Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Terrible Twos

The end of July 2011 marks two years since the birth of this blog, so it is now entering that period of toddlerhood known as the 'terrible twos'. Here’s looking forward to a year of temper tantrums and petulant outbursts!

On the blog’s first birthday I drew up a list of seven things I would like to see changed (, so today seems like a good time to assess what progress has occurred in the last year.

(1) Serious and seemingly intractable problems in recruiting and retaining child protection social workers.
In aggregate I see no evidence that much has changed, although as the year has gone on I have become increasingly convinced that retention is the key to this problem, not recruitment. Sadly there are few useful statistics on this subject, which makes analysis hard work. If I had a wish for next year, I’d wish for more, and better structured, information on the nature of the problem and a strategic approach to dealing with the problems of retention. In particular I would like to see some critical thinking about job design, with lots of thought devoted to how burn-out can be avoided. Greater job variety and possibly some kind of job rotation (e.g. with related specialisms such as adoption, or with training or academic roles) might be one way forward.

(2) Highly bureaucratic systems and working practices
The Munro review has provided an eloquent counterblast to bureaucracy, but how much will fall on deaf ears? I think here of the NSPCC’s untenable assumption that child protection social workers can continue working under tight procedures while at the same time developing professional expertise, or of those who still seem to believe that it is just a question of making a few modifications and tweaks to make ICS more user friendly. A great deal of work is required to make everyone aware of just how radical Munro’s reforms really are.

(3) Out-dated and misguided approaches to improving safety and quality in child protection work
I was disappointed that Munro did not say more on this issue. Her emphasis on the systems approach to SCRs is welcome, but I believe that it will have only limited impact on safety and quality. What we need is a new and comprehensive approach to workplace learning. The models I would draw on are the kaizen approach to quality and the human factors approach to safety. There is much in common between these approaches which might be captured in some combination of employee suggestion systems (for quality improvement) and by introducing briefing/de-briefing before and after significant work episodes.

(4) A chronic shortage of foster-parents
There seems to be little change here and no evidence that it is a policy priority. Sad.

(5) A dispirited workforce.
Again there is little evidence of significant change

(6) Services that continue to be driven by producer interests and internally agreed targets, rather than by the needs and wants of abused and neglected children
There has been some progress here, with the Munro Review recommending some sensible performance measures which are more outcome and less process focused. Abandoning the silly timescale targets now appears to be Government policy – which is to be warmly welcomed

(7) The blame culture
Just as I thought things were getting better, it was back to square one with the Government announcing it would appeal the court’s decision to allow Sharon Shoesmith to challenge her dismissal. I can see no point whatsoever in hounding people who worked for Haringey and who may have made mistakes but who were not wilfully in error. Instead we need to think about how we move towards Dekker’s just culture.
So it's been a mixed year, with some progress, but not enough. Lets hope the next twelve months bring much more change.