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Qualified probation officers not allowed to immediately fill hundreds of social work vacancies

14, November 2013

Birmingham Social Services Department is again hitting the news headlines and vacancies are a major part of the problems. Last month the BBC reported “106 out of 494 fulltime, frontline permanent posts” were vacant just in Birmingham.

Experienced and already qualified probation officers would make ideal recruits with some introductory specialist training and supervision provided to augment their existing skills.

From 1974 until about 1997 the only national qualification required to practice as a local authority social worker or a probation officer in England and Wales was exactly the same. There were obvious differences in the new entrant support, whether one opted for social work or probation. I qualified (CQSW and Diploma in Social Work from the University of Liverpool) in 1975 and then worked almost continually as a probation officer until 2003 apart from nearly a year as a local authority social worker in 1988/9 when I had a specialist job as a locum senior social worker for a London local authority at the juvenile court in their borough where I dealt with criminal and child care cases.

Whilst training I attended specialist probation practice lectures whilst prospective social workers had similar. I did a social work training placement where I wrote my first ever, of what turned out to be many hundreds of reports for criminal courts, but my last placement was in a probation office. Most training otherwise took place in the company of prospective social workers. I also used child care knowledge and training whilst a probation officer as I undertook a significant amount of work for the family courts concerning arrangements for children, when parents could not agree following divorce and also adoption.

For reasons political, home secretary Michael Howard aborted the training scheme for probation officers and despite detailed campaigning – of which I was part – Jack Straw as home secretary introduced a new qualification for trainee probation officers who no longer were trained alongside social workers.

However, to this day, probation services recruit people with social work qualifications, but who do not hold the DipPS (Diploma in Probation Studies), whereas the DipPS does not qualify a person to work as a local authority social worker even in a specialist job with young or mentally disordered offenders.

As media people should be aware, there is much consternation amongst probation officers who are on the point of being ‘outsourced’ and having their job tasks become further deskilled as it becomes even less generic than it still remains (far, far less already than when I first qualified in 1975). They do not like it, or the prospect of working for such as Serco, G4S, or A4E who all intend to bid for the outsourced work.

Yet currently, apart from those qualified before about 1997 they cannot immediately take their qualification and experience and apply to work as a local authority social worker in a Social Services Department. Such folk are, almost, already suitable to take up the one hundred current social work vacancies today reported in Birmingham or also the vacancies elsewhere in England or Wales, but are not so permitted, even though social workers leaving Birmingham Council are qualified to start the next day as a probation officer!

There is additionally the issue of HCPC registration (formerly GSCC) – I objected to not being registered, via my then probation service employer, but did not campaign sufficiently at the time (probation officers are busy enough already) or register independently – but this is not perhaps a matter for this message.

Sadly there are very few in the mainstream media who take a serious interest in the details of probation and social work employment. Maybe that is partly why the current situation is unsatisfactory to professionals and the public because there are few journalists with the necessary knowledge to properly investigate and question politicians and professionals. However, everyone has an opinion about a European referendum in the next parliament (even though one parliament cannot commit the next to such action) – maybe speculative opinion dominated journalism is of more interest to folk than who we let deal with murderers, rapists and child abusers as well as those abused children?

Andrew Hatton
retired probation officer and social worker (1975-2003)

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I have commented on some Tweet responses to this and some tangentially related issues in a Napo Forum – you may be interested to see and comment there or below – I would like a bit of response – even if it is the dismissive rubbishing type! Other wise how am I to know if I am wasting my time sharing such thoughts – thanks for reading!


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