Frontline: Improving the children's social work profession
This paper argues that a graduate fast-track programme, drawing on the success of the Teach First scheme, could help to address the problems facing the children's social work profession. This new programme - Frontline - would help to attract the best people into one of Britain's toughest professions, and in the long term create a movement of leaders to challenge social disadvantage.
Children's social work is under enormous strain. Chronic funding pressures, a ballooning workload and a poorly trained and supported workforce have all combined to put vulnerable children's lives at risk. Despite the importance of an effective workforce, social work has struggled to recruit and train enough high-calibre staff, it has suffered from a perception of low prestige, and it has been criticised for offering degree courses that provide inadequate training. This paper makes a case for change to the profession and the government. It is not inevitable that social work remains one of Britain's least appealing careers, when in fact it is one of the most demanding and important.
- Frontline will be a two-year training scheme for graduates - both those who have left university recently and those wanting to switch career later in life. Applicants will complete a rigorous recruitment process that includes high academic entry requirements and a thorough assessment centre to test a wide range of competencies, such as confidence, empathy, communication skills, resilience and motivation.
- Successful applicants will attend an intensive summer school to receive initial training and prepare them for the world of social work. The summer school will enable the programme to build a unique ethos and culture.
- On completion of the summer school, participants will be placed with a local authority frontline team. They will complete a work-based training programme tailored towards children's social work practice. The programme will focus on practice skills, analytical thinking, legal knowledge and child development. Training will be of a high quality, delivered on the job, and will be supplemented with academic study. The training will be delivered in partnership between a university and the employer.
- After this intensive 12-month training scheme, participants will receive certification to practise. This will be followed by work in year two to achieve a Masters in Leadership in Social Work.
- The cost of the programme will be shared between the social enterprise and employers. Frontline will pay the wages in the first year while the graduate is still in training. The local authority will pay the wages in the second year, at which point the graduate is certified to practise and can contribute fully. By the end of the first 12 months, participants will have been on placement in a frontline team in the local authority and will therefore be able to 'hit the ground running' in year two (their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment).
- Upon completion of the programme, participants would be incentivised to remain in social work through established career progression routes. However, they would be free to leave the profession if they wished, confident that they could take their skills and understanding of society with them into the world.
- Frontline would be run as a social enterprise, independent from government and employers. It would recruit top graduates, commission and quality-assure the training, and develop a network of social work champions across the profession. It would develop formal relationships with other charities and corporate supporters. The long-term objective would be to build a movement of social work leaders who could tackle social disadvantage.