Social Work, should provide students with the knowledge and skills mentioned in the links above. I think this would be the start of a more robust Social Work workforce. I think giving them generic skills and allowing them varied placements would take some of the anxiety out of where to work after they graduate. They would have the confidence of knowing that there are more opportunities to choose from, they would not be “pigeon holed” into one area and have the freedom to not only move around but also get a varied professional tool kit bolstered by dynamic experiences. There is much to be learned from working with adults that would help work well with families; and there is much to be learned in children’s services about some of the complex difficulties that confront adults and impact their ability to function “normally”. Being able to move freely within Social Work also has the potential to minimize burn out. Sometimes working with the same population for a length of time can cause one’s brain to atrophy; having time away can bring not only a fresh perspective but also new ideas. Being able to move between children’s and adults Social Work also gives workers a greater appreciation for and a better understanding of the work of the other set of professionals.
The development of Social Workers needs to be a coordinated effort between educational institutions and employers. When I did my undergraduate placement it was in Pennsylvania’s child welfare (child protection) organization. Everyone who wanted to do this placement was asked to give up 6 weeks of their summer, prior to the start of the placement, and we were given the same training new caseworkers get when they join. As a matter of fact, there were some days when it was just us students but for the most part each of our sessions included newly hired caseworkers (in NY even with a Bachelors in Social Worker, no one can hold the title of Social Worker until they obtain a Master’s degree). The topics included Basic Caseworker safety, Casework Process and Case Planning, Risk Assessment: PA (Pennsylvania) Model, Child Protective Services: Legal Issues, and Child Protective Services.
In addition, my one first Social Work (casework) positions after getting my Bachelors was with the NYC equivalent of an Independent Fostering Agency. I still have my training program. We had to get it dated and signed by the trainer when completed. This training included Working in Partnership, Child Development, Child Abuse, Communication, Appropriate out of home placements, Documentation Safety & Risk, Documentation & UCR** Risk Assessment, Service Planning & UCR, Legal Issues in child welfare, Homestudies & subsidies (for adoption or perspective foster carers). Again this prepared me to do the job for which they hired me. It was a great top up to my training from my placement and gave my a NY perspective in terms of NYC policy and procedure.
What both of these employers had in common is they made an investment in us as students and potential workers. This is what is needed in creating well rounded, Social Work Professionals or if you want ot reduce it, this is what makes good Children’s Social Care Social Workers – an investment and commitment from employers. Training your workers from the outset provides confidence, knowledge and skills – developed in a safe learning environment. This is what is missing. Employers are expecting students to learn absoultely everything at university. University is there to teach theory, history, intervention methods. It is there to give you a foundation for practice. Employers are should teach the practicalities of the job. Just as I need a new set of laws, policies and procedures when I went to NY because some of the laws (not all) were different. The one thing that Local Authorities have over that is once a Social Worker is made aware of the legislation, they will only need the occasional top ups for legislative and policy changes.
This can work if we do it right.
**UCR = Uniformed Case Records