Social workers' training too focused on theory rather than working with children

He raised concerns about the focus on ‘non-oppressive practice’, which
includes human rights and can see students concentrate on the disadvantages
parents and carers may experience rather than putting children first.

He said it was important students were taught neglect was not directly caused
by disadvantage.

Writing in the report, ‘Making the Education of Social Workers Consistently
Effective’, he said: “One newly qualified social worker from a well-regarded
University told me that the concentration in her course on non-oppressive
practice was at the expense of understanding practicalities about the job.”

He added: “Sometimes, parents and other carers neglect and harm children. In
such circumstances, viewing those parents as victims, seeking to treat them
non oppressively, empowering them or working in partnership with them can
divert the practitioner’s focus from where it should be: on the child.”

Sir Martin, former director general of prisons and chief executive officer of
Barnardos, said there was “little clarity” on what social workers should
know, and “a question mark over the calibre of too many students.”

He added: “Standards are variable and many employers, and some academics, are
concerned about graduates sometimes inadequately prepared for the challenge
of children’s social work.”

Some employers told him graduate social workers were “barely literate” and
students reported being taught about “social work as art” rather than
directly working with children or parenting.

Sir Martin recommended Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker, produce a
single list of the skills children’s social workers need to replace multiple
lists of guidance.

He said due to an increase in people students studying social work there were
often not enough placements and they sometimes had to get experience working
with the elderly instead.

He suggested universities develop children-specific social work degrees and
recommended tougher inspections.

Lord Laming welcomed the report and said social workers were often given “a
general education rather than being equipped with the knowledge and
practical skills to undertake this challenging yet potentially satisfying

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