UK & World News
Social Work Degrees 'Grossly Deficient'
Universities are producing social workers who are "inadequately prepared", the government's advisor on children's social care has said in a highly critical report.
Sir Martin Narey was asked to look into social work degrees following a number of cases where vulnerable children died despite having contact with social workers.
He found that some training courses were "grossly deficient".
Mr Narey told Sky News: "We are producing some very good social workers, but we are producing some who are inadequately prepared and standards between universities for example are very variable.
"Too many (social workers) are ill prepared for the important job of child protection. They don't know enough about child development, child neglect, child attachment."
Under the current system, social workers qualify with a university degree, but there is no coherent set of guidelines regarding the syllabus, and in many cases courses have no special focus on the needs of children.
Mr Narey said that inadequate focus on child protection persisted in spite of a number of previous investigations which recommended change.
Recommendations were made following the deaths of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old girl who died after being tortured by her guardians in 2000.
"Baby P" - whose real name was Peter Connelly - died in 2007 from dozens of injuries despite numerous visits by health and social services to his home.
Most recently, Daniel Pelka was killed by his mother and her partner last year following "terrifying and dreadful" abuse.
But Mr Narey said previous calls for change had not been heeded, and that there was still too much emphasis on helping families as a whole, rather than putting the needs of at-risk children first.
"Children's social workers need special training," Mr Narey said. "Children's social workers have to be pretty ruthless in putting the interests of the child before the interests of the family. If it means therefore that support isn't working and a child is in danger, yes they need to be taken into care."
Mr Narey's comments are likely to spark protest from universities and social care academics.
"In social work there is always a tension between developing practise skills and academic skills, and it's very difficult to get the balance right," said one former senior social work lecturer, who did not want to be named.
The lecturer added: "You need to be academic so that you can hold your own in court and write reports but you also need people with life experience, communication skills who can work effectively on the frontline.
"There is a chronic shortage of placements for students at the moment, which isn't helping their ability to develop practical skills."
But children's groups welcomed the report.
Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said: "Martin Narey's report on the education of social workers comes at a crucial time in the reform of social care and wider children and families services.
"It puts a welcome spotlight on the many gaps and inconsistencies that currently exist in social work education ... These issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency."
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