Tag Archives: social work

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?

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under social care

PR strategy works for Scottish social workers

In terms of image, social workers are up there with traffic wardens, politicians and bankers in the most reviled profession stakes. But there are signs that this is starting to change – in Scotland at least.

A new poll, commissioned by Scottish social work body the Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW), found that 47% of people rated social work as positive, compared to 38% last year. Additionally, the survey found that 80% of service users were happy with the services they received.

This was despite negative press coverage of the profession because of the Baby Peter and Brandon Muir cases.

As I see it, this result is not down to 2 main factors. Firstly, in Scotland ADSW has run a high-profile PR campaign – ‘Social Work Changes Lives’ – for the past year or so, with the aim of improving the image and understanding of social work, including putting positive stories into the local media.

But the sector also has government support. When the Brandon Muir case came to court last year, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond came out and defended the profession, rather than damned it for its failings. As Scottish social workers have said to me since, this had a great positive impact on morale. The political reaction was also strikingly different to that seen in Westminster to the similar Baby Peter case, where social work was roundly condemned.

Against this backdrop, it makes it easier for positive messages from social work to come through.

It would be interesting to see the results if a similar poll were conducted in England; I don’t think they would be as positive. While there has been an advertising campaign to promote social work, and sterling work done by celebrities like Goldie and Samantha Morton to do the same in the past year, the media coverage of the profession is still overwhelmingly negative, which has a big effect on public perception.

The new government could certainly learn from their colleagues north of the border, as could social work bodies; if a coordinated campaign were to be launched, along with a feed of positive stories about social work to the media, then, as Scotland proves, a demonstrable impact can be made.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scottish social care

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under adult social care, social work training