Sunday, 27 May 2012

Away in June

I will be away for most of June 2012 - doing a bit of travelling and so not able to maintain the blog. Back at the end of the month.

The definition of neglect

I was a bit depressed to hear Graham Stuart MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee, asking Professor Eileen Munro whether the definition of child neglect should be changed -

But the representatives of some leading children’s charities, who seem to have got this bee in their bonnets, have already badgered his committee, so I suppose he has some excuse.

I cheered up when Prof. Munro told him that she saw no reasons to change the definitions of the Children Act 1989. She seemed less certain about the crime of Child Cruelty, as set out in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, but she gave Stuart no reason to think that this should be changed either.

I hope the Committee don’t get side tracked on this issue of the definition of neglect. There are more important things to think about.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Good News from CAFCASS

Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has surveyed more than 200 Guardians. The Guardians, whose work involves scrutinising social work decisions in care proceedings, commented on nearly 250 care applications made in November 2011, involving more than 400 children.

The key findings are:
  • In two thirds of cases Guardians felt that the care application was timed appropriately
  • In more than 85% of cases, Guardians believed that there was no alternative to court proceedings.
  • Nearly 20% of the children had not been previously involved with children’s services at the time of the application, almost double the proportion found in a similar study carried out in 2009. This difference may indicate that local authorities are now taking action earlier.  
  • There was a greater prevalence of neglect than in the 2009 study, suggesting that concerns of neglect were being acted upon more quickly.
This survey is generally good news suggesting that the increase in the number of care proceedings in recent years is appropriate and justified.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


The idea of a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) seems to me to be a very promising one. The idea is that a multi-agency team comprising social workers, police and health workers operate from the same office to respond to child protection referrals.

This arrangement should ensure that information is shared more quickly and so hasten the response. The arrangement should also help break down organisational silos and promote a sense of common purpose.

A number of areas have already adopted the idea with Northamptonshire announcing this week its intention to launch a MASH.

I wonder if the new Working Together guidance will promote this idea?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

An aging foster-force?

I am pleased to see that Children’s Minister Tim Loughton now seems to have grasped the urgency of the crisis in fostering. He has told Children and Young People Now that there is an urgent need to recruit more younger foster carers. Apparently his department has carried out research into the demographics of foster carers and has found that many of them are near retirement.

I am very please to hear that the government has been conducting research on this issue. But there now needs to be much more involvement of ministers in devising a solution to a problem which has potential to result in catastrophe if left to fester.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A Clear Case of Neglect

I can see no obvious problems with the way the criminal law on child cruelty has operated in the chilling case of a boy from Blackpool locked in a coal bunker. The parents have pleaded guilty to neglect and are likely to receive custodial sentences.

I remain utterly puzzled why some children’s charities seem to want to expend so much effort on changing the criminal law.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Child asylum seekers still 'being imprisoned'

According to an article in today's Observer, some child asylum seekers arriving in Britain are continuing to be detained as if they were adults. 

Two years ago the Government promised an end to this practice, but the UK Borders Agency seems just to continue subjecting some children to inappropriate treatment, which may amount to cruelty.

The Observer story mentions the detention of a 15 year old in police cells for several days after which he was just turned out to sleep rough. That is disgraceful.

It's hard not to despair. No government agency should be allowed to maltreat children.

Position Vacant??

I was reading one of those ads for a fairly senior vacancy in a local authority children’s service department. They were willing to pay nearly £110,000. That seems an awful lot to me for a third tier post but I suppose it might be worth it if they found someone who matched their Utopian specifications.

They said they were looking for “a new breed of individual” to deliver “real change” “in a dynamic, fast-changing borough”. They wanted “an inspirational leader”, a “collegiate player” a “problem solver”.  They wanted someone with “exceptional interpersonal skills”.

Yuch!!  I wonder how many senior children’s services managers across the nation are part of this new breed? How many deliver real change? How many are inspirational leaders? How many are problem solvers with exceptional personal skills?

I wonder how many are bureaucrats? How many pursue manageralism rather than management appropriate to a challenging professional service? How many just deliver the latest political fix? How many are out of their depth?

Let’s get away from these hollow sounding echoes of the naughties and stop pretending that working with children is a branch of financial services. The kind of people we want running children’s services are the kind of people who understand children and their needs, who know how to communicate with children and to build and deliver services that children will value.

That’s what I call a “new breed”.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Powerful messages from BASW's Research

The BASW report on the state of social work which I mentioned in my last post is now available to download.

It has some powerful messages. Social workers told BASW that they suffered from:
  • High caseloads
  • Overwork
  • Bullying by management
  • Poor (or non-existent) administrative support
Poorly designed IT systems were also mentioned.

This report must NOT be ignored.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Services at Breaking Point

The BBC reports on a survey of 1,100 social workers carried out by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).  

According to this, 88% of social workers believe Government spending cuts are putting the lives of vulnerable children at risk. 54% of those questioned felt their caseloads were unmanageable.

BASW’s Chief Executive, Hilton Dawson, spoke of the system being at breaking point. The BBC quotes him as saying: "despite political pledges to protect front-line services, government cuts have left social workers drowning in paperwork, acting as receptionists and even cleaning toilets, instead of working to prevent further tragedies".

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Interesting research from Ireland

A report in the Irish Times neatly summarises research led by Prof. Bairbre Redmond of University College Dublin.

The study identifies high rates of stress among social workers.

Although high levels of personal commitment were found, burnout also occurred, especially among children’s social workers. This involved chronic stress, exhaustion, and depersonalisation. The effect of violence and aggression from families was an important factor in some cases.

However, the respondents wanted greater autonomy in decision-making. They were increasingly burdened with administrative work and found they had less time to spend with children and families. There was less scope for professional practice and more pressure to be efficient.

Many social workers described the system as “dysfunctional”.

I think this research points to the twin evils that many child protection social workers face. On the one hand they encounter the sheer difficulty of building constructive relationships with people who may be suspicious, angry, hostile and even violent. On the other hand their ability to meet complex needs is constrained by systems, regulations and procedures that are often unmanageable and invariably dispiriting.

No wonder so many leave the profession.

Monday, 14 May 2012

More on those silly scorecards

Hard on the heels of my last post on the adoption scorecards comes a report from Children and Young People Now that Hackney’s director for children’s services, Alan Wood, has said that the critically important thing about adoption is getting the placement right first time.

According to Wood, Hackney, which came bottom in the Government's scorecard table, has experienced no adoption placement breakdowns in the last three years, compared with a national average of seven per cent.

Wood believes that the higher success rate justifies doing things more slowly. I agree. As I said in my previous post - it seems very likely that some authorities may be quicker, but have a lower success rate, while other authorities might take longer and get it right more often.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Unbalanced Scorecards?

It is hard not to feel some unease about the publication of the Government’s ‘adoption scorecards’. Looking at the data it is very hard to see how different local authorities compare, and it offers no insight into the causes of the delays.

There is also insufficient data to perform any satisfactory analysis. It seems very likely to me that some authorities may be quicker, but have a lower success rate, while other authorities might take longer and get it right more often. But we won’t find that out from the crude figures available.

I think the scorecards approach has been wrong. To speed up the adoption process we need to know where the delays are occurring and why. The scorecard just gives us unhelpful comparisons between different areas.  

Friday, 11 May 2012

An empty chair would help us think harder

I can heartily recommend Mark Kingwell’s article in the Guardian yesterday.

 Mark writes:

Gatherings of PEN, the international freedom of expression group,  always feature an empty chair for a missing writer, in prison or under house arrest elsewhere in the world. Somewhat less sublimely, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos apparently insists on having an empty chair at every company meeting: the chair represents the customer, according to Bezos "the most important person in the room".

Now that’s a thought that could be taken into child protection and, more generally, into children’s social work. What about an empty chair for the child at every meeting that s/he cannot attend personally: a strategy meeting, a team meeting, a supervision session?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

24/7 Expertise

Among the new standards proposed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for the emergency care of children and young people is one that is very welcome:

  • All staff in emergency care settings are able to access child protection advice 24 hours a day from a paediatrician with child protection expertise

Frankly it is difficult to see why this is not already mandatory.

8,750 new foster families are needed across the UK in 2012

The Fostering Network keeps saying it - and those in power still seem to be ignoring it. 

As Fostering Fortnight approaches, the shortage of foster parents in the UK continues apace with an estimated 8,750 new foster families needed across the UK in 2012.

A child needs a foster family every 22 minutes according to the Fostering Network. Government needs to come up with an urgent plan to ensure that an appropriate placement is always available.

The re-abuse of children returning from care

In a new report the NSPCC reminds us that nearly 40% of children who leave care return home to a parent or relative and of these research has found that between 40% and 60% suffer further abuse.

Following up on these findings, the NSPCC conducted interviews with 200 looked after children and found that more than 70% said they were not ready to return home.    

Social workers told the NSPCC that budget cuts are a factor in returning children home before it is safe to do so. They also said that the courts often order the return of children home when social workers believe it is not safe.

There must be no doubt that these figures are very worrying. Thousands of children every year are being re-abused, despite the intervention of the public authorities. That is tragic and unacceptable. Government, courts, professionals and other practitioners need to give urgent attention to how these children can be given urgent help.And urgent thinking about how to improve outcomes needs to be put in hand.

The NSPCC makes a series of recommendations.  Three which appear quite sensible are:
  • Central government should publish data about outcomes for children returning home from care
  • Local authorities should use this information to monitor support and assess their performance
  • Outcomes for children who return home from care should form a central part of Ofsted’s assessment of the performance of local authority children’s services

However, there would need to be careful thinking about how to ensure that publication of this type of data does not become part of some future performance indicators or targets, which may result in unintended and unwelcome consequences.