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Ethnic minority social workers in the UK: workforce representation, welfare, retention and progression – A rapid evidence review synthesis

Ethnic minority social workers in the UK: workforce representation, welfare, retention and progression - A rapid evidence review synthesis

Focus areas

Professionals

THEMES

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Published January 2022

Summary

The report found that the proportion of ethnic minority individuals enrolled in social work programmes is greater than that of ethnic minority individuals enrolled in all higher education programmes. This proportion is also higher than the proportion of ethnic minority social workers in the workforce. Students from ethnic minority groups may be less likely to successfully complete their programmes. Where learning environments had higher levels of representation of ethnic minority students, ethnic minority social work students were more likely to progress on time.

Relative to the population of England, ethnic minority social workers are overrepresented in both the child and adult social worker workforce. However, ethnic minority social workers are underrepresented among Directors of Children’s Services and managers in adult social care and are overrepresented amongst agency workers. The report found little data and evidence on the wellbeing of ethnic minority social workers despite several large-scale studies on the topic for social workers in general. The report identified no data on retention for ethnic minority social workers. This is a significant gap in the research literature. Included studies highlight that Black social workers are disproportionately subject to referrals to the regulator for misconduct.

The report suggests several avenues for future research, policy and practice.

Objectives

While the initial scope of this review was to understand the experiences of Black social workers and students, we included studies that considered the experiences of social workers from other ethnic minority groups due to limited evidence with the initial population of interest. More specifically, we examined the existing evidence base pertaining to the representation, welfare, progression and retention of ethnic minority social workers.

How we went about it

We searched a single electronic academic research database (SAGE) and several websites. We excluded any work that was published before 1990 and limited findings to journal articles, working papers and organisational reports. The geographical focus of the studies was England or the United Kingdom and the population of interest was all social workers from an ethnic minority group employed by the State or otherwise, in children’s or adult social care in the UK, including student social workers.

Key findings

Social Worker Education

Outcome 1: Representation on social work courses

The proportion of ethnic minority individuals enrolled in social work programmes is greater than that of ethnic minority individuals enrolled in all higher education programmes. This proportion is also higher than the proportion of ethnic minority social workers in the workforce.

Outcome 2: Student Welfare

We found that ethnic minority social work students may be demotivated by the often narrow social and cultural scope of syllabi. Black and Asian social work students experience discrimination during their practice placements and they can experience a lack of support from their placement team and/or agency in dealing with racism and discrimination. They may also expected to be experts on race and anti-racist practices.

Financial and family responsibilities can place additional burdens on some ethnic minority students during their studies. Language differences can also create challenges for some students’ course progression. Having peers of the same ethnicity is identified by ethnic minority social work students as important in providing a sense of belonging and support within social work programmes. Where present, ethnic minority teaching staff can act as role models and offer support to students.

Outcome 3: Retention and Progression of students

Students from ethnic minority groups may be less likely to successfully complete their programmes. Where learning environments had higher levels of representation of ethnic minority students, ethnic minority social work students were more likely to progress on time. Furthermore, students from ethnic minority groups who experience intersectional disadvantage may be at greater risk of unsuccessfully completing their social work course.

Social Worker Workforce

Outcome 4: Representation in the workforce

Relative to the population of England, ethnic minority social workers are overrepresented in both the child and adult social worker workforce. However, ethnic minority social workers are underrepresented among Directors of Children’s Services and managers in adult social care and are overrepresented amongst agency workers. Since the turn of the century, the annual number of internationally recruited social workers has increased, and is more ethnically diverse than domestically recruited social workers.

Outcome 5: Professional Welfare

We found little data and evidence on the wellbeing of ethnic minority social workers despite several large-scale studies on the topic for social workers in general. What we did identity suggests ethnic minority social workers are likely to experience the same difficulties as other social workers from a White background (high stress, low job satisfaction). In addition, Black social workers reported working longer hours which was linked to burnout. Included studies also identified experiences of racism which impacted on well-being.

Outcome 6: Progression and Retention in the workforce

We identified no data on retention for ethnic minority social workers. This is a significant gap in the research literature. Included studies highlight that Black social workers are disproportionately subject to referrals to the regulator for misconduct. Additionally, while there are opportunities for professional development for social workers from ethnic minority groups, there are perceived substantial barriers to opportunities for career progression.

Implications / Next steps

The proportion of ethnic minority students on social work courses is high. However, they face barriers to engagement and satisfaction during their studies and placements and experience a lack of support in dealing with racism and discrimination. As a result, they may be less likely to enter or remain in the social worker workforce.

In the workplace, ethnic minority social workers are overrepresented in both the child and adult social worker workforce in England. However, ethnic minority social workers are underrepresented in senior positions with perceptions of substantial barriers for career progression.

The findings in this review describe the experiences of social workers and social work students. However, they do not allow us to make claims about how representative the findings are of the views and experiences of all social work professionals and students in the UK from ethnic minority groups.

In light of the findings, we suggest several avenues for future research, policy and practice.