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Serious case reviews are improving

Good news for social work; serious case reviews are improving and 40% are now good, with only 1 in 6 inadequate.

Latest figures from regulator Ofsted – as reported in the Daily Telegraph – covering 114 SCRs between April and December 2009, found that 45 were good, while 51 were adequate. Only 18 were judged inadequate. None were said to be outstanding.

In the year to March 31, 2009, 1 in 3 SCRs, out of 173, were judged to be inadequate.

So while there is clearly still room for improvement, this nevertheless shows that they are moving in the right direction and the messages from Lord Laming’s review and Ofsted’s report Learning lessons from serious case reviews; year 2 have been taken on board and are having an effect.

While these bare statistics don’t reveal how effective the learning is from SCRs – the true barometer of its worth – it does show they are being written to a higher standard at least.

But it was the comments of shadow children’s minister, Tim Loughton that caught my eye. In a couple of sentences he managed to – in my reading of them – insinuate that under a Conservative government the SCR regime will be changed, and that the party has little faith in Ofsted.

Here are the comments, judge for yourself; “We need to re-think this process so that professionals and the public can be reassured that lessons are being learnt.

“For this to happen the Government must agree to publish the full reports, not just executive summaries – at the moment we only have Ofsted’s word to go on that standards are improving.”

It looks pretty clear that under the Tories, SCRs would be published in full. While this would aid transparency – always a political winner – it would also no doubt help journalists to compile anti-social work stories when the next tragedy happens. SCRs should be about learning from why things did (or didn’t) happen and ensuring that mistakes aren’t repeated, rather than damning those involved and I suspect that if they were released in full, they would be used as a stick to beat social work with.

Also, as Ofsted is the regulator of social care, you would think that they are experts in what makes a good SCR and are ideally placed to judge whether standards are improving. Apparently not. Would the government (of any hue) be any better judges, given that they are not trained and/or experienced in child protection? I suspect not.

While Loughton’s comments smack of political points-scoring – expect much, much more of that in the coming months – it does raise questions in my mind about whether a Conservative government will tinker with social care regulation. Surely, stability is what is needed, rather than more changes. We will have to wait and see.

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Pre-budget report pleases few in social care

If ever there was a pre-budget report that was going to be unpopular, it was this one. Chancellor Alastair Darling knew it and has pretty much admitted it too. Unfortunately for him, it seems he was right; finding anyone with much positive to say about it is tricky at best.

From a social care point of view, the PBR seems to have been attacked from all sides. While it is generally accepted that cuts to the public sector are necessary if the country is to dig itself out of the financial hole it is in, the size of these cuts is causing consernation.

For example, the drive to keep older people in their own homes and out of residential care by using preventative measures continues. While the government thinks £250 million can be saved this way, ADASS’ John Jackson has slammed these proposals as “naïve”. He says that most councils are already planning cuts of 4% in this area and to make more, without new initiatives designed to help local government or promote closer working and better resource utilisation between the NHS and local government, is unrealistic.

Elsewhere, the announcement of a cap of 1% on pay increases for public sector workers from 2011-13 has been met with dismay. With National Insurance set to go up by 1% in 2011 too, add in inflation – expected to rise to 3% next year – and that’s a pay cut for millions. However, many councils would have struggled to find money for pay increases in any case.

But as BASW’s chief executive Hilton Dawson has pointed out, this seems to fly in the face of the Social Work Task Force report’s recent recommendations on career structure and pay grades for social workers. He called it a “slap in the face for the profession”.

Public sector unions have also been critical of the plans to cap state contributions to local government employee pensions by 2012.

So, while the public sector is unhappy, is the private sector more welcoming? Err, no. The English Community Care Association, the representative body for the independent care sector, has also slammed the PBR. Chief executive Martin Green said that the; “report signals that the government is intent on protecting the statutory services at the expense of independent provision and putting dogma before need”.

But this criticism has come without anyone really knowing what the alternative is; the Conservatives have focused mainly on criticising Labour’s plans, rather than promoting their own. Ditto the Liberals.

Certain details have previously emerged – such as the Tories’ plans to make deep cuts quickly and freeze social work pay for a year – but nothing in the same detail as Labour.

Only when the other parties outline their plans in the same detail will everyone get a true sense of what may be to come for the social care sector and the country more widely on the other side of the general election.

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Another Baby P waiting to happen?

Today’s news story comes from Greenwich where an – inevitably – unnamed social worker has broken ranks and said that another Baby P could happen because of a shortage of social workers and unmanageable workloads. http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/4712961.GREENWICH
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This scenario will be familiar to most children’s social workers. Vacancy rates nationally are said to be running at more than 10%, with the resultant knock-on effect in workload for current social workers.

It’s nothing new and one of the biggest problems the profession faces. The government can produce all the new initiatives and guidance it wants to try and improve practice and safeguarding but these mean little without the time – and personnel – to be able to carry these out effectively.

And this is where the problem lies. With local authority budgets set to be slashed in the next couple of years because of the recession, finding extra money for more social workers will be difficult at best for many councils.

Sadly, it seems this problem will remain and it is just a matter of time before another Baby P hits the headlines.

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Children’s social work in balanced TV show shocker

At last, a terrestrial TV programme about children’s social work that provided an accurate portrayal of the day-to-day work of those on the frontline.

Last night’s Panorama programme (http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/) on child protection social workers in Coventry was a welcome snapshot of social work teams; overworked, dealing with complex cases where the truth is hard to find and – crucially – dedicated to protecting children.

Social workers have been on the receiving end of some astonishing vitriol from some members of the public – who I’ll wager have no idea of what really goes on in a child protection team – in the months following Baby P, and this should have given the critics food for thought.

While there is a long way to go to improve the perception of social workers among the public – the overwhelming tide of social work news is still negative – this was a good start.

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Councils need to engage users over personal budgets

While scanning the newspapers yesterday, this report in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/oct/28/personal-care-budgets-jamie-bartlett caught my eye. It says that 80% of service users still don’t understand what personal budgets and personalisation is.

The article shows that many councils have really got their work to cut out to get the message out to the community and engage with them about what personalisation means for them – and the problems that could lie ahead for them in implementing it.

Those that have embraced personalisation and driven the implementation of personal budgets will be well placed, but those that have dragged their heels – for whatever reason – could be in serious trouble and will need to look at their policies quickly if disaster is to be avoided.

The personalisation agenda is here to stay – whatever the result of the next general election – so councils really have to get out there and talk to the community, whether it is through their website, service user events, advertising or whatever. Otherwise they could find themselves overwhelmed with demands from confused service users who are suffering because they weren’t well enough informed about what a personal budget was and now don’t have the right care.

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