Tag Archives: Local Government Association

Personal care at home delay makes sense

Firstly, an apology for not updating the blog recently. This has been down to sheer volume of work – several projects all came in at once that required all my attention and didn’t allow me the time to sit and write a blog.

But these projects have been completed and normal service should now be resumed.

However, despite my little hiatus, the main debates in social care do not seemed to have moved on much. For instance, everyone is still speculating what will be in the adult social care funding white paper, nobody thinks that the government has got its sums right on the free personal care at home policy and councils are still causing controversy over cutbacks they are having to make to budgets. Plus ca change.

Taking one of those themes – free personal care – there was probably a collective sigh of relief among councils across England earlier this week when news came out that the House of Lords had voted to delay the measure until an independent review is carried out, which means that it is now unlikely to be implemented before the general election.

Many council chiefs have voiced their concerns over the costing of it (although not all, it has to be noted), with the phase ‘back of a fag packet’ used more than once.

While the bill is not yet dead – the government could still try to push it through – a delay in its implementation at least makes sense.

As Lord Best, a crossbench peer and president of the Local Government Association, said, there are worries that arrangements to help the 400,000 people it is expected to cover might not be up and running in the next few months – especially as there are local and national elections coming, with possible changes of leadership and policies – and that local authority budgets have already been set for 2010-11, so finding the funds is tough.

Pushing this bill through now could end up with services being rushed in, and just think of all the potential problems with that – getting the administration right, putting the care services in place, finding the funds – and that’s just for starters. The potential for it all going wrong is arguably high, which could end up harming service users, carers and social care staff.

If, after the election, it is still thought that free personal care at home is a viable proposition, then ministers should look at a timetable for implementation. Doing it now, with some many other things going on, is simply asking for trouble.

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Filed under adult social care, Social care funding

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.


Filed under children's social work, Social care funding

Ofsted needs to learn from criticism

Ofsted’s annual report on care, education and skills is out today, but rather than celebrate progress and successes, various groups – notably the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – have wasted no time in putting the boot into the regulator.

The LGA says Ofsted “should be the calm, measured voice that helps to make child protection services work better rather than feeding people’s fears.”

Then, more provocatively – and obviously aimed at journalists looking for a juicy public-sector punch-up – the LGA added, “Ofsted has become too concerned about protecting its own reputation and places a disproportionate emphasis on publicly highlighting weaknesses in child protection without adequately reflecting the huge amount of good work being done by councils across the country.”

Meanwhile, the ADCS – which has a fractious relationship with Ofsted at the best of times – fuelled the fire with its own report. It said there are “very serious problems” with the current inspection model and that it is “ripe” for reform. However, ADCS did say that Ofsted should continue to inspect education and children’s services.

While regulators aren’t there to be popular, the criticism of Ofsted is stinging and with such venomous feelings towards it indicates that there are problems that need to be addressed.

For the public to have confidence in children’s services and education there has to be confidence in the regulator that governs it. If this is being undermined, it needs to be addressed quickly.

For instance, there is certainly a groundswell of opinion that Ofsted needs to get away from a perceived ‘box-ticking’ culture when it assesses services; it has been said to me that it can feel if they are being ‘marked’ during assessments.

And while Ofsted could probably do more to publicise the good work that is being done within children’s services, this is not solely their problem – the whole sector needs to be better at flagging up good work.

But Ofsted really needs to show that it can recognise criticism and learn from it – much like that it tells councils to after assessments. That way, everyone has the chance to improve and develop.

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Filed under children's social work