How well prepared are newly qualified social workers for working with drug and alcohol use?
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How well prepared are newly qualified social workers for working with drug and alcohol use?. Dr. Donald ForresterDr. Sarah Galvani Reader in Child WelfareAssociate Prof. of Social Work University of BedfordshireUniversity of Warwick (from 1.9.08 Univ. of Beds). Rationale.

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How well prepared are newly qualified social workers for working with drug and alcohol use?

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How well prepared are newly qualified social workers for working with drug and alcohol use?

Dr. Donald ForresterDr. Sarah GalvaniReader in Child WelfareAssociate Prof. of Social WorkUniversity of BedfordshireUniversity of Warwick(from 1.9.08 Univ. of Beds)


  • Historical neglect of substance use and misuse in social work training

  • Increasing recognition it is a common and important issue in practice

  • No research on the views of newly qualified social workers

  • New degree: have things improved?


Through a survey of newly qualified social workers:

  • Explore extent to which programmes prepared them for practice with alcohol or drugs;

  • Explore quality and quantity of input;

  • Identify further training needs;

  • Identify examples of good training/education on qualifying social work programmes.


  • Survey of social workers who qualified in 2006, 2007

  • GSCC database - 2914 questionnaires sent by email

  • 248 questionnaires returned – a nominal response rate

    of 8.5%

  • 76 universities represented by respondents

  • Profile fairly representative (national figures):

    • 87% female (84%)

    • 69% undergraduate (68%)

    • 91% full time (98.5%)

  • One distortion: 18 respondents from the researchers Universities

How well did course prepare them for different areas?

Rated as adequately prepared or better:

  • Children and families83%

  • Young people76%

  • Older people77%

  • Mental health issues72%

  • Domestic abuse66%

  • Learning difficulties67%

  • Physical disabilities66%

  • Alcohol problems47%

  • Drug problems46%

How many days of input did courses provide?


Half a day20%

One day19%


Three to five11%

Six +7%

What factors were associated with feeling prepared?

  • Preparedness for alcohol and drug issues highly correlated and therefore treated as one variable

  • No statistically significant bivariate relationships (Spearman's) with the following:

    • gender,

    • ethnicity,

    • age,

    • full or part-time,

    • Masters or Undergraduate degree, or

    • previous experience of working in a substance use agency

  • Only significant factor:

    • Amount of input on course (Rho = 0.445; p<0.001)

Relationship between number of days of training and self-rated preparedness

Post Qualifying Experiences

  • Overall 48% of clients had substance issues

    • 57% in mental health

    • 54% in childrens services

    • 18% for older people

  • 41% participants received further training

    • Usually one day or less

    • Most likely in health settings

    • Least likely for statutory child & family work

Comments supported picture of neglect of area

“Without relevant training how can newly qualified social workers be expected to understand/relate to difficulties faced by service users and their families….I am angry that I didn’t receive any training during the 4 years I studied for BA”

“I graduated last October with BA (Hons) Social Work.  …there was no element on the course that touched on alcohol or substance misuse... I work within the assessment team, Children and Families. The bulk of our work is domestic violence, this is more often than not either drug or alcohol related, we face challenges every day that we have minimal knowledge of and are ill equipped due to the lack of training in this field.”

Some positives

  • Good placement experiences

    “I was fortunate to have 80 day placement in drug alcohol agency but I was one of only 3 students in final year to have this opportunity… Training at uni was very minimal and only ever ‘referred’ to as cause of problems, never fully explored/discussed….”

  • Individual teaching experiences:

    “…we did have a substance misuse midwife give a teaching session and this was really good but not followed up in seminars.”

  • One or two courses stood out:

    • “It was discussed/taught often. Always a consideration. However remember [University] only takes [a small number] of students every year for SW training. Therefore loads of group discussions with tutors.”

Strengths and Limitations


  • Low response rate

  • Self-rated measures

  • Influence of focus of study


  • Participants appear representative

  • Sample across areas of practice

  • Comparatively large sample

  • Findings consistent and unequivocal

What is to be done?

  • SWAP funding further study looking at the Universities most highly rated

    • Identifying and sharing good practice

  • Home Office, GSCC, Dept. of Health and others meeting to decide action

  • What do you think should be done?

Any questions?

Recommendations – Research and practice

  • Good practice in QSW progs - identify and publicise

  • Research the views of current practitioners

  • Discussions with social work academics about how to integrate substance use education into course structures

  • Develop and evaluate resources tailored to social work education

  • Research what input SW programmes provide and the ability of social work staff to provide it

  • “Training the trainers” events for social work educators

Recommendations - Universities

  • Review whether QSW and PQSW courses include SU & prepare students for practice

  • Ensure content of these courses reflect practitioners’ experiences as well as DH/NTA minimal requirements

  • Ensure min. 3 days training on QSW to help NQSW’ers feel prepared to work with SU

  • Develop local substance use placements

  • Involve substance specialist practitioners in social work education - useful and inexpensive!

Recommendations - Employers

  • Need to provide SU training for new workers to ensure basic competence/confidence in sub use

  • Stress the importance of training in this area to partner Universities (for QSW and PQSW) and work in partnership to deliver such training

  • Provide in-house and on-going training for existing social workers

  • Alcohol and drug agencies can be proactive in supporting local social work programmes and offering placement opportunities.

Recommendations - Government

  • Consider how to support social work education to include substance use on its curricula

  • Consider making basic awareness of drugs and alcohol mandatory in QSW and PQSW education

  • Ensure social workers’ front line role in identifying SU is reflected in alcohol and drug policy documents

  • Ensure all policies that inform social work education and practice recognise alcohol and drugs across the range of specialist areas of social work practice

Questions or comments?

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