Cafcass roles ‘unsuitable for NQSWs’ says association for children’s guardians

The professional association for children’s guardians says it is opposed to the use of Newly Qualified Social Workers as Cafcass launches its academy and training programme.

04/06/21

Cafcass roles ‘unsuitable for NQSWs’ says association for children’s guardians

The professional association for Children’s Guardians has criticised the use of newly qualified staff at Cafcass due to the complexity of the cases and seriousness of the decisions.

The comments come after Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, launched its social work academy and three-year training programme last month.

However Nagalro, which represents Children’s Guardians and Family Court Advisers, says it is opposed to the use of NQSWs for such roles.

“In our view Cafcass roles are unsuitable for newly qualified and inexperienced staff because the cases which Cafcass has to deal with tend to be extremely complex, and the decisions about children’s lives that courts have to make are the most serious,” the association said in a statement.

Nagalro says that public law cases require experience and depth of understanding of child protection work, all types of neglect and abuse, and an in-depth understanding of how local authorities operate and exercise their statutory duties – and suggest that practitioners should have at least five years’ experience in local authority social work before working in the field.

“Cafcass practitioners need to provide expert-level assessments, and bring professional judgment and expertise to bear on very complex situations so that the best possible decisions are made for vulnerable children,” the statement continued: “There is no second chance for children if a poor decision is made: their lives will have been irrevocably affected.”

Cafcass says its Social Work Academy “aims to develop good practice, inspire new ways of working and shape the training, recruitment and retention of social work staff.”

NQSWs accepted into the academy develop their practice over three years in a “safe environment, alongside an empowering network of peers” while gaining hands-on experience, Cafcass’s website says, adding that the Academy offers “outstanding support through mentors and a wider team that includes 78 practice educators.”

Research shows that the promise of protected caseloads for those in their first year of employment after qualifying is not always a reality. In 2018, a survey by Community Care found that half (49%) of ASYE social workers did not have a protected caseloads despite assurances from their employer, and nearly three-quarters had three hours or less supervision a month. Nagalro said it was concerned that the protected caseloads and regular supervision for NQSWs would be “the thin edge of the wedge”.

“When staffing is tight or a service is under pressure it is all too common for under-qualified, inexperienced practitioners to be asked to work beyond their level of competence.”

Cafcass is the largest employer of social workers in England with roughly 2,000 staff. In 2019-20 the service worked with 141,243 children and young people across England including 96,242 new cases.

Cafcass has been approached for comment but has yet to respond.

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