Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Future of Social Work Education

I am pleased to see that Martin Narey is trying to gather as much information as he can about the future of social work education. Sadly I will not be able to join his web-chat next Monday (3rd June) but I hope other people will and that they will tell him what they think. 

You can find details (or a place to leave a comment) at:|SCSC|SC019-20130530-GLOB|top

I left a comment which I hope they publish. I said that I think that a first qualification in social work should be generic and that too early specilisation - into mental health, elderly or children's social work -  is a BAD idea. 

I believe that the initial generic qualification should be followed by postgraduate/post qualification training in specialist areas. That works well in medicine and should work well in social work. It should create well-rounded professionals who can think outside their own specialisms and learn from practice undertaken with other service-user groups. 

BUT it all needs to be well-funded and well-designed. At present post-qualification training is a mess. There need to be proper routes to proper post-grad qualifications with proper education and proper assessments. The model of membership/fellowship of the various medical royal colleges may provide a way forward.

I was struck by Martin Narey’s reflections on the bright social work students he had met in Sheffield and elsewhere. I wonder how many will still be in practice five years after qualification? 

It seems to me the problem is not so much the education fitting the job, as the job fitting the education. There is no point educating people to be critical and reflective, and no point developing their understanding of social problems and human psychology or deepening their knowledge of theory, if they are going to be thrown into mind-numbingly stressful jobs in which they are required to endlessly fire-fight and form-fill or to slavishly follow rule-books devised by bureaucrats, politicians and civil servants.

And that brings me to the point I most want to labour. The answer to shortfalls in children's social work is NOT primarily due to problems in recruitment and deficits in training. It is due to problems with RETENTION, which need to be addressed in very different ways, not least by looking at working conditions and job design in a critical, creative and intelligent way.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A rating of 'inadequate'

I’ve been thinking more and more about Ofsted’s inspections of local authority arrangements for the protection of children; and about my deep unease at the number of local authorities which are being rated as ‘inadequate’.

You may remember that, in the second half of 2012, 35% (yes, thirty-five percent) of all authorities inspected were found to be inadequate. 

I did a bit of research for myself and found that of the 16 inspections so far conducted and reported on in 2013 (the last being Cheshire East on 11th March), 5 have resulted in an ‘inadequate’ rating – that’s a bit of an improvement at 31%, but still nearly 1 in 3.

I think it’s mind-boggling that this isn’t attracting more attention. If the quality of one-in-three schools or one-in-three cars or one-in-three airplanes was rated ‘inadequate’ the media would be clamouring for action. But, with the exception of the odd reference in the trade press, this story seems to be attracting very little interest.

Bizarrely not even Ofsted seems to be much concerned. If I were inspecting a service operation where 30%+ of the process was identified as being seriously below acceptable standards, I would be running off to my bosses clutching my reports and telling them that they must act urgently.

But Ofsted appears to have buried the aggregate picture in a mire of facts and figures, such as the difficult-to-find document published in January 2013 which provides a brief statistical summary of the inspections conducted in the second half of 2012. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Oxford town ... Oxford town

One cannot help but feel a chill at the words of Anthony Stansfeld, a Conservative and the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, which includes Oxford.  

Concerning the Oxford sex abuse ring, he writes in a letter to the Guardian that the girls’ 
“… right(s) to go to town and be groomed, then abused and raped, seems to have been regarded as more important than (their) being safeguarded. Until this is sorted out it is difficult for social services to do their job properly. Social care for pre-age-of-consent children must be looked into and proper rules established that makes their safeguarding easier. Some progress has been made in this area, but not enough. Kindness and firmness are not incompatible.”

I hope that the Commissioner doesn’t mean that the correct response to the deplorable events in Oxford is to come down heavily on the victims! But that is certainly one possible interpretation of what he says. Taking away the rights and freedoms of young people in care and establishing more rules to curtail their liberty seems to me to be a recipe for encouraging more to run away and so fall prey to the likes of the men who so horribly exploited the girls in Oxford

And we should never forget that many of the girls' complaints about the abuse were ignored or disbelieved.

The focus of the police, and their commissioner, should be on bringing perpetrators to justice, which involves treating the complaints of victims with appropriate respect. The focus of ‘social services’ should be on engaging with and motivating young people by providing them with caring, constructive and supportive living environments.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Frontline is unconvincing

I am quite unconvinced by Frontline, the scheme the Government has dreamed up to try to improve recruitment to child protection social work.

The Minister is reported to be buoyant at the numbers signing up for Frontline, but I believe the acid test is not the initial recruitment but the medium-to-long-term retention.

Without serious thinking about how people can be sustained for year after year doing what is often an unrewarding, unpopular and usually highly stressful job, schemes will come and go, as will recruits.


Having been away from blogging for a week or so, I missed until today Zoe Williams excellent article in the Guardian reflecting on the case of the girls in Oxford who were being sexually abused and whose cries for help were ignored for so long. 

Zoe is absolutely right. The key to understanding this whole sorry mess is the fact that the girls were not listened to; they were not accorded ‘basic human respect’ by professionals. Somehow they were labelled as ‘challenging’ and ‘unreliable’ and that made it easy to ignore what they were saying.

Zoe makes another important point. She argues that distinctions are not being drawn between consenting underage sex with someone of similar age and forced sex with adult men. That results from clinging to a myth that children under 16 are ‘pre-sexual’, which, of course, they are not.

I think that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was particularly remiss in this respect, criminalising all under-age sexual activity and so leaving open the unwelcome possibility that children of similar age experimenting in sexual acts could be charged with serious crimes. 

At the same time the Act failed to properly distinguish this type of activity from grooming, coercion and rape by adult perpetrators, which should be treated as a most serious offence and punished accordingly.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Hoarding, Emotional Neglect and Child Cruelty

Those who complain about the supposed inflexibility of the child cruelty criminal law in England should be aware of the case reported by the BBC concerning a couple whose home was over-filled with junk that they had hoarded, resulting in their children having to eat on the stairs. We are told that they have been successfully prosecuted for child cruelty.

I am not clear that the use of the criminal law in these circumstances is appropriate. I can’t help feeling that parents who engage in obsessional behaviour should be helped, not punished. But perhaps I am not in tune with the Zeitgeist.

However this case clearly shows, contrary to what has been recently argued, that the current criminal law on child cruelty can be used against parents who neglect, rather than those who abuse; and that it can be used where the impact on the child appears to be emotional, not physical.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Care Proceedings - the rise continues

Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has made another press release about the number of applications for care orders in England. They tell us that:

  • In April 2013, Cafcass received a total of 908 applications.
  • This is a 20% increase on April 2012, and the highest ever recorded by Cafcass for the month of April.
  • Between April 2012 and March 2013 Cafcass received a total of 11,064 applications.
  • This figure is 8% higher when compared to 2011-12.
  • The 999 applications received in February 2013 were the highest ever recorded for a single month.

Of course these figures pose more puzzles than they solve. We could speculate all day on why the steady increase continues unabated, but we really need research to gain a proper understanding of what is happening. Is there any evidence that thresholds are being lowered or nets widened? Are courts dealing with cases consistently or is their practice changing? Are demographics a factor? We simply do not know.

I can’t help feeling that policy makers are sitting there hoping that what goes up must come down. But we could be sleep walking into a situation where it becomes no longer possible to resource the increases in work.