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Social workers were criticised for failing to act on signs of abuse in the
shocking cases of Baby Peter and Victoria Climbié, and research has shown
that those working in the profession often lack the assertiveness tochallenge parents in problem cases. Earlier this month, Birmingham SocialServices was criticised by Ofsted for continuing "inadequate" protection of children, despite improvements made following the death of Khyra Ishaqin the city in 2008.The profession is in a state of crisis, say experts, with social workersstruggling with increasing workloads, spending cuts by local authorities,and dwindling morale following high-profile cases. Last year there were1,350 vacancies for social workers, while only 5 per cent of people whostarted training in this field last year had been to one of the Russell Groupof leading universities. At the same time, calls relating to child abuse tothe NSPCC helpline have more than doubled in the past two years, withnearly three-quarters of those calls referred to the authorities.The Frontline idea was developed by Josh MacAlister, who underwent theTeach First programme and is a head of department at a secondary schoolin Greater Manchester. Mr MacAlister first suggested the "Teach First forsocial work" in 2010, when it was reported by
. Lord Adonis, theformer schools minister and ex-adviser on education to Tony Blair, helpedto develop the idea. Last week Lord Adonis and Mr MacAlister held talks with Mr Gove, who ordered a business plan to implement Frontline.Like Teach First, the Frontline programme would involve two-year in- work training for graduates, who would need to show qualities needed forsocial work before starting the course, including compassion, leadershipand a confidence to challenge and use authority. Individuals would start with an intensive summer school of training before being placed in afrontline working role, where they would complete academic study andsocial work training in the first year, leading to a recognised social-work qualification.The second year would involve continued in-job training at the same localauthority. Graduates would have their salaries in the first year paid by Frontline, which would be established as a social enterprise, independentof government and local authorities. The second year would be funded by local authorities.Similar to Teach First, Frontline participants would be committed to only two years, and would then be free to leave the profession. But MrMacAlister argues that because of the rewarding nature of the "socialmission" involved in jobs such as teaching and social work, individuals would feel motivated to stay on. While social work already requires a degree qualification, there has beencriticism that the training is poorly suited to the practical realities of theprofession. A report putting the case for Frontline by Mr MacAlister, for the IPPR think tank, found that of 2,765 people who started a degree in social work last year, only five individuals had been to Oxford or Cambridge,suggesting that social work is not regarded as a high-status profession.Two-thirds of social work students pass their degree the first time round, while only 12 per cent of applicants have three grade As at A-level orequivalent.The idea could be met with resistance by some in the field, especially as being a high-flying graduate would not necessarily equip an individual with the life experience needed to spot abuse or neglect in children. ButMr MacAlister argues that Frontline would be also open to older, moreexperienced graduates who wanted to switch career.Local authorities experience such a high turnover of staff that they frequently have to rely on agency staff to fill gaps. As a result, vulnerablechildren can be seen by several different social workers in one year, which
can lead to oversights in their care. Council budgets have been cut by an
average of 10 per cent this year, further putting the lives of vulnerablechildren at risk, said the IPPR report.The report, published this month, said: "Children's social work is underenormous strain. Chronic funding pressures, a ballooning workload and apoorly trained and supported workforce have all combined to put vulnerable children's lives at risk.
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