Tag Archives: social work task force

SCRs: to publish or not to publish?

In the fallout from the Edlington case – where 2 brothers subjected 2 other children to a sustained attack – aspects of social services have again come under the public microscope. This time, it is serious case reviews (SCRs).

The Conservatives, and others, have called for the full Edlington case SCR to be published, rather than just the summary. Labour has rejected these calls.

As reported by the BBC last week, Conservative leader David Cameron believes fully-published SCRs would lead to a greater understanding of what went wrong and result in quicker action to prevent such events happening again in the future.

In the report, he said: “There is a sense at the moment that it is a sort of establishment stitch-up where all the people who have taken part in this issue are not named, they are not having to take proper responsibility, the public isn’t able to see what has gone wrong and the pressure isn’t there to put it right.”

It seems to me that Cameron is indicating that SCRs should be about ‘naming and shaming’ – to use a tabloid buzzphrase – and damning those who were at fault for the case going wrong. The assumption being that the SCR is there to do that and that there is always someone to point the finger at.

There is a common misconception that SCRs are there to apportion blame. They aren’t. They are – or should be – about learning from mistakes so they don’t happen again in the future. They apply to local conditions and social work practice – out of this context they lose some of their relevance. This should be explained better by the sector.

Secondly, cases are anonymised for a reason; there are child protection factors to be considered, as well as protecting the social care professionals involved. If they were public, would the media pass up the chance to splash the details? The Baby Peter case, for one, indicates otherwise.

Social workers do take proper responsibility; if there is proved to be negligent practice, for instance, they are disciplined. But again, that is not the job of the SCR.

I would argue also that there is pressure to “put things right”, not only from the public, but from within the sector. Ofsted makes regular inspections and there was the recent Social Work Task Force report, but surely all social workers want to ensure that practice is as good as practically possible?

SCRs are not perfect by any means – critics say they often focus on protocol rather than frontline practice – but to open them up fully could create more problems than it solves.

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Unity needed to take social work forward

The national college of social work is still only a recommendation on a piece of paper, but already there are signs of dissent among social care organisations about the way forward for it.

Firstly, BASW has threatened to pull out of the group that will steer the development of the college over fears of government interference in it and subsequent lack of independence. Speaking to Community Care, BASW’s chief executive, Hilton Dawson alleged that the £5 million government start-up funding comes with “strings attached” and that it could become “another quango” as a result.

BASW’s council members are currently deciding whether to accept an invitation to become part of the college development group.

Now, trades union Unison, which represents 40% of social workers, has come out with some distinctly lukewarm comments about where priorities in improving social work need to be. Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, told Community Care that setting up a college should not become a “distraction” from other priorities, such as cutting excessive workloads and bureaucracy, so that social workers can spend more time with service users.

Unison also wouldn’t be drawn on whether it would recommend its members to join it, when it is up and running, if they had to pay a registration fee.

These missives are worrying; it is only just over a month since the Social Work Task Force’s final report recommended setting up a national college, something that was almost universally welcomed. Yet already, before it’s started, there seems to be disagreement about the way forward.

One thing’s for certain, Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board, needs to work hard to ensure that all groups are on board with the agenda and moving in the same direction. But by the same token, all groups need to be prepared to work together – and compromise if necessary – to ensure these urgently needed reforms make it through.

Dissention could de-rail the whole agenda and end leave social work in the same state it is in now, which surely no-one wants. This is too great an opportunity to change the profession to miss.

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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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New Horizons for mental health service users

Continuing the pre-Christmas rush to release big and/or important documents – last week brought us the Social Work Task Force final report and the CQC’s adult social care review – today the government launches its new 10-year strategy for mental health, New Horizons: A Shared Vision for Mental Health.

A quick skim through the 100-page document reveals a few key themes to the strategy, including;

  • Improving the mental wellbeing of the entire population. The inclusive nature of this strategy, to me, will help to bring down the stigma of mental health issues, which still looms large. Also, prevention is easier (and cheaper) than cure
  • Early intervention, including treating mental health problems in children and adolescents, with such things as counsellors in schools. Many children with depression go undiagnosed and often go on to have mental health problems in adulthood, again, prevention is better than cure
  • Getting people with mental health problems back into work – this can really help with self-esteem and bring people back into ‘normal’ society and also reduces the cost to the taxpayer in benefits
  • Linked to this is a campaign to tackle mental health stigma. This is needed to help ensure the other 3 points are successful.

Thus far, the response from mental health organisations has been positive. Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink said it could (note: could) ‘revolutionise the quality of life and care available to people affected by severe mental illness’.

Meanwhile, Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer has described it as a ‘turning point’ for mental health and welcomed the focus on prevention and wellbeing.

However, Farmer also noted that there is, as yet, no action plan for making the vision of New Horizons become a reality. There are action points in the document, but they are light on detail. He also added that in many areas basic mental health services are still lacking and this should not be ignored.

This hits 2 large nails on the head; government strategies often sound impressive and it’s easy to get carried away and think how good things will be, but ignoring how it will get made into reality, and such documents can also distract from what’s happening (or not) on the ground that needs to be addressed urgently.

So, while the strategy has many of the right elements in it to make genuine strides in improving the care and wellbeing of people with mental health problems, only when the action plan is in place – along with guarantees of funding, or at least no cuts to it – will it be worth getting properly excited about.

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How Social Work Task Force report can tackle image of social work

Scanning the newspapers to gauge the reaction to yesterday’s final report from the Social Work Task Force, it is the comments from some of the public that caught my eye.

Most of the national newspapers I’ve seen have covered the report in a straight way – outlining the major reforms, along with comments from ministers. The BBC has also done roughly the same.

The Daily Mail has tried to put more of a spin on it, highlighting the recommendation for reforming the pay structure – Social workers to be given pay RISES in wake of Baby P scandal – rather than the recommendations to drive up standards. Interestingly, the article’s original headline contained the word ‘outrage’ but dropped it soon after, presumably due to the general lack of outrage.

But as usual, the comments at the bottom of the article include anti-social worker vitriol along the lines of ‘sack them all’ (among many others). Ignoring the ludicrousness of those sorts of statements, it nevertheless shows how much still needs to be done to improve the image of social workers in the public eye.

These sorts of comments appear at the bottom of many articles on social work – regardless of the newspaper – and highlight the deep-rooted prejudice that exists among some of the general public.

Tackling these perceptions will be incredibly difficult. The Task Force recommendations should help if they are driven through. It calls for a programme of public understanding, with greater openness and enhancing awareness of what social workers do and the contribution good social work makes to society.

This is key; I think a lot of anti-social worker feeling is down to misconceptions about what they do and the fact that it is only when it goes wrong that it is reported in the media – social workers seem to be painted as either child snatchers or uncaring box-tickers that ignore obvious abuse.

More campaigns along the lines of the one to improve recruitment seen earlier this year – and which created a huge spike in interest – are needed, as is a sustained feeding of ‘good news’ stories into the media.

Also, if the other recommendations do end up raising standards, the resulting better outcomes – and fewer poor outcomes, more significantly – will help to change the perception of social workers over time. Likewise, the number of damning newspaper articles would decrease.

Achieving this will take a sustained campaign over many years, but it needs to be done. Teachers’ status has been rehabilitated following similar campaigns in the past decade, and there is no reason that it can’t be done for social workers.

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Social Work Task Force report good for social workers

It’s what all social workers have been waiting for: the final report from the Social Work Task Force. Today, the blueprint for the future of social work has been outlined and, on initial reading, the recommendations could bring about real and positive change for the profession.

The SWTF was set up at the height of the Baby P scandal – but not because of it, as commonly believed – in January and charged with conducting a ‘root and branch review’ of the profession. While the recommendations are hardly radical – more what many social workers/social work bodies have been requesting for years – they are nonetheless welcome.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are some of the headline recommendations:

  • Reforms to initial training, so all students receive ‘good quality’ education and practice learning placements
  • A new ‘licensing’ system which will introduce an assessed probationary year in employment for new social work graduates, during which they will receive extra support
  • A revamped framework for continuing professional development, underpinned by a practice-based masters qualification, so all social workers can keep their skills up to date and develop specialist knowledge
  • A career structure so experienced practitioners can progress in frontline roles as well as in management
  • A new standard for employers to ensure all employers put in place high quality supervision, time for continuing professional development and manageable workloads
  • Pay reform – to ensure social workers receive the appropriate pay and that it reflects their career development and progression
  • A new and independent College for Social Work led and owned by the profession, which must establish a stronger voice for social work and exercise appropriate influence over national policy making and public debate.

To see the full report and press release at the DCSF website, click here.

On the face of it, these all seem sound recommendations. I’m sure all social workers will like the look of pay reforms, for instance.

The career development options also seem positive – many social workers have complained that to progress in their career they have to go into management and away from the frontline.

Also, newly qualified social workers have said that their training doesn’t adequately prepare them for practice – this should help address that.

While the licensing requirement just seems like the GSCC registration system by another name, this is a minor quibble and is probably there to help increase public confidence in social workers.

But, as social work associations ADASS and ADCS have pointed out, this package of reforms also need to come with resources. Disappointingly, health minister Andy Burnham has said details of this will not be announced until next year, along with the implementation plan. This will worry those in the profession – with tightening budgets, money for reforms and increased pay will be hard to find from existing resources.

I’m sure there will also be cynicism from within some parts of the profession – which has seen many initiatives and reforms come and go over the years with little discernable impact on practice – over things like the commitment to cut workloads and provide time for professional development and the masters qualification. I can envisage an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ attitude as this will be difficult to implement without bringing in more social workers. Again, this is where increased resources become crucial to the success – or otherwise – of the recommendations.

So, while these recommendations give hope for a brighter future for social work, it is now up to everyone – government, employers, social workers and others – to play their parts and ensure they become reality.

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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.

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