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Buckinghamshire CC is the first council to use a social care computer simulation

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How do we ensure that social workers can handle complex situations – before we employ them?

  • Project: Rosie 2
  • Objectives: To improve the recruitment process for social workers and raise standards
  • Timescale: One year from the original idea to first use in May 2016
  • Cost to authority: £21,000 including Sten 10 support to develop new recruitment process, a portfolio of motivational and competency based interview questions for social workers and managers, and Rosie 2 licences from University of Kent
  • Number of staff working on project: A small team of colleagues from workforce development, children’s social care and HR
  • Outcomes: Four new social workers employed and fantastic feedback from candidates and managers
  • Officer contact details: Kate Glover-Wright

Traditionally local authorities have used written tests, interviews and occasionally role play to assess candidates.

However, Buckinghamshire CC is the first in the country to use a computer simulation to put candidates through their paces and we believe there are huge benefits to the approach.

‘Rosie 2’ is an interactive child protection simulation developed by the University of Kent. It puts candidates in the shoes of a social worker visiting the fictional and troubled McGraw family. Candidates can interact with the characters and environment; they can hear the sharp tone of an abusive partner, check the condition of the babies’ bedroom and see the bags under a young carer’s eyes.

We then ask candidates to write an assessment on the strengths and difficulties of the situation, the risks and family dynamics, the multi-agency partners they need to work with and what their next steps would be.

The simulation has previously been used as a training programme for students and existing social workers, but working with Sten 10, an agency of business psychologists who design high-quality people assessments, we adapted it to form a key part of our recruitment process.

Why? Well, it’s no secret that there are concerns nationally about the standard of social workers, evidenced by the introduction of high-calibre, fast-track training programmes such as Step up to Social Work and Frontline. We, like many other authorities, have struggled to recruit experienced social workers, who are often picked up by agencies, so the majority of social workers in the employment market are newly qualified.

We have found it difficult to find high-quality candidates. Too often we found applicants’ communication skills weak and that they had not benefited from a statutory placement while on their social work degree and so struggled to transfer theory into practice.

We need social workers who can critically analyse and reflect on the situation, alongside the part they play in it. They need to reach sound, considered conclusions that show they have heard the voice of the child and family and can incorporate that in their written work.

That’s where Rosie 2 has been a revelation. The visual and audio prompts provide candidates with the whole picture; it is the best recreation available of real-world scenarios they could have. It gives an unprecedented level of detail that can’t be delivered through role playing assessments (an added benefit is it cuts down on the hiring of actors or using officers’ time to take part in the role plays).

It’s fair and consistent too; everybody who attends the recruitment assessment centre will have the same experience.

It has cost around £20,000 to set up Rosie 2 as a recruitment tool. We used it for the first time during two recruitment days in May, taking on four new social workers from the 10 candidates.

Rosie 2 gave us a much more balanced view of their abilities and skills and also indicates areas for development, while allowing us to make more considered decisions on who we didn’t want to recruit and the justification for that.

It may look like a computer game, but this innovative approach has taken our recruitment of social workers to a new level.

Kate Glover-Wright, workforce development manager in children’s social care, Buckinghamshire CC



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