Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Gove pledges social work overhaul

Education Secretary Michael Gove is pledging a radical overhaul in the training of social workers
Education Secretary Michael Gove is pledging a radical overhaul in the training of social workers

Education Secretary Michael Gove is pledging a radical overhaul in the training of social workers to ensure it is a rigorous as for any other profession.

Mr Gove says he wants to end teaching which encourages social workers to see the people they work with as the victims of social injustice and economic forces rather taking responsibility for their own lives.

In a speech to the NSPCC today, he will say that a forthcoming review by his adviser on children's social care, Sir Martin Narey, will identify areas for improvements, including "varying educational standards" at universities and a failure to be clear about what social workers need to know.

His intervention follows a series of scandals where children have died due to a failure to protect them - including Baby Peter Connelly and more recently two-year-old Keanu Williams and Hamzah Khan, four.

He will say that it is because social work is such a "noble and demanding" vocation that it requires a level of professionalism as great as that of doctors, barristers or teachers.

"In too many cases, social work training involves idealistic students being told that the individuals with whom they will work have been disempowered by society," he will say.

"They will be encouraged to see these individuals as victims of social injustice whose fate is overwhelmingly decreed by the economic forces and inherent inequalities which scar our society.

"This analysis is, sadly as widespread as it is pernicious. It robs individuals of the power of agency and breaks the link between an individual's actions and the consequences. It risks explaining away substance abuse, domestic violence and personal irresponsibility, rather than doing away with them."

Mr Gove will argue that social workers who were "overly influenced" by this analysis not only robbed families of a proper sense of responsibility, they also abdicated their own.

"They see their job as securing the family's access to services provided by others, rather than helping them to change their own approach to life. Instead of working with individuals to get them to recognise harmful patterns of behaviour, and improve their own lives, some social workers acquiesce in or make excuses for these wrong choices," he will say.

He will underline his commitment to reform having seen his own life transformed when, as a child in care, he was adopted as a result of the intervention of social workers.

"As someone who started their life in care, whose life was transformed because of the skill of social workers and the love of parents who were not my biological mother and father but who are - in every sense - my real mum and dad, this is personal," he will say.

While reform of the child care protection system had not been "systematic, radical or determined enough" in the past, he will say that is finally beginning to change.

He will point to the London Borough of Hackney, where a new pioneering approach to hold social workers and managers to the highest standards had seen up to a third of the staff required to move on.

At the same time, he will say, the Frontline training programme to produce a new cadre of elite social workers had seen more than 4,000 people start the application process since its launch six weeks ago.

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