UK Education Secretary Gove Says Social Work Training Needs Reform

United Kingdom Education Secretary Michael Gove said his own life was transformed by good social workers who took him under their care before he was adopted. He said in an emotional speech that the best social workers deserve to be viewed on a par with doctors, barristers and teachers, but that there’s room for improvement in the profession.

Gove, who made comments in a speech to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, warned that many social workers view parents, drug addicts and alcoholics as victims who are powerless to turn round their own lives. He said that the training of social workers needs major reform, writes Jason Groves and Matt Chorley of the Daily Mail.

In August 1967, Gove was born to a young student single mother. He was adopted four months later.

Describing his own experience, he said: ‘As someone who started their life in care, whose life was transformed because of the skill of social workers and the love of parents who were not my biological mother and father but who are – in every sense – my real mum and dad, this is personal.

“A child’s opportunity to flourish should not be a matter of chance – it should be the mission which guides all our actions. I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of child protection in this country. But that is changing,” he said.

According to Gove, many social workers believe their main role is to secure benefits and services for their clients rather than forcing them to address their problems. Many are too quick to explain away appalling behavior that can lead to domestic violence and child abuse, he said.

Gove said that in many cases, social work training involves idealistic students being told that the individuals with whom they will work have been disempowered by society.

“They will be encouraged to see these individuals as victims of social injustice whose fate is overwhelmingly decreed by the economic forces and inherent inequalities which scar our society. This analysis is, sadly as widespread as it is pernicious. It robs individuals of the power of agency and breaks the link between an individual’s actions and the consequences.”

Gove said social workers see their job as securing the family’s access to services provided by others rather than helping them to change their own approach to life. They should work with individuals to get them to recognize harmful patterns of behavior, and improve their own lives.

Gove requested Sir Martin Narey, the former head of Barnardo’s, to carry out a review of social worker training. The analysis is expected to call for major changes.

In addition, Gove highlighted the success of the new Frontline initiative, which aims to fast-track top graduates into social work. More than 4,000 people have applied for the program in its first six weeks.

11 14, 2013
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