Tag Archives: Panorama

Where next for vetting and barring scheme?

As the new government continues to unpick the legislation put in place by the old Labour administration, today it is the turn of the vetting and barring scheme (VBS).

When the government unveiled its policy plans last month, it said that it would be launching a review of the VBS, with a view to scaling it back to “common sense levels”, whatever that means.

Now, with the scheme set to roll out in 6 weeks time, the government has postponed it until after the review is completed – when this will be has not been announced.

I suspect that this move will be warmly received by those involved with children and vulnerable adults at all levels, because the scheme has never garnered much popularity.

When it was first announced, there was outcry in the national media, with concerns that authors visiting schools and even parents who give lifts to their children’s friends when going to football practice would have to register. It was said to be disproportionate, overly burdensome and infringed on civil liberties

Sir Roger Singleton, head of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and – as of today – the ex-adviser to the government on the safety of children, completed a review of it and watered down measures such as those mentioned above, to widespread approval, although many felt there were still other problems that were not addressed.

For example, I spoke to Sue White, professor of social work at Lancaster University, who was concerned that decisions about whether or not to bar someone were down to 200 case workers based in Darlington, who would be using ‘soft’ information about the applicant, such as work history, arrests where no charges were bought, and any unfounded allegations in their judgement process.

Prof White didn’t believe that those case workers could make such important decisions – which a forensic psychiatrist or experienced social worker could struggle with – based on information on pieces of paper.

Others, such as Andrew Holman from Inspired Services, an accessible information provider, were worried about the potential effects on employment, especially of people with learning disabilities. He said the VBS did not make clear whether employers or employees working with vulnerable adults had to register with the scheme. As a result, he believed most employers would err on the side of caution and not employ someone with learning disabilities.

This matter was further complicated because there is no concrete definition of what constitutes a ‘vulnerable adult’. Indeed, many people with learning disabilities would refute such a negative label.

That was just 2 of the concerns I have heard about the scheme. I suspect those 2 issues will be addressed in the review, although with no concrete detail (as yet) on what the review will focus on, this is just speculation.

In addition, I think the review will play to the populist vote, so it will look at scaling back the numbers involved, currently said to be 9 million, so the definition of ‘frequent’ contact – currently once a week – will be revised backwards.

Any measure that involves parents registering – such as those who help out at a children’s centre – will also go by the wayside.

But whatever is involved, the reviewers will have their work cut out to devise a scheme that does help to keep children and vulnerable adults safe, but isn’t seen to be too draconian or too lenient – it is a fine balancing act. Imagine the outcry if there is another Ian Huntley.

But whatever the review comes up with, while it will stop people with a history of abuse getting jobs that allow them contact with children/vulnerable adults, it still won’t stop then – they will just find other ways to access them.

So, allied to the VBS, surely there is no substitute for teaching children how to keep themselves as safe as possible as well as old-fashioned vigilance from parents and carers, as well as, as former rugby star Brian Moore, who suffered abuse himself as a child, called for in the recent Panorama programme Are You a Danger to Kids?, mechanisms to ensure abused children can come forward in confidence to report what has happened?

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Social care possible victim of government cuts

Chancellor George Osborne announced the first wave of cuts to public spending yesterday, but it is still unclear what this will mean for social care – yet.

Most of the announcement dealt in headline terms – talking about millions of pounds worth of cuts to government departments, but not saying exactly where they will be made.

For instance, councils have been told that they will have to cut £500 million worth of services in the next 10 months. In the absence of concrete details, there is lots of speculation about where these cuts could come – such as in residential and home care for the elderly, according to a report in today’s Times.

This would seem likely – a recent poll for the BBC’s Panorama said that more than half of councils were considering making cuts to adult social care provision.

In practice, it may mean that eligibility criteria gets ramped up again, so that only those with ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ needs will get services – which already happens in many council areas. Also, services such as day centres may be targeted for cuts, as will any service that struggles to demonstrate it provides value for money.

With budgets needing to be slashed other areas, such as the roll-out of the personalisation agenda, may be hit. There is the £237 million Social Care Reform grant scheduled for this year, and there is speculation that might be cut, according to a report in Community Care.

Meanwhile, children’s services were largely protected from the cuts, except for the abandonment of the Child Trust Fund, which wasn’t that popular anyway.

But this is just educated speculation. I assume the details of the cuts will gradually come out in the next few days and weeks, which should shed more light on what will happen and then councils – and service users – can start to plan for the future.

But what is certain is that these are only the first cuts – and not necessarily the deepest. June’s emergency Budget is expected to announce further spending cuts, while with the Comprehensive Spending Review – which sets out council budgets for the next 3 years – there are fears that council funding could fall off a cliff.

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Panorama sums up vetting and barring complexity

Last night’s Panorama ‘Are You a Danger to Kids?’ on BBC1 gave a pretty balanced assessment of the government’s new Vetting and Barring Scheme (V&BS).

While the focus was clearly on the child protection aspect, rather than vulnerable adults – as with the majority of mainstream media coverage – it outlined many of the pros and cons of the scheme in an accessible way. It didn’t go down the emotive route either – no stories about children killed by paedophiles were used, which would have been an easy trap to fall into.

Part of the aim of the programme was to inform viewers of exactly what it is and who will need to register under it – there is still a lot of confusion about it among the public – but it did not ignore some of the harder questions the scheme raises.

For instance, I was interested to see the vetting process investigated, especially that the case workers who will decide the majority of applications will be able to access ‘soft’ information about the applicant, such as work history, arrests where no charges were bought, and any unfounded allegations.

This is usually skipped over by the media and it was good to see the concerns highlighted, including the human rights angle and whether someone in an office in Darlington can make a correct decision based – in some cases – on rumour. The Independent Safeguarding Authority, which is in charge of the scheme, disputes these concerns.

A quick conclusion from the programme: the V&BS does have its faults – not least that it won’t stop predatory paedophiles – but it will give some assurances and help to ensure that those with convictions can’t get into jobs that give them easy access to children or vulnerable adults. It is hard to argue that this isn’t a good thing.

However, as former rugby star Brian Moore, who suffered abuse himself as a child, pointed out, there needs to be mechanisms to ensure abused children can come forward in confidence to report what has happened, and this doesn’t do that. Surely there should be more focus on this, as well as giving children the knowledge of how to keep themselves safe?

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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.

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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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