Social work - Children's Workforce Qualifications and Training Guide

By Charlotte Goddard

| 27 August 2019

The National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS), which aims to provide a clear career pathway for social workers, is set to be rolled out nationally in 2020. Currently 56 sites in England are early adopters of the scheme, which covers the roles of practitioner and practice supervisors. The assessment is based on the Knowledge and Skills Statements for social workers, published in 2015 and updated in 2018. These set out everything practice supervisors, leaders and social work practitioners need to know and be able to do. The assessment has two elements - a knowledge assessment, which is an online multiple choice test; and simulated practice assessment involving a role play of two scenarios. The NAAS lead within a local authority will decide with the social worker whether they are ready to take the assessment. Before being assessed, social workers can do a practice assessment to identify gaps in their knowledge.

The accreditation system is not mandatory, but the government hopes it will be widely adopted. Early adopter sites have been asked to assess 20 to 30 per cent of their workforce, although some are struggling to meet this target. Sector bodies have expressed concern over the nature and level of support social workers will need and how employers will respond to, and support, people who do not meet the assessment standard. "We are not going to tell people they should or should not do it but will support social workers on an individual basis," says Gavin Moorghen, professional officer for England at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). "We are not against accreditation but are concerned about funding and sustainability. There are still unanswered questions, such as what will happen to those who do not pass the accreditation. The message we get is there will be an opportunity to re-take, and if you do not pass you will still be a social worker. But where does that leave you as a professional?"

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is currently the statutory regulator for social workers in England. In December 2019, Social Work England will take over responsibility as the regulator for all child, family and adult social workers. There are currently 256 HCPC-approved programmes at 79 providers. Social Work England launched a consultation on the rules and standards it will set for the profession earlier this year.

The main route for entering child and family social work is through a generic three-year social work degree or a two-year Masters. Bursaries are available for social work students. However, the government has frozen the number and value of bursaries for a fifth consecutive year. In 2019/20, bursaries of £3,362.50 (£3,762.50 in London) are available for 1,500 postgraduates. Meanwhile, there are bursaries of £4,862.50 (£5,262.50 in London) for 2,500 undergraduates, who are funded for the second and third years of their course. Postgraduates can also access £4,052 in tuition fee contributions. In 2018, some higher education institutions did not use their full allocation and the government has said it may adjust allocation methodology.

The Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) for newly qualified social workers provides access to training and development during practitioners' first year of work, with regular reviews leading to a final assessment. The charity Skills for Care is responsible for the operational management of the ASYE on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE). More than 10,000 child and family social workers have been supported through the ASYE, with more than £20m invested since 2012.

BASW runs a mentoring scheme, which was initially for newly qualified social workers, but was expanded to cover social workers seeking advice on returning to social work and overseas social workers needing advice and guidance on working in the UK. The body also runs webinars on issues such as child sexual exploitation, which are free for members.

A not-for-profit consortium led by Research in Practice and funded by the DfE has developed a Practice Supervisor Development Programme, which aims to provide high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) to up to 700 social workers taking up their first role with responsibility for supporting and developing the practice of others. The programme comprises five days of face-to-face learning, group practice development sessions, one-to-one sessions and self-directed study, over four to five months. The first cohort took part in November 2018 with a second wave taking place between September 2019 and March 2020. Over the next two years, every local authority will be entitled to a small number of places. The consortium is also developing an open-access online resource.

There are currently 23 Social Work Teaching Partnerships, 19 of which are funded by the DfE. These partnerships represent 113 local authorities, 54 higher education institutes and 32 private, voluntary and independent partners. An evaluation published in June this year found they had raised the quality and amount of placements and CPD offered to social workers.

Under employer-based 14-month fast track programme Step Up to Social Work students receive a bursary of £19,833 and can train in one of 22 regional partnerships involving more than 100 local authorities in England. Those who complete the scheme earn a postgraduate diploma in social work. The recruitment and selection process for Step Up cohort six is nearly complete. A decision on running cohort seven will be taken as part of the Spending Review.

Launched in 2018, What Works for Children's Social Care aims to generate robust evidence where there are gaps, and share best practice. Its Evidence Store rates the effectiveness and strength of evidence for different interventions and provides resources such as practice guides. The centre works with children's social care organisations to evidence successful practice through its Practice in Need of Evidence programme.

The centre is also involved in investigating low- or no-cost interventions drawn from behavioural and organisational science to boost morale and motivation in children's services teams. It is looking at embedding social workers in schools and introducing Schwartz Rounds, often used in healthcare to support staff wellbeing, to children's social care. It is also evaluating the Mockingbird Family Model, Family Group Conferencing and Family Drug and Alcohol Courts in 40 local authorities around the country as part of the DfE's Supporting Families: Investing in Practice programme. It is rolling out three models of social work practice in 20 local authorities as part of the DfE's Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme.

The Centre for Systemic Social Work was launched by Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham councils in 2017. Systemic practice is a way of working that focuses on relationships and working in collaboration with families and professional networks. Funded by the DfE, the centre provides training programmes for practitioners, supervisors and leaders. It offers three courses: the Certificate in Systemic Social Work Practice with Children and Families for practitioners, Certificate in Systemic Social Work Supervision and Management for managers and supervisors, and the six-day Systemic Leadership course. It also runs a Practice Leadership Development Programme, a national programme for aspiring practice leaders, designed around the DfE Knowledge and Skills Statement for practice leaders.

Government figures show the number of children and family social workers in England is increasing, but there are also high rates of vacancies. On average local authorities had a 16 per cent vacancy rate in September 2018.

Child protection

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), BASW and the University of Central Lancashire are developing e-learning resources to improve social workers' digital skills. The project forms part of the wider Building a Digitally Ready Workforce programme, commissioned by NHS England and NHS Digital for the health and care sector.

Preventing child sexual exploitation (CSE), and now tackling wider forms of criminal exploitation, has become a government priority. Requirements for roles in tackling CSE and wider exploitation vary, but most roles ask for social work qualifications or similar. The NWG Exploitation Network offers a range of foundation- and advanced-level courses covering CSE and wider exploitation suitable for organisations within the statutory and voluntary sector. The courses are accredited and count towards CPD. Last year, the network launched a new training course, Working Alongside Families: Experts by Experience for any professional working directly with families.

This year the Frontline graduate programme received additional funding from the DfE to run two new cohorts in 2020 and 2021. Frontline aims to ensure trainees get the experience they need, while also bringing high-calibre graduates into social work. Students undergo an intensive five-week residential training programme, followed by two years working and training in a local authority child protection team. In the first year, successful participants qualify as a social worker, while their second leads to a Masters qualification. The University of Bedfordshire has been Frontline's higher education partner for the last five years, but from 2020 Lancaster University will take on this role, with plans to qualify 900 new social workers on the 2020 and 2021 cohorts. Since 2013, more than 1,000 participants have started the Frontline programme, with another 400 joining in 2019.

Frontline also runs the Firstline 10-month leadership development programme for existing social work managers. By 2020, more than 500 social work managers will have completed or be undertaking the programme.

Looked-after children

In June, the DfE opened a consultation into the regulation of the children's homes workforce. "The consultation is proposing, as with social work, a knowledge and skills statement, a registration requirement and an annual competency check," says Jonathan Stanley, chief executive emeritus of the Independent Children's Homes Association (ICHA). "This might be useful to establish residential care as a profession in its own right, but it depends on the make-up of the body which is going to be charged with setting and maintaining standards."

In 2018, the government appointed Sir Alan Wood chair of a Residential Care Leadership Board, established to lead on the delivery of changes recommended in Sir Martin Narey's 2016 review. There have been no further appointments made. The National Stability Forum was established in October 2018 to provide leadership and oversight of the care system. Areas the forum has focused on so far include challenges in the residential and fostering markets; opportunities to improve data in the sector; and sufficiency of placements in fostering and residential care.

The sector is facing a recruitment crisis, particularly when it comes to managers. Since January 2015, staff working in children's homes in England have been required to obtain the Level 3 Diploma for Residential Child Care, with managers required to hold the Level 5 diploma. In Scotland, plans to require managers, supervisors and new starters in children's homes to hold a Level 9 qualification have been put on hold pending the findings of the first phase of the Scottish government's Independent Care Review.

ICHA's 2019 State of the Market report found the increasing cost of staff was the most cited factor affecting prices charged by homes, driven by National Living Wage increases, and rising recruitment and training costs. A report from the National Audit Office found demand for residential placements and staff has outstripped capacity. "Children who need to be placed increasingly have additional and complex needs. A workforce development programme over the next five years is needed to create the residential workers, therapists, and psychologists who can work with them," says Stanley. The National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care recruitment tool, which includes a guide to regulations and procedures, is available from ICHA.

In 2016, the government, responding to Sir Martin Narey's review, said it would explore how to best set an expectation that new residential care managers were social work graduates. "We are currently considering options and advice from Social Work England on the recommendations on residential care managers and social work student placements," says a DfE spokesperson.

However, Stanley says social workers do not always make good managers. "They are good on social work but don't have experience of the psychological needs of children and the pressure of working with children and staff," he says. "So moving across social workers to become managers is not an answer, there needs to be recognition this is a profession in its own right."

The National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care is set to re-launch in October, developing and supporting access to policy, practice and research. It will include two new mini-sites, Re:thinking Residential Child Care and Re:thinking Children's Commissioning. October will also see the centre launch a National Association for Registered Managers.

Two apprenticeships for those wanting to work with children and young people were approved for delivery in June 2018. They aim to give practitioners and managers a clearer career path and flexibility to move from one role to another in a changing sector. Children, Young People and Family Practitioner is a Level 4 qualification for those who want to work in residential care or do community-based work with vulnerable children and families. Along the way, participants will either be expected to gain a Level 3 Diploma In Residential Child Care or a Certificate in Higher Education in Working with Children, Young People and Families. Children, Young People and Families Manager apprenticeship students gain either a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management for Residential Child Care or a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership for Health and Social Care.


The Norfolk Institute of Practice Excellence (NIPE) was created in 2014 to provide dedicated support to newly qualified social workers and help address recruitment challenges in children's social work, after Ofsted rated Norfolk's children's services "inadequate".

Around 230 social workers have taken part in the scheme, and retention currently stands at 75 per cent. Each locality of the county has a dedicated NIPE practice consultant to support newly qualified social workers, who have a protected caseload while they develop their frontline practice. Practice consultants keep an eye on the type of case they are given as well as the overall caseload.

Newly qualified social workers receive a training calendar with bespoke workshops as well as protected professional development time, which can be used for anything from working on a portfolio to research or shadowing another member of staff. Training has covered issues such as working with evasive families, child sexual exploitation, and neglect.

"We're never short of applicants," says NIPE team manager Peter Hurst. "We want them to stay and become our experienced social workers of tomorrow. Social workers feel they're being challenged to be better, and equipped with ways of thinking differently when applying theory to practice."


The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is the largest employer of social workers in England. In May, Bexley's director of children's services, Jacky Tiotto, was appointed chief executive, starting this autumn.

Cafcass family court advisers (FCAs) work across private and public law, looking after the interests of children involved in court proceedings. They must be qualified social workers and experienced at working with highly vulnerable children and families.

FCAs can become practice supervisors, taking on additional responsibility for supervising the casework of others, while supporting the service manager and handling more complex cases. Service managers lead and manage a team of experienced practitioners and are expected to have supervisory or practice management experience gained in a children services setting.

Meanwhile, heads of practice provide leadership over particular geographical areas. Associate family court advisers are self-employed social workers contracted by Cafcass, which currently contracts 124 associate FCAs. Cafcass staff work with line managers to identify development needs, and training can include workshops, coaching and online learning.

In October 2018, Cafcass introduced the Child Impact Assessment Framework, which sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and assessed to inform better outcomes. "In the last year we have trained well over 1,000 staff on the use of the framework, which includes guidance on the harmful impact on children of domestic abuse, parental conflict and situations where the child is resisting or refusing time with a parent," says Sarah Parsons, Cafcass assistant director and learning and development lead. "Another highlight of the national training programme has been our modular Dilemmas in Public Law Practice which extends our training for experienced children's guardians."

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