Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Therapeutic Support- or rather the lack of it

Children and Young People Now reports Jenny Clifton, the principal policy adviser at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, calling for the care system to address the recovery from trauma of abused and neglected children. She is reported as saying that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are not meeting this need. Children and young people had told the Commissioner’s office that appropriate mental health services were not there for them at the right time. 

Sadly there is not a lot new in what Jenny is saying, but she is right to say it and to say it again and again. For years and years the absence of appropriate mental health services to support traumatised children and young people has haunted the care system and resulted in untold damage. We all know that the long-term consequences of not addressing these problems as soon as possible probably costs many times more than doing the job properly in the first place. But government after government after government simply can’t seem to grasp this nettle – and as a result children and young people continue to suffer.

Police procedures – or do we mean cultures?

The BBC’s sub-headline says that a report has found that the South Yorkshire police force “…. still needs to make ‘major improvements’ to some child protection procedures…” (My emphasis)

It is just another example of the deeply ingrained (but sadly mistaken) belief that getting it wrong in child protection is always a result of not having the right procedures. In fact the report in question (by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary - HMIC) doesn’t seem to make much mention of procedures. Rather it speaks of not recognising risks to children and limitations to “… the ability of staff to make good decisions about children”. 


An earlier report by HMIC (In harm's way: The role of the police in keeping children safe – July 2015) states that: 

“Police and inter-agency procedures are mostly followed but are sometimes undertaken as an administrative, rather than professional task, and there is insufficient follow-up action.” (Page 14) 

And warns that:

“… there should be a greater focus on the question of whether the tools the police use (such as assessments, inter-agency discussion, and referrals to other agencies) lead to children obtaining the help they need, or whether they merely present yet another layer of bureaucracy through which children are processed before help is provided.” (Page 14)

That makes it very clear that it should be the help children need that should drive the service, not procedural manuals.

In my view what went wrong in South Yorkshire, and in other police areas in England, and which led to the kinds of scandals seen in Rotherham and elsewhere, was not some technical failure resulting from poorly drafted procedures or out-of-date rulebooks. It was a failure of culture and attitude. Officers were not focused on discovering, understanding and meeting the needs of children and young people; they were focused on getting the job done and moving on.

Another finding from the In harm’s way report shocked me. It said:

We were surprised to find examples of children who had been accused of offences such as pushing a sibling, criminal damage in their (own) children’s home, or for wasting police time by running away from home. Sometimes, children were accused of lying or perverting the course of justice when their accounts of offences against them were disbelieved.” (Page 11)

That bespeaks of too many police officers having the wrong attitudes; of cultures that see children as problems to be solved, not as people to be valued.

I am glad to see that the most recent report now finds emerging evidence in South Yorkshire that “child protection has been prioritised and there is a strong desire to improve outcomes for children who are at risk of harm”.

That is good news, but it is not the end of the matter, nor, as Churchill put it, is it the beginning of the end – rather it is possibly the end of the beginning. There is a mountain to climb. Changing cultures is hard work and requires sustained efforts over long periods. All too easily there can be lip service and feigned compliance with new expectations and these too have to be overcome. And it is not just police officers that need to change. From the top down, we all have to focus much more clearly on discovering, understanding and meeting the needs of children and young people – not simply following the rulebook.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Costs of Inspection

Alison O’Sullivan, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), hit the nail on the head in her speech to the ADCS annual conference in Manchester when she roundly criticised Ofsted’s current single inspection framework as “broken and discredited”. She is absolutely right to argue that the framework has become “burdensome” and that it consumes disproportionate resources.

You can read full details of her speech in Children andYoung People Now.

What fascinates me is that Ofsted never quantifies the costs and benefits of its inspections. Of course it is not just the work that inspectors do that costs, but also all the work that the inspected authority has to do to accommodate the inspection. Then there are the downstream costs, if the inspection finds an authority inadequate or requiring improvement, such as the costs of staff losses and recruitment problems and restructurings and consultants – and re-inspections! In the case of some authorities all these costs are incurred without much evidence of subsequent improvement.

In a world of austerity in public finances, money spent on improving quality has to be monitored just as much as money spent on other things. I believe money would be better spent trying to design quality into services before failings occur, rather than devoting lots of resources to chronicling shortfalls and failings when these have already occurred.  

It's always cheaper and less painful to get it right first time.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Inside story

There are somethings you just have to read and accept, even though you would prefer them not to be true. Danielle McKinney's account, in the Birmingham Mail, of her experiences in care is one such.  

She tells how she was sent to thirty nine different placements and raped three times before she reached the age of 16. It is chilling, it is disgraceful, it should never happen. But it did ...

Danielle's story forms the basis of a TV documentary tonight (13th July) - A Dangerous Place To Be A Kid?  BBC One at 10.35pm. Everybody who works to safeguard and protect children and young people should watch it.

One of the conclusions I draw from reading Danielle's account is that we should all be much more attuned to what children and young people who have been in care or who have received children's services tell us. If we really want to improve the quality of services - rather than simply trying to please inspectors or hit government targets - we need to listen attentively to what the consumers of services have to say. What they say is the true measure of quality. If we continue to ignore it services will never improve.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Supporting people who work in child protection

There is an interesting article in The Independent concerning the impact on police professionals of dealing with cases of child abuse.


Senior officers describe the highly stressful nature of unavoidably distressing work. They point to the risk of burnout and the need for support and counselling for employees.

They are absolutely right. Child protection work takes its toll on the people who do it. Careful thought needs to be given to how they can be appropriately supported and sympathetically managed. Resources need to be available to support employees who are under great pressure or who are traumatised by their contact with abuse and abusers.

The saddest thing, I think, is that you seldom hear similar thoughts being expressed about local authority social workers. They are equally involved in dealing with distressing situations on a daily basis. They often have longer-term and closer involvement with the victims of abuse, children and young people, than do police officers.

There needs to be much clearer thinking about how we support all the professionals and practitioners who have to confront child abuse and neglect in their working lives. And there is a need to mobilise resources, such as counselling and therapy, which should be available to all workers, whatever their agencies, who need them.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

A social care professional should lead on social care inspection

It may only be an interim appointment for a few months, but I was quite concerned to see that Ofsted has appointed a former head teacher as its interim head of social care inspection. 

I hope it doesn’t set a precedent. A social care professional should lead on social care inspection – somebody who understands the processes and the day-to-day pressures - somebody who has lots of on-the-door-step child protection experience.

For too many years Ofsted has treated children’s social care as if it were just a different type of school. We should be getting away from that, not reinforcing it.

What’s in a name?

Question: What’s in a name?

Answer: A lot, that’s what’s in a name. “The College of Social Work” is a good name. Perhaps the directors of the defunct college could give the name to an organisation that might make good use of it? BASW perhaps?

Friday, 3 July 2015

He who pays the piper calls the tune

I have been looking more into the demise of The College of Social Work (TCSW). A lot of details are made clear in a good article in Community Care.

But I went a bit further including tracking down the organisation’s annual report and accounts on the Charity Commission website.

You don’t have to be a financial wizard to see just how vulnerable the organisation was to the government pulling the plug. In the year ending 31st March 2014, total expenditure was approximately £1.87m while income (other than government grants) amounted to only £0.66m, nearly all of which was from membership fees. It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to see that in order for the college to be self-supporting (i.e. without depending on government grants of £1.2m or future government contracts) the income from membership would have to increase more than 2.8 times, an eye-watering amount and probably an unbridgeable gap.

For an organisation that only earned £0.66m it was optimistic (to say the least) to incur annual expenditure of nearly £1m in staffing costs and a further £190,000 in renting an office in London’s West End. Exactly what the departments of Health and Education thought they were playing at in allowing the college to get chest deep into that kind of expenditure, when they knew that future grant aid or contracts could not be assured, beggars belief. It is almost as if the poor old college was invited to bite of more than it could chew.

Some might conclude that the moral of the story is not to get into hock to sharks. My thought is that I cannot imagine how the college of social work could ever have been an independent voice of social work if its financial structure meant that at any moment the government could shut it down just by refusing to sign a check. No true professional association could allow itself to be in such a craven position. And members of the college would never have had an independent voice so long as the indebtedness or contractual dependence persisted.

Talking of contracts most, if not all, of the commentators seem to assume that there was nothing particularly topsy-turvy with the college bidding to develop and administer the process of assessing social workers for the Approved Child and Family Practitioner award, a contract which has now controversially been awarded by the government to Morning Lane Associates.

But it seems to me that a college of social work – if it was ever to aspire to the heights of the medical royal colleges – should have been doing precisely the opposite, i.e. developing its own standards and qualifications not implementing crude bureaucratic pass/fail tests conceived by faceless civil servants and government ministers. Oh well, it’s probably all soon to become forgotten history, water under the bridge as they say.

Before leaving this nest of vipers I must comment on the news breaking this morning that Camila Batmanghelidjh is to leave the children’s charity Kids Company, following what seems to have been an ultimatum by the Cabinet Office that either she went or the charity would receive no more contracts from the Government.

It seems to be another case of a charity reliant on government contracts being told to get into line. The Guardian article quotes Camila as saying that the government is playing “ugly games”. Apparently she believes that Kids Company, which previously enjoyed close relations with the government, blotted its copybook last autumn, when it launched the See the Child campaign that was highly critical of the UK’s child protection system.

The Guardian article quotes a Whitehall source as saying that the See the Child campaign
had “failed to show the government enough respect”. If that is correct then that Whitehall source, and her or his bosses, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. The Kids Company campaign raised genuine concerns and issues and they should be taken very seriously.

Respect indeed!

We – all of us – should be concerned with protecting children, and how to do that best, not doffing our hats to government ministers and Whitehall officials and showing feigned respect. Camila Batmanghelidjh has always been prepared to tell it like it is. The government should respect that, not seek to neutralise her.

But sadly, all too often, he who pays the piper calls the tune.