howThe government has said that more social workers are needed, particularly in mental health, and that providing job placements for students in this area is crucial to addressing this.

In a House of Lords debate, responding to a question by Baroness Tyler on what the government plans to do to improve the provision of mental health social work, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health, Earl Howe (pictured), admitted that more social workers were needed, particularly in mental health.

“The Think Ahead programme is certainly one way in which we hope to improve the numbers,” Earl Howe added. “Social work is not always seen as an attractive career option. We know that there is a growing appetite among graduates to work in mental health; unfortunately that enthusiasm has not filtered through to the social work profession. We need to focus on that. Much will depend also on finding a greater number of placements in social work, particularly relevant to mental health, so that there is on-the-job training for those trainees.”

Think Ahead is a proposed fast-track scheme that would look to shift the balance of social work education further towards practical experience of working with service users and give special focus on how to work effectively within integrated teams.

Further reading: Work Programme pushing people with disabilities further from work, report finds

It has already come in for criticism from some in the sector, such as the blogger known on Twitter as @Ermintrude2, who said “… the issue is not about new entrants into mental health social work but the pulling apart of mental health social work so that there aren’t any jobs anymore.”

Earl Howe also noted the importance of mental health knowledge across social work in its entirety—adults, children, adolescents and families. “Mental health is a key factor for people with substance abuse problems and other complex social and health needs that defy neat categorisation,” he said.

He added that the chief social worker for adults, Lyn Romeo, is working with her counterpart for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, to produce a statement of the knowledge and skills required across children’s and adult services and the need for students and qualified social workers to be able to work with mental health issues in all contexts.