Thursday, 3 August 2017

Slow to blame and quick to learn

I recently wrote an article – published in the July/August edition of Professional Social Work - with Trevor Dale, a former British Airways pilot, about what social work can learn from civil aviation’s human factors approach to safety.
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to find that the article rehearses many of the arguments which I regularly put forward here. Just like civil aviation, child protection social work is a safety critical activity. Its practitioners require effective ways of learning from failures and mistakes so that they can slowly and progressively build safer services.

I was quite pleased with a little text box that the Professional Social Work editor suggested we include in the article and in particular with its first bullet point: 

“When things go wrong, be slow to blame and quick to learn”.

That could be a moral not just for social work and child protection but for life in general.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Smoke and mirrors

Ofsted has found that Reading Council’s children’s services continue to be ‘inadequate’.

Instead of trying to find out why Reading’s services are ‘inadequate’ – in other words doing some tough analysis to discover what needs to be put right - there now seems to be a preoccupation with outsourcing and revising governance structures.

I say this to Reading Council and their collaborators. You don’t make excellent services in committee rooms and board rooms and you don’t deliver high quality and safety by concentrating on who owns or controls what. You can only deliver excellent complex services by helping the people who deliver them to understand what they need to do to satisfy the needs of service users.

That involves moving the focus from the top of the organisation to the bottom, from the board room to the frontline. Forget the smoke and mirrors; concentrate on the knitting.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Confidential Hearings

I have always believed that legal proceedings concerning children should be held in camera

I don’t think it is right for the press to be able to stir up public feelings to try to influence the way in which a court decides about a child. To have the likes of Katie Hopkins and Christopher Booker pontificating on children’s cases before the courts churns my stomach.

My instincts are very much confirmed by what I read in the Guardian about the case of Charlie Gard. Apparently, staff at Great Ormond Street hospital are now receiving death threats.

That is no way to conduct very serious legal proceedings about the life of a child. All hearings about children should be held behind closed doors for a very obvious purpose; to protect the best interests of the child.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Learning from failure

The final part of Matthew Syed’s series was aired on BBC Radio 4 this lunchtime. In it Matthew developed the theme he also addressed in the two preceding programmes, the importance of learning from mistakes and failures.

Of particular interest this week was his examination of public policy and public services, dwelling for some time on the case of Baby Peter Connelly and the way in which the government of the day, pressured by the tabloid media and poorly informed public opinion, pursued and blamed individuals, rather than trying to find out what went wrong and learning how to avoid a repeat in future.

Matthew described a public sector in Britain which is generally afflicted by an unhealthy fear of failure and unwillingness to learn from mistakes with a knee-jerk tendency towards defensiveness and self-justification. The big egos of policy-makers and senior officials often get in the way of learning and improvement. Fear and blame are widespread.

On the positive side, Matthew did identify one or two examples where the development of policy and practice in the public sector is moving in the direction of being more rational and evidence led. He singled out David Halpern of the Behavioural Insights Team and Gavin Jones of Essex County Council to make the programme's concluding comments. Both clearly understood the importance of learning from failure and recognised its huge potential to revolutionise public services by making them truly effective.

The programme is really worth 30 minutes of your time. A must listen. 

Working conditions of children’s social workers in Britain

An independent report by Dr Jermaine Ravalier looks at the working conditions and wellbeing of social workers in the UK, of whom a large number work with children and young people.

Dr Ravalier is senior lecturer in psychology at Bath Spa University and co-leads the Psychological Research Group, specialising in researching working conditions and their effects.

The research found that:
  • Working conditions for social workers in Britain, irrespective of job role, are extremely poor, with deep budget cuts forcing social workers to take on more cases than ever
  • Heavy demands on individuals’ time result in increased levels of stress, intentions to leave, low job satisfaction and ‘presenteeism’ (working while sick resulting in lost productivity)
  • More than 90% of social workers are working an average of 10 hours of unpaid overtime every week
  • Over 50% of social workers are considering leaving the profession within the next 18 months due to the stress resulting from too many demands on their time

This research confirms much of what we knew already, but it is no less welcome for that. It turns the spotlight on the sad fact that children’s social workers are working in taxing and unfavourable conditions which result in high levels of turnover and vacancy.

People who undertake safety critical roles, such as social workers involved in child protection, need to have supportive working environments and reasonably sized workloads, so that they can concentrate fully on ensuring that those for whom they have responsibility are safe. If people are struggling with too much work or poor working conditions, it is not surprising that more mistakes are made or that quality is low.

Ask yourself the following question: would you fly with an airline that overworked its pilots, did nothing to reduce their high stress levels and allowed them to work while they were unfit through sickness? Why should abused and neglected children and young people be asked to accept anything less than the rest of us expect when our safety is in the hands of others?

Friday, 14 July 2017

You wouldn’t believe it …

The BBC reports that the Home Office has just been fined nearly £370,000 for breaching the government's senior salary pay cap by agreeing to pay the current chair of the child sex abuse inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, £185,000 a year. The previous chair of the inquiry, New Zealander Dame Lowell Goddard, was paid more than £350,000 in 2015-16, plus about another £100,000 in expenses.

I know that a lot of people believe that the child sex abuse inquiry is very important because it is hoped that it will expose widespread unacceptable practices. But at a time when services to abused and neglected children and young people face an unprecedented squeeze between increased demand, on the one hand, and shrinking funding on the other, I feel that paying eye watering sums of money to get inquiries chaired sends out all the wrong messages.

If important people like Professor Jay and Dame Lowell qualify to have the cap on their salaries disregarded, it is difficult to see why those working at the front line should have to struggle on with capped, and therefore shrinking, salaries.

The perils of surveys

My attention has just been drawn to an annual survey by the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner.  Part 2 asks about the issues with which Kent Police deals and which are most important to residents of that county. Respondents are asked to select a maximum of eight priorities from a long list. There is no 'Other' category. Here is a screen shot of the list.

It is shocking to see that Safeguarding and Protecting Children and Young People does not appear on the list. The nearest category is 'Child Sexual Exploitation' - which is just one part of child abuse and neglect. Because there is no ‘other’ category the results of the survey are bound to show that Safeguarding and Protecting Children and Young People is not a priority for the people of Kent. I think that is a disgrace.

Does this, I wonder, reflect Kent Police's priorities? Are children and young people such low priorities that they don't even feature for inclusion on a list of possible priorities? Clearly nobody in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office thought to include them.