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A look back through the thoughts and views of social workers

Submitting a vote on the Social Work Connections poll feature - (c) Trisram Dawahoo

Sherry Malik, Deputy Chief Executive, GSCC

The poll has been a feature of every Social Work Connections (SWC) edition since it was launched in 2008. The polls have encouraged debate, highlighted dilemmas and provoked comment. In this, our last issue of SWC, it is fitting that we take a look back at some of the poll questions and findings which exercised our readers most.

In 2008 the tragic death of Peter Connelly had a major impact on how the public viewed social workers. We asked a three part question *which revealed how social workers were experiencing the public’s perception following the extensive media coverage. Social workers clearly did not feel valued by the public in light of the Baby Peter backlash against the profession.

* Do you think the public value the role that social workers play in society?
•    Yes 11 per cent
•    No 89 per cent
Respondents: 731

Do the public value social workers as much as other professionals, such as teachers or nurses?
•    Yes 4 per cent
•    No 96 per cent
Respondents: 615

Has the case of Baby P and other recent high profile cases damaged the public's view of social work?
•    Yes 97 per cent
•    No 3 per cent
Respondents: 680

However, what social workers do on a daily basis is not clear to the general public and to judge them through the lens of a terrible tragedy is unfair. Programmes such as the BBC’s filming of the Bristol child protection team have been able to redress the balance somewhat, but we need more champions for the profession willing to talk about the complexities of the work and decision-making. Social workers do a fantastic job day in day out, in very challenging circumstances and they can feel proud of the difference they make every day to the lives of vulnerable people.

One of the ambitions of the Social Work Reform Board was to ensure that newly qualified social workers were given proper support and reflective supervision, a balanced caseload and mentoring to allow them to gain confidence as fully qualified practitioners. Although this has not resulted in a proper licence to practise scheme, as was envisaged, it is being upheld as good practice for all employers. If, as Munro recommends, we reduce bureaucracy, targets and IT-based assessments, then it is vital that initial training and support is strengthened so that we have a skilled, confident and well-trained workforce. You valued a balanced caseload and high quality supervision as the most critical elements of the support for newly qualified social workers.*

* What would be the most beneficial aspect of the proposed assessed year for NQSWs?
•    Time for study, contact with mentors, etc 8 per cent
•    Good quality supervision 34 per cent
•    Access to research literature and training opportunities 5 per cent
•    Good quality ICT 1 per cent
•    A managed and balanced case-load 53 per cent
Respondents: 644

Increasingly, drug, alcohol and substance misuse are a feature in many of the cases social workers are involved with. All social workers need a good understanding of and the confidence to be able to address and work with these issues. Without a degree of knowledge and expertise in this area, there is a potential for the issues to be viewed through a narrow lens, or the level of risk misjudged.

While there is specialist training on drug, alcohol and substance misuse at PQ level, a huge percentage of social workers responding to our poll* told us in September 2010 that they thought that this training should be integral to the social work degree and not just a specialist subject.

* Should training on drug, alcohol and substance misuse:
•    be included within the core learning of the Social Work Degree? 89 per cent
•    continue to just be offered within post qualifying courses? 11 per cent
Respondents: 1,025

The last poll I want to highlight was from June 2011*, when we asked you whether it was important that those who assess the practice of students should be social workers themselves. As a social work student many moons ago, I was lucky enough to be trained by two very experienced social workers as my practice educators – they were great role models from whom I understood what it meant to be a social worker as distinct from other related professions. However good they may be, I don’t think I would have learnt as much about my role and task as a professional social worker had my practice educator been from another profession. I am happy to say you agreed with me!

* How important is it that your practice assessor is a registered social worker?
•    Very important 90 per cent
•    Quite important 6 per cent
•    Not important 4 per cent
Respondents: 812

I also want to take this opportunity, as editor of SWC for the past two years, to wish you well in your future as social workers. I hope the profession, of which I am a part, goes from strength-to-strength. These are challenging times for many families and now more than ever, the public needs confidence in the skills and expertise of social workers to support them.

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