Thursday, 3 May 2018

Ofsted – part of the problem?

There is not much point identifying poor quality if you can’t do anything to improve it; still less if the intervention makes matters worse. 

In England the schools’ inspectorate, Ofsted, is also responsible for inspecting local authority children’s services. It does so in a judgemental, and often disparaging, manner  and it is not clear how it justifies the methodology it adopts

The consequences of its inspections – if they result in findings of ‘inadequacy’ – can be very painful for local authorities and not infrequently heads will roll. It has long been accepted that one of the repercussions of a ‘bad Ofsted’ is staffing problems. Those blamed for the bad inspection result move on, while it is increasingly difficult to encourage new recruits to join what is seen as a failing organisation. The result is that services get worse, not better.

A clear case study has just emerged of exactly this problem. It seems that the local authority in question has experienced quality problems because it finds it difficult to recruit staff. Ofsted condemns it for its failures which make it even more difficult to recruit staff. A vicious cycle if ever I saw one.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The case of Alfie Evans and the confidentiality of family court proceedings

If ever there were proof of the foolishness of allowing the tabloid media access to family court proceedings, the tragic case of Alfie Evans is it. Gaby Hinsliff’s powerful piece in the Guardian reflects on the case and critically examines a wide range of issues raised by it.

But my interest is focused solely on the issue of the confidentiality of family court proceedings. Ever since the dying years of the last Labour Government in 2010, I have opposed the media being present in the family courts. 

Of course, those of us opposed to the changes lost the argument. The journalists were allowed in. Inevitably the end result has been that debates about individual children are now being conducted on the pages of newspapers, some of which are driven more by political ideology than by concern for the best interests of the child.

Decisions about children’s lives should not be made by journalists and their editors. Complex, painful and sometimes tragic cases need to be dealt with sensitively, calmly and rationally. They should not be the subject of screaming headlines and whipped up moral panics

Friday, 20 April 2018


During the last couple of months, I have been moving house. It has seemed at times that the moving process has taken over completely and I have found myself committed to onerous tasks and pressing schedules not of my own making. Often the things I usually do – such as writing this blog - have had to be abandoned because of the demands of moving. At times, I have felt overwhelmed.

That word – ‘overwhelmed’ – caught my eye when I was scanning the pages of Community Care the other day. It is reported there that an adults’ social worker who was ‘overwhelmed’ by work following an organisational restructuring has been disciplined by the Health and Care Professions’ Council (HCPC), despite a previously unblemished 26-year career, being new to a management role and having an “extensive” workload, which included an additional 200 (yes two hundred) cases! Apparently, he did not always maintain accurate records. While it was acknowledged that he did not receive management support, the HCPC panel decided that he had to receive a caution, but by then, of course, his career was in tatters.

That makes my blood boil. Professional regulators are not there to deal with people who fail to cope in impossible circumstances. They are there to deal with people who deliberately indulge in egregious behaviour – people who tell lies, commit frauds or deliberately hurt other people.

It could just as easily have been a children’s social worker before the HCPC. Indeed, Community Care reports on the same day that a recent survey of children’s social workers found that 80% thought their caseloads were unmanageable. There are some chilling quotes in a separate article from those surveyed, showing that they also feel overwhelmed.

Whether in adults’ or children’s services, disciplining service providers who are victims of circumstance is a ludicrous and completely counterproductive exercise. It fosters a culture of blame which inhibits people from acknowledging and learning from their mistakes. That does nothing to make services safer; it almost certainly has the opposite effect.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Giving young children a better start in life – is it just a lottery?

I was pleased to read, in Children and Young People Now, about improvements to the health visiting service in the English seaside town of Blackpool. 

The improvements consist of increased visits to families expecting or raising young children. According to Children and Young People Now this means that health visitors will now see families for the first time at 28 weeks of pregnancy. They will then visit children within 14 days of birth and then again on four occasions during the child’s first 12 months. The visits will also be more parent-centred, focusing on their concerns.

That sounds to me exactly what a health visiting service should be like. It’s exactly what families need and require. The only sad piece of news is that Blackpool is one of only five areas in England to be receiving extra funding for its health visiting service, not from the government but from the Big Lottery Fund.

I think all areas should receive this kind of service and it should be funded from taxation, not from gambling. The right to a good healthy start to life should never be a matter of chance.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Council Services on the Brink

Children and Young People Now reports that the opposition Labour Party has warned the British Government that an unsustainable situation is arising with demand for children’s services continuing to rise while funding cuts severely afflict local authorities.
There are no surprises in Labour’s report, which coincides with the Shadow Chancellor’s call today for the Government to ‘wake up’ to the severe impact of its austerity policies. The dark and depressing picture the report paints is broadly true. Many local authorities are in deep financial trouble.

A dictionary definition of ‘austerity’ is: “difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure”. Perhaps we need to start using a new word to capture the true circumstances of local authority services? ‘Penury’, ‘Destitution’ and “Impoverishment’ are some worthy candidates.

Mandatory Reporting dismissed - a good result

Having been busy moving house, I nearly missed some of the best news concerning child protection this year.

The Government has decided NOT to introduce Mandatory Reporting of child abuse and neglect in England. The response to the consultation concludes:

“Most fundamentally, the evidence and submissions received through the consultation has not demonstrated conclusively that the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty or a duty to act improves outcomes for children. This must be our guiding consideration when considering such a major reform of such a vital service.” (Paragraph 24).

I have long believed that Mandatory Reporting is a bad idea.

That’s not because I don’t think that practitioners should always report their concerns - I do - but because I think it is counter-productive to punish them if they fail to do so. Almost invariably practitioners fail to report abuse and neglect because they fail to recognise it, not because they recognise it and would prefer to do nothing about it!

Blaming people for making the wrong decision breeds defensive practice and creates a climate of fear in which people are unable to discuss their mistakes openly. That makes practice less safe.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Britain today - the rich at play while under-funded services struggle to meet children's needs

Louise Tickle recently wrote a thoughtful and insightful piece in the Guardian about child protection and adoption.
She is absolutely right to draw attention to the impact of high caseloads and to point out the effects of frequent changes of social worker on the quality of social work practice in child protection and adoption. And she is absolutely right to bemoan the failure by government to address the funding gap for children’s social care.

I also thought that she made a telling point about the recent ministerial reshuffle, noting – as I had done a few days earlier – that the post of children’s ‘minister’ appears to have been downgraded to that of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, an office of which one incumbent (in Macmillan's 1957–1963 Conservative government) is said to have commented: "No one who hasn't been a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State has any conception of how unimportant a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State is."

I don’t understand why the children’s services trade press and other significant commentators have not made more of this worrying relegation of the priority of children’s services.

Talking of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, it is hard today to miss in the media accounts of his embarrassing attendance at the by-now infamous Presidents Club Charity Dinner.

What I find most depressing about this story is not the allegations about the behaviour of some of those who attended the event, shocking though those are.  

Rather it is the fact that the British establishment now seems to believe that it is acceptable to fund essential children’s services (such as Great Ormond’s Street children’s hospital) by relying on very rich men, and only very rich men, attending lavish social events at which many of them appear intent on behaving badly.

I may be old fashioned but I can’t see what was wrong with raising sufficient money through taxation.