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.

Friday, 12 January 2018

A Children’s Minister?

It now seems that Nadhim Zahawi MP will take on the responsibilities of children’s minister (previously discharged by Robert Goodwill MP) in the Department for Education (DfE) .

I wish him well.

It appears, however, that Nadhim has been appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, a very junior ministerial post which is, according to the DfE’s website, unpaid.  All previous holders of the children’s minister brief have been Ministers of Sate, a more senior and paid position.

Does this mean that the Government now accords reduced priority to children’s social care? 

I hope not, but I suspect it does.

The HCPC and the culture of blame

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)  is the body which for the last few years has had responsibility for regulating social work in England.

It was not long ago – October 2017 to be precise - that I found myself feeling a glimmer of hope with regard to the HCPC. It seemed that there might be an embryonic recognition there that punishing people for errors made in good faith was a bad idea.
But the new year dawns with my hopes laid waste. Two recent HCPC tribunals seem to have continued in the established tradition of putting in the boot, instead of acting in ways consistent with creating safer services.

In one case a social worker for the elderly has been suspended for six months because, according to the HCPC her “…. assessment, the care plan, communication and record keeping fell far below what would be proper in the circumstances, and represents a serious departure from the standards expected of a registered social worker”.

In another case a children’s social work manager has been sanctioned for practice failings despite clear evidence of an inordinately heavy caseload, poor working conditions and inadequate management support.

These are not cases with which the regulator should be dealing. They are not cases of egregious behaviour. Rather they represent the failings of an overloaded system creaking under the pressure. The people concerned should not be blamed and punished. The systems under which they are working should be examined and improved. The causes of poor practice – not individual failings but systematic organisational weaknesses – need to be understood.

By making an example of hapless individuals, who happen to be caught out by the systems around them, the HCPC is doing nobody any favours. By stoking up the blame culture the net effect is to make services less safe and of lower quality. That’s because professionals who constantly feel under threat of unjust punishment will always find it hard to co-operate with others to uncover the true causes of poor services. And, as a result, those causes will continue to be undiscovered and unaddressed.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Here today and gone tomorrow

Just over half a year; that’s how long the Children’s Minister, Robert Goodwill, has lasted in the UK Government. Prime Minister Theresa May has apparently sacked him in her ministerial reshuffle.

The reasons for his departure remain unclear, but he had hardly been in post long enough for his performance to be measured and found wanting. I expect it is all a matter of back room deals and shady political manoeuvrings.

Even more puzzling is the fact that days after the reshuffle began there appears to have been no announcement about Goodwill’s successor. Perhaps they have forgotten that there is still a vacancy?

It all makes me wonder what’s going on at the Department for Education and how much of a priority children’s services are.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

A wicked waste of money

Community Care reports that the Government has spent £11.22 million (yes, more than £11 million) on developing the children’s social worker accreditation tests of which £8.52 million went to private companies.

The recent consultation showed a very lukewarm response to the proposals and what I have seen of the tests themselves is pretty dismal.

How anybody can think that this kind of thing can be justified at a time when spending cuts mean that there are insufficient funds to meet ever increasing demand is beyond me.

A wicked waste of money – that’s what I’d call it.