Friday, 24 October 2014

Rebranding the NSPCC?

It is interesting to read that the NSPCC has just spent £150,000 on ‘rebranding’.

I suppose that in the world of rebranding  £150,000 is not a lot of money.

I can’t help feeling that I would have preferred to read that the NSPCC had just spent an extra £150,000 directly on services to abused and neglected children.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Poor practice. Don’t blame and shame; support and retrain.

Community Care reports that the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has suspended a children’s social worker for failing to keep clear and accurate records.

I agree with Unison’s representative, who is quoted in the article as expressing reservations about employers referring this type of case to a public disciplinary panel.

Indeed I would go further and say that the HCPC should confine its deliberations to intentional wrongdoing, not under-performance. I think employers need to look at retraining and supporting people who have difficulties meeting expectations, not setting out to show them a hard time.

Some people might accuse me of being soft; of too easily tolerating poor practice. But my argument stems not from undue sympathy for the social worker, but from concern that this is precisely the wrong way to deal with poor practice.

You only need to ask yourself what the effect of the tribunal’s judgement will be on the small minority of social workers who are out there struggling at the margins of competence. Are they going to rush off to their managers and confess that there are files lurking in the back of filing cabinets that have some serious omissions? You can bet your bottom dollar they won’t because they will have read what happens to people who get found out – sacked, suspended, possibly ruined. They will keep quiet and hope they are not discovered.

I would like everybody who has some doubts about their own competence to readily ask their managers for help. Particularly with an issue like recording, the sooner the problem gets tackled the easier it is to deal with. It is far better to take action early, before the backlog becomes irremediable.

This case sends out all the wrong messages. Putting fear into the workplace doesn’t result in good practice. It is much more likely to result in people hiding bad practice, which is the worst of all possible worlds.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Child protection staff shortages in Birmingham

The Birmingham Mail reports that Birmingham Children’s Services has more than 150 vacancies and now has to pay premium rates to attract agency social workers.

It’s not surprising the Birmingham is having trouble. Not only is there a national shortage of suitably qualified and experienced people, but the very public bashing that the authority has taken from Ofsted and the Government is hardly the kind of advertising campaign that will result in skilled people hammering on the door.

The general approach to children’s services departments that are in difficulties is one of blame and shame. Inspectors, civil servants, politicians and the media wag their fingers and waive their big sticks. The unrealistic expectation is that the local people who are trying to run the service will be suitably chastened and will pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

The reality is, of course, very different. Few people are motivated by a damning Ofsted report. Few people are encouraged by being told that they work for a failing authority. Few people want to shoulder unmanageable burdens or put themselves at risk of being blamed further. Inevitably some will want to move on.

And so a downward spiral begins as vacancies and workloads shoot up, and morale plummets.

I think that we should treat children’s services departments that get into trouble more like sick patients and less like wrongdoers. At the first sign of trouble someone should be getting drips into veins, making sure that there is a good flow of oxygen and standing by with life saving drugs. Fulminating and jumping up and down with indignation might make some people feel good, but it does nothing to improve services or to ensure that children are safe.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A fair day's pay ... ?

I have to wonder what anybody could do to justify a annual salary of more than £340,000. But that is what Somerset County Council is reported to have been paying its Director of Children’s Services.

I say ‘have been’ because apparently they are letting him go.

I had a look at vacancies for some other jobs in Somerset. They offer a newly qualified social worker £27,323, a social worker who has completed one year’s employment since qualification £31,160 and an experienced social worker £34,894.

Somerset County Council are quoted as saying that it has been decided to let the Director go because "faster improvement” has not come about. Sounds like the council, which is rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and subject to an ‘improvement notice’
was putting a lot of eggs in the dynamic-leader-super-hero-turnaround-wiz-kid basket.

I read with interest that the post of Director of Children’s Services in Somerset will now be covered by the Chief Executive “for the time being”. I find that puzzling. If it is the sort of job that can only be done by someone who is paid £340,000 per annum (which is more than £1000 per day), how can it be ‘covered’ by someone who has another full-time, and presumably very demanding, job?

Maybe they should just have a permanent vacancy and use the whole salary package to employ 10 more experienced social workers! I bet that would have more positive impact on children’s lives.

Fears of a deliberate cover-up in Rotherham?

BBC News quotes the Chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz MP, as saying that revelations about files that can no longer be found gives rise to public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up of the child sex abuse scandal in Rotherham.

A Home Office funded researcher, based in Rotherham between 2000 and 2002 and who suspected that there were serious failings in responding to child sexual exploitation in the town, has given evidence to the Committee saying that someone had entered her office (apparently using a security code) and removed her files.

It is chilling to think that something like that may have happened. Nothing could be more damaging to the safe operation of services than deliberately obfuscating serious failings. Hiding weaknesses increases the probability of more things going wrong at a later date.

If there has been a cover-up, it is not just the safety of children in the past that has been compromised, but the safety of children and young people now and in the future.

Someone needs to get to the bottom of this quickly.

Friday, 17 October 2014

You couldn’t make it up…

If it were a novel about a large city struggling to deliver children’s services, people would say that it lacked credibility. But it has actually happened; Birmingham’s new director has quit .... before she’s even started.

That’s the kind of thing that seems to haunt organisations that are down on their luck. One bad event seems to lead to another: a vicious downward spiral, perhaps.

Part of the problem is that ‘leaders’ are probably looking outside the organisation for a quick fix; searching possibly for a magic bullet of a director, a turnaround wiz kid, an expert in ‘repositioning’ and ‘transformation’, 're-engineering' perhaps. The clich├ęs could go on and on.

The truth is that changing a few posh bums on a few posh seats is unlikely to do more than make money for the people who paint signs on doors. I bet there are plenty of people who already work for Birmingham who could tell us a lot about what is wrong – if they were allowed to do so. I bet they could put a lot right, if they were allowed to.

But they won’t be allowed to, because their leaders see them as part of the problem, not part of the solution. I expect they know that and so they will be keeping their heads down, mired in learned helplessness waiting for something to happen…

In the meantime the well-paid occupants of the big plush offices come and go.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

‘Baby P: The Untold Story’ - a forthcoming TV documentary

There’s a new documentary about the death of Baby Peter Connelly, which promises to be very interesting. I understand that it will focus on the way in which individual practitioners were blamed for Peter’s death while powerful organisations and institutions escaped proper scrutiny.

If you can receive BBC1 TV then tune in at 8.30pm on Monday 27th October. The programme is called ‘Baby P: The Untold Story’. I’ll certainly be watching it and commenting subsequently in this blog.