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Ofsted marks Social Work Day by emphasising the need for better support on ‘the front line’

Report links quality of support to social workers with improvements in children’s lives

To mark World Social Work Day on 20 March Ofsted has highlighted a survey report, produced in February, which explores the link between the quality of support that social workers receive and the difference they are able to make to improve children's lives.

The report, High expectations, high support and high challenge: protecting children more effectively through better support for front-line practice, acknowledged the key role that social workers play in protecting children and young people from harm. It is based on survey inspections in 14 local authorities, discussions with 250 front-line social workers and managers, and almost 650 questionnaire responses from front-line staff.

Welcoming support and scrutiny
Good supervision and line management support were cited overwhelmingly as the most important elements, and the ingredients of this are analysed in detail. However, social workers said that the high expectations placed on them and the high degree of challenge to which their professional practice was exposed were as important in making them feel effectively supported as the more obviously supportive elements of their working experience. In positive organisational cultures, management scrutiny and challenge were not experienced as constraining or undermining professional judgement; they were experienced as absolutely integral to supporting it.

The bigger picture
The report also emphasises that it is important to consider the whole of an organisation's system and culture. Recruitment and retention, team working, performance management and learning and development are all explored in the report. It also looks at the support that is needed from other agencies and partners.

There was a strong link found in the survey between the way social workers experienced their own organisation and the way they were able to work with parents and with children. Parents and children appreciated in good social workers straightforwardness, honesty, reliability, clarity and doing the things they say they will do. These were also the qualities that social workers valued most in the relationships they have with their managers and their colleagues.

Tackling challenges
Social workers in the survey identified a lack of time and resources, together with high caseloads, as barriers to providing high-quality support to families. However, front-line staff were engaged in actively resolving these problems and senior managers offered good support to their staff by developing a number of initiatives to overcome these challenges. The skills and creativity of team managers, along with a flexible approach across team boundaries were pivotal in managing demand and workload pressures.

You can read the report here.