Push for child social workers

11th April 2008 at 01:00
Incentives offered to woo help for the vulnerable

Advertising campaigns, new qualifications and the prospect of pay rises will be used to recruit more children's social workers, in a drive to help the most vulnerable pupils.

Kevin Brennan, the children's minister, said he hoped a pound;73 million recruitment and training initiative would make teachers' professional lives easier.

And he confirmed that social workers could be wooed by borrowing from recruitment tactics used for teachers, such as golden hellos, golden handcuffs and pay rises.

The Government has admitted that, too often, staff do not get the support they need to protect vulnerable children, after The TES reported last month on the impact that serious shortages of child protection workers have.

The number of children classed as in danger from adults has risen, despite the Every Child Matters campaign to improve their protection after the death of Victoria Climbie at the hands of family members eight years ago.

Mr Brennan said: "We haven't got enough children's social workers; too often there is too long a waiting list for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, which is why we're having a review.

We need to recruit and retain more children's social workers. It will make teachers' jobs easier if those high-quality professionals are there to support the children."

Maggie Atkinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, is to chair a group, including teachers' unions, to advise on improving the quality of social, health and other children's work.

Ministers want the children's workforce to be led by graduates in most areas, from nurseries to youth activity centres, with integrated qualifications by 2010 that allow people to move from social work, to play work, to early years without having to retrain from scratch.

But Unison, the biggest school support staff union, criticised the decision to spend pound;305 million to provide greater graduate leadership among early years workers in the private, voluntary and independent sectors only. Christina McAnea, the union's head of education, said failing to fund the public sector was "short-sighted".

The Government's children's workforce action plan, published last week, said the goal of teachers and others working together has run into problems; some local authorities accuse schools of refusing to engage; schools say the councils are too bureaucratic. The expert group has been asked to consider whether children are better served by professionals who are identified as teachers, social workers and nurses; or whether those boundaries should be blurred to create just "children's services" workers.

More of those workers could be regulated by bodies such as England's General Teaching Council. Teachers acknowledge the importance of good social workers, but say they are often unable to find professional support for children.

Beverley Davy, a social worker who works with schools in Hertfordshire, said close co-operation between teachers and social services was crucial. "The school sees a child more than we ever will," she said.

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