Graduate child social worker scheme rolls out across England
A scheme to recruit high-calibre graduates into children's social work is to be rolled out across England.
Set up in 2013, Frontline has already trained 220 recruits in the South East and Manchester and is now selecting 180 graduates to take up posts from July.
The charity has secured government backing and aims to get 1,000 graduates into children's social work by 2020.
Government data shows there were 4,320 vacancies in 2014 for children's social workers in England.
High-profile child abuse cases such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie in London and Keanu Williams in Birmingham - where social workers were criticised for not doing more to prevent the deaths of vulnerable children - have seen them come under intense scrutiny.
Government ministers have serious concerns about the quality of many social workers and Ofsted inspections suggest widespread problems.
Bad headlines and a perception that social work is poorly paid have meant the profession is often viewed as low prestige by graduates.
Frontline is hoping to redress the situation in a similar way to Teach First which aims to recruit high-calibre graduates into the teaching profession.
Frontline, an independent charity with cross-party support, will now start its next recruitment round for 300 graduates and career changers to enter the profession in July 2017.
But the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said schemes such as Frontline, Step Up and Think Ahead, which aim to attract high calibre individuals, were still in their infancy.
Professional officer at BASW Karen Goodman, who has more than 30 years experience in the profession, said: "None of these schemes have been going long enough for us to know if they are successful.
"We don't know about the issues of retention, and we need to think about how social workers are treated once they are qualified.
"One of the things that concerns us about Frontline is that they [the recruits] may be academically very good, but what about their emotional resilience?"
Mrs Goodman also warned these schemes tended to get priority access to student placements, which led to a shortage for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
The expansion of the Frontline scheme will be announced in a speech on Thursday by the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan.
Mrs Morgan will also announce further plans to increase and speed up the number of adoptions in England.
She will say the government will change the law to make it clear that councils and courts must place children with the person best able to care for them right up to their 18th birthday - rather than with carers who cannot provide the support these children need over the long term.
Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said councils were committed to finding loving homes for all children who need them and regional collaboration had been a strong feature of this success.
"However, social work practice is only one part of the solution, and it is vital that court delays are also addressed and legal proceedings sped up if we are to continue to provide much-needed homes for children.
"There is no simple one-size-fits-all approach to vulnerable children. We must take care that the ongoing focus on adoption does not distract from the importance of other types of long and short-term care."
Social worker figures for England
There are 26,810 children's social workers employed in England - which is equivalent to 24,620 full-time posts.
There were 4,320 full time equivalent vacancies reported at 30 September 2014. Local authorities estimated they would need 4,570 social workers to fill these posts. The vacancy rate reported was 15%.
In the year from September 2013, 4,400 children's social workers (4,060 equivalent full time posts) were reported to have left their local authority. The turnover rate was 17%.
Source: Department for Education. Figures relate to 30 September 2014.
Frontline chief executive Josh MacAlister said: "Today's announcement is a great opportunity for the charity to go national in developing even more outstanding social workers to stand alongside those children and families who need them the most.
"This endorsement is a reflection of the quality of the work undertaken by our participants who are already changing lives for the most vulnerable children and families in Britain."
Lord Adonis, Frontline's chairman, said he was confident the national rollout would make a "real difference" to the lives of children and families.
"Social workers are crucial to improving the life chances of vulnerable children, and it is vital that we continue to address the national challenge in getting more top talent into the profession."