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 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.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Fiddling while Rome burns

In England, section 47 of the 1989 Children Act requires local authorities to carry out ‘enquiries’ (investigations) where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

This week, the Local Government Association (LGA) reports that in 2017 500 such enquiries were carried out every day.

The Association’s press release also reminds us that in 2007 the corresponding figure was just 200 investigations per day.

So, the workload of local authorities in England has more than doubled in the last ten years.

Very rightly, the LGA is calling for the Government to use the upcoming Local Government Finance Settlement to resolve the £2billion funding gap that is facing children’s services in England.

Bizarrely ministers seem relatively unperturbed by what by what can only be described as a profound crisis. 

“Fiddling while Rome burns” is a phrase that comes to mind.