A New Kind of Social Worker in the UK and Canada

Many of us who work in the social work profession have spent years studying for either a Bachelor of Social Work and/or a Master of Social Work degree. You may find new plans by the UK and Canadian governments to challenge the traditional requirements to become a social worker, rather frightening. Both governments have decided that a degree in social work may not be required to work within the field. For those who are not aware, a degree in social work is never taken on lightly and for good reason.

Many prospective social work students have to pass an interview, and/or submit a letter of intent with references, in order to be considered for the program. Volunteer or previous work within the community is usually expected. This not only demonstrates the seriousness and dedication of a prospective applicant, but establishes that they have had some experience working with individuals and/or groups, and have a general grasp of conflict resolution and team work.

Once in the program, students are expected to complete many hours of placement in more than one area in conjunction with their academic studies. The student is exposed to more than one field within the profession and gains a variety of skills with the guidance of a supervisor. This allows for growth in a relatively safe “space” with ongoing and relevant feedback. Direct access to clients is imperative as it allows the intern to apply theory into practice.

Keeping all this in mind, both Canada and the UK have now introduced new social work schemes that would see graduates in other disciplines receive little to no training in social work, but would allow them to practice in this capacity. According to the UK initiative, a program called Frontline would be set up to encourage” top graduates” in other fields to train as social workers. According to an article in The Guardian, (Nov 16, 2012) the basis for Frontline would be to provide

“A shorter and more focused training programme…one of the biggest barriers to entry for gifted graduates contemplating social work has been cleared”

This program prides itself on offering a shorter route to becoming a social worker which would no doubt bypass the above needed training and exposure offered at a BSW or MSW level. Furthermore, it does not require top graduates to have a degree in any related field. Just that they be “top graduates” in whatever field they happen to have graduated in.

It would probably be helpful to mention that this new initiative is based on a similar program that was devised to combat the teacher shortages in the UK called “Teach First” which trains university graduates to work as teachers, bypassing teacher’s college. Teachers are not social workers, and one has to wonder how a similar programs devised to work with the most vulnerable, will impact society.

The Canadian initiative is similar, albeit with a few differences. According to the Ontario Children’s Aid society, which governs the entire child protection agencies in Ontario, they have now posted in their career section that they  “broadened” their hiring criteria and no longer require workers to have a social work degree. Applicants can now apply for a child protection position if they have a degree in the following disciplines;

Applied psychology
Pastoral counseling
Community medicine
Community nursing
Child and youth work
Child studies

Though some credit should be given to Children’s Aid for demanding future child protection workers have a degree in a somewhat related field, unlike the criteria for Frontline– it is still worrisome. When glancing at the above degrees, one has to wonder how a future applicant will be trained. None of the degrees posted above includes specific courses in child protection, nor seem to require field placements in safeguarding children.

Social work agencies are stretched beyond the max and are restricted by funding, so how will either of these initiatives offer proper long-term training in the field of social work to improve services? What both these initiatives in the UK and Canada are basically saying is, “We are desperate to fill in the quota for much needed social workers, and I am sure if we choose the brightest and top graduates in other fields, they can swim without a paddle. We’ll just give them the boat and hope for the best.”

What does this say for the future of social work, which has on a global scale recently been under the microscope and scrutinized for a catalogue of failures? Failures, largely due to lack of funding and proper training opportunities. An irony not lost on most social workers, I am sure. This appears to be a very frightening future for social work, especially when critical training is minimized even further. The victims in all this won’t be those of us who have spent years training as social workers, it will be the vulnerable population we serve who will no doubt feel the brunt. I shudder to think what future headlines in the media will read.

** Written By Jamie Poirier, BSW  – SJS Guest Blogger**



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