Tag Archives: children’s social work

Yet another review of child protection coming

Child protection still isn’t working well enough. That’s the message from the Department for Education today, and, as is traditional with such things, is setting up a review of the profession to address this.

But the focus of the review is not on the quality of social workers, but on cutting bureaucracy and the barriers that prevent social workers spending more time with vulnerable children.

“Hallelujah” I hear social workers cry…

So, could this be an end to the much-disliked ‘box-ticking culture’ that has developed within social work in recent years? Let’s hope so. I’ve spoken to many in the profession over the past couple of years, and a constant theme is the amount of admin and paperwork they have to do – some have said it is as much as an 80-20 split on paperwork to spending time with children.

The initial signs that change might be coming are good. For example, the choice of Professor Eileen Munro to lead the review is positive. She is well respected within the profession and will not pull any punches or follow any particular political agendas.

In addition, the review will be informed by successful child protection systems from other countries.

The review will also look at how effectively children’s social workers and professionals in other agencies work together. From what I have written in the past, this is patchy – some are very good, others not, with a whole range of issues affecting this – but a drive to remove barriers to working together more makes sense – they are all pursuing the same goal, after all.

Nevertheless, social workers are in general a cynical bunch and will greet this review like they have greeted others in the recent past: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Many reviews have come and gone in children’s social work – most recently the Social Work Task Force – and often they have had little effect on frontline practice. I imagine this will be treated in the same manner until things actually start to change.

Elsewhere, children’s minister Tim Loughton also confirmed that serious case reviews are to be published in full but with redactions and anonymised ‘except where it would affect the welfare of any surviving children and their siblings’ and that ContactPoint is to be scrapped.

Both these are controversial. I won’t go over my standpoint on SCRs again – see SCRs – to publish or not to publish for that. But it does seem odd that the government is advocating more integrated working, but at the same time getting rid of ContactPoint, a database that should help that. It also seems like a huge waste of money, given the millions spent on it – and will anything be put in its place?

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work

Gaps in coalition plans for children and families

The coalition government has outlined its plans for children and families, but there are some significant gaps in them.

For instance, while there are several commitments to helping families – such as funding for relationship support – details on what will be happening to children’s services are relatively thin on the ground.

While there is a vague commitment to investigate a new approach to helping families with multiple problems, how or what this new approach will be is not discussed, and this rather sets the tone.

There are also references to a ‘re-focusing’ of Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention and focusing on the neediest families.

A more concrete commitment to try and address the workload of children’s social workers comes with the scrapping of the Comprehensive Area Assessment, which has caused concern about the time it takes to do.

But there is nothing on how the rising level of referrals is to be combated, whether there will be greater funding for children’s services or if there will be help with recruitment – although local authorities will have greater autonomy with their budgets.

Elsewhere, the Vetting & Barring Scheme – due to be phased in from July – is due for another review to get it to “common sense levels”. This is again suitably vague – what is their definition of common sense, for example – and makes you wonder what last year’s Singleton review achieved.

In addition, in part of a wider push towards greater transparency, serious case reviews are to be published in full, with identifying details removed.

As I have said before [SCRS: To publish or not to publish], I am sceptical about this. While I can see the logic of publishing reviews in full, I worry that there may still be ways to identify those involved, and that journalists may use them to damn social workers, especially in high-profile Baby P-type cases.

So, as with adult social care, the proposals are a mixed bag and the publication of details about how these policies will be enacted will reveal whether they will be successful or not.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work, social care

Baby P effect sustained

For about a year now, social workers have been talking about the ‘Baby P effect’ – the rise in applications for children to be taken into care. While many thought it would be a temporary blip, which would die down when the furore over the case did, it is proving to be sustained.

Care demand from April to December 2009 was 46.1% higher than the same period in 2008, according to Cafcass, the organisation that represents children’s interests in the family courts. November 2009 saw 753 care applications – the third highest monthly figure since Cafcass records began in 2005.

Not only this, but Cafcass reports that applications are starting to stabilise at this higher level.

These figures can be viewed as something of a double-edged sword. On the plus side, it means more children are being protected and not left in potentially harmful situations.

Also, while this news could be grist to the mill of the anti-children’s social work brigade – those who perceive children’s social workers as child snatchers – a Cafcass survey also concluded that local authorities had taken the appropriate action in making the applications. While the survey did attribute the increases to the Baby P effect, it doesn’t mean that they are making spurious applications.

It also should be remembered that this still represents a tiny minority of the children who come into contact with social services.

But, as ever, there is a downside. And, as usual, it’s money, or the lack of it; the Local Government Association estimates that the cost of taking children into care will rise by £226 million this financial year.

With local authorities already tightening their budgets in anticipation of swingeing cuts in 2011, and also having to find £250 million in ‘efficiency savings’ to fund the government’s free personal care at home policy, this is extra expenditure they can literally ill afford.

Ironically, there is talk of early intervention schemes being cut to pay for the increase in children being taken into care – which could cause more problems than it solves, given that prevention is usually better (and cheaper) than cure.

However, what cannot be allowed to happen is social workers avoiding, or being discouraged from, making applications because of cost concerns. There was anecdotal talk of this happening in some local authorities pre-Baby P and it cannot happen again.

Child protection is paramount and local authorities – and government – need to find the resources to do this without impacting on other services. But whether they will, or can, is another matter.

2 Comments

Filed under children's social work, Social care funding

Recruitment drive paying off for social services

This will be music to the ears of beleaguered HR officers in children’s social services departments; 40,000 people have registered an interest to join the profession since last September.

Figures from the Children’s Workforce Development Council  demonstrate that the government’s recruitment drive – launched in the wake of the Laming Review last year, along with a national PR campaign – is starting to pay dividends.

Called Be The Difference, the campaign has run – and is currently running again – on the major commercial terrestrial channels and Sky, complemented by radio, print, cinema and billboard advertising.

The campaign has painted social work in a positive light – heavily sugar coating it, some cynics in the sector have said to me – and the difference it can make to children’s lives. And it seems to have worked, judging by these figures – indeed, 5,000 signed up in one day earlier in the month.

While some of those who have signed up won’t make it to, or through, the social work course, it is still a significant boost to ordinary recruitment levels.

Of course, it will still be some time before any of these recruits are ready for the frontline – a postgraduate conversion course takes 2 years, for instance – but it indicates that the recruitment crisis, in children’s services at least, may start to ease in the foreseeable future.

While those struggling under mountainous caseloads may still say that this is too long to wait, it is nevertheless good news for everyone involved in children’s social work. If a majority of these eventually make it to the frontline, it will help to reduce workloads, enable social workers to dedicate more time to individual cases and, hopefully improve outcomes for service users.

Let’s hope this early evidence of the strategy making a difference convinces the powers that be to maintain this drive – in recruitment and other areas – so that it does deliver positive change to the sector in the next few years.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work

Children’s social services: impressive despite circumstances

It’s official: Council-run children’s social services departments in England are performing well, in general.

Ofsted has published its 2009 children’s services ratings and revealed that 68% of the 152 councils are performing ‘excellently’ or ‘well’, while another 25% are ‘adequate’.

Only 9 councils – 6% – are judged to be ‘poor’, including Haringey, which neatly avoids another media storm over Baby P.

While the media, inevitably, has thus far focused on the poorly performing councils, it could be argued that it is surprising that more children’s services departments are not failing.

Take Birmingham, for example, one of the councils deemed ‘poor’, much to their chagrin. There, about a fifth of the 722 posts in children’s services were unfulfilled, and absenteeism ran at 25 days per person, according to a report in the Birmingham Post. After some quick calculations in the office on the back of a Post-it, we worked out that about a third of the workforce was missing. Those that were present were dealing with 800 child abuse cases a month, so it’s no wonder the department was at breaking point.

While measures are now in place to improve matters in Birmingham, I doubt that its situation is unique. Nationally, vacancy levels are running at 9.5% of frontline posts in children and families teams, with 9.6% annual turnover of employees, according to the interim report by the Social Work Task Force. Sickness levels are also high – an average of 12 days per social worker – which is 60% more than the national average, according to a recent report in The Independent.

Combine that with rising levels of referrals – the dual effects of Baby P and the recession – and you have to marvel that more children’s services departments aren’t failing and there aren’t more Baby P’s.

It also serves to make Ofsted’s findings look all the more impressive, especially as chief inspector Christine Gilbert claims these inspections were tougher than those in previous years.

It just shows what a good job the majority of social workers do under increasingly difficult circumstances, and should be cause for celebration.

While there is still much work to do to improve services – and the lot of the social worker – it needs to be recognised that a good job is being done in the vast majority of cases.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work

Big week for social care

For those of us involved in reporting on social care – adults and children – this week is shaping up to be a busy one, with 2 major reports coming out that should make mainstream national headlines.

The much-vaunted final report from Moira Gibb’s Social Work Task Force (SWTF) is due out tomorrow, with the Care Quality Commission’s first major assessment of the quality of adult social care in England coming on Wednesday.

The SWTF report is awaited with particular interest because that should contain elements that – it is hoped – will change social work practice for the better. Some of its contents have already been trailed (including in this blog on November 20) including implementing a probationary year for newly-qualified social workers and the establishment of a national college of social work along the lines of medical Royal Colleges, which augur well for the full contents of the report.

Meanwhile, the CQC’s report has been less well trailed but should also put social care in the spotlight. The report will contain information on all 148 councils’ performance in adult social care, an analysis of how well commissioners are purchasing services, the performance of residential homes and home care agencies, and the CQC’s response to the adult social care green paper.

The media response to both should be interesting because I suspect they will vary significantly. I imagine the SWTF report will be welcomed, with its emphasis on how practice and training can be improved, although there will be gripes about what isn’t included in it.

However, I suspect the emphasis of reporting on the CQC report will focus on the areas that are failing – undoubtedly the minority – and virtually ignore the rest of the content. As usual in the national media, a cheap, sensational, social care-bashing headline and story will be produced, rather than more balanced reportage.

I’ll be covering both reports in the blog over the next few days and try to give a balanced take of the content – whether it is good or bad – as well as looking at the reaction to it elsewhere.

Leave a comment

Filed under adult social care, children's social work, social work training

Social workers leave due to ‘Baby P effect’

In possibly one of the least surprising social work stories of the year, statistics from the Local Government Association  have emerged that 6 in 10 councils are finding it difficult to recruit and retain children’s social workers.

This is an increase of 50% on the previous year, and the LGA blames the national media vilification of those involved directly in the Baby P case – and a more general damning of children’s social work as well – for scaring potential social workers away. The coverage also served to dampen morale in most social work departments.

While there have been moves to improve the image of children’s social work in the media – last week’s Panorama, for example – the vast majority of stories are still negative, which only serve to reinforce already well-entrenched anti-social work views.

Well, who would want to be a children’s social worker when you are viewed as either a child snatcher or so clueless that you can’t spot when a child is being severely abused? Not many of us.

The LGA’s figures, though unsurprising, are worrying. Many children’s services departments already complain of being overworked and understaffed, and it seems the problem is being exacerbated by the media vilification.

Of course, the more overstretched children’s departments become, the greater the chance of another Baby P happening, which would start up the media witch-hunt again and put even more off social work, and so on. 

This vicious circle needs to be stopped quickly, and it needs good communication from social work departments. For instance, while there are some local schemes that are successfully stemming the tide of departures, often neighbouring councils know nothing of it, because no-one tells them about it.

Councils need to shout about successful recruitment and retention projects from the rooftops, not just to other councils – although that is crucial – but the media too; newspapers won’t publish positive stories unless they know about them.

This way, things can change and the image of social work can – gradually – be restored.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's social work