Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Child Protection in England - between Ofsted and the cuts

I strongly recommend reading the detailed account in the Guardian of The Clockoff survey about the well-being of employees in public and voluntary services in Britain.

It reveals that staff work long hours, take few breaks and experience high levels of stress. More than 50% reported being stressed either all or a lot of the time. On average, employees reported working an extra seven hours a week. Nearly 20% don’t take any break during their working day and less than 25% take a main break of 30 minutes or more.

The article quotes Jo Cleary, chair of the College of Social Work, as saying that social workers “… report juggling highly complex workloads, with little time to reflect and plan their work. She says that spending cuts have placed  “unbearable” pressures on social workers who have to undertake “… complex, delicate work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society”.  This she believes to be dangerous.

You might want to put these comments and the results of the survey into the context of Ofsted’s most recent report, which concerns children’s services in Sandwell.

The inspectors blast the local authority for not ensuring that “…cases of high risk or actual harm to children have a statutory assessment of need to enable children to be kept safe”. The local authority is said to have failed “…to apply effective thresholds or to respond appropriately to known or potential risk, which means that vulnerable children do not always receive services at the right time or at the appropriate level”, so leaving some children at risk. And it is said that “… too many child protection cases have had recent changes of social worker, causing drift and delay in progressing work.”

It sounds to me like the people in Sandwell are experiencing some of the pressures identified in the survey and mentioned by Jo Cleary. But I couldn’t find in the inspectors’ report anything more than a passing mention of resources and certainly no analysis of the impact of spending cuts on the level of services or the morale of staff.

It seems to me that child protection services in Britain are increasingly being caught in a pincer movement. On the one hand government makes it more difficult to do the job by cutting resources and on the other Ofsted waves its big stick and points to shortfalls in service quality which are laid at the door of local practitioners and managers. 

I don’t think that's fair on public sector workers and I don’t think it's an effective way to protect children.