Thursday, 12 November 2015

Number of children on child protection plans in England

The BBC reports that Blackpool has the highest proportion in England of children subject to child protection plans, three times the national rate.

Other areas with high rates are Nottingham, Coventry, Salford and the Isle of Wight, while Milton Keynes, Essex, Wokingham, Somerset, Windsor and Bath are all said to have low rates.

I am not sure how much any of this is ‘news’ because some variation in rates between different local authority areas (with different demographic profiles and different levels of social deprivation) is inevitable.

It may be, however, that it is differing practices rather than differing profiles that account for some of the variation and it would be useful to see if that was the case and to understand why. Perhaps Ofsted could conduct some thematic research on that issue? I’m not going to hold my breath, though, because I expect they are far too busy with other things.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Retaining child protection social workers

I have just discovered an excellent document that everyone concerned with recruiting, retaining and managing social workers (and related professionals working in child protection) needs to read and understand.  Published by Research in Practice, part of the Dartington Hall Trust, this highly informative briefing can be downloaded at:

While I was aware from government published figures [1] of high turnover rates in children’s social work (17% for all of England and above 20% in the London area), it was only by reading this briefing that I became aware of research by Curtis et al which found that social workers remain in their professions for a very short time, compared with other professions. They found that the average working life for a social worker is under 8 years, compared to 16 years for a nurse, 25 years for a doctor and 28 years for a pharmacist.

That is a stunning and alarming statistic that I (and also I suspect a great many other people) seem to have missed since it was originally published more than five years ago. And the implications are huge. If social work careers were comparable to nurses we would need to train only half the current number required; and if they were comparable to doctors, we would only need to train one third as many.

I have always believed that retention is the key to staff shortages in children’s social work. It seems that I was right.

Returning to the briefing, a very important table on page 10 summarises positive and negative organisational factors that influence staff retention.

Negative factors which militate against staff retention include: a culture of blame, lack of clarity about roles, micro-management, high workloads, high levels of bureaucracy, poor resources and support, poor or infrequent supervision, lack of training opportunities, lack of management attention to staff welfare and little opportunity to work directly with families and children.

Not surprisingly positive factors that predispose to staff retention are mostly the direct opposites of these negative factors, although I particularly liked the way the report expresses the alternative to the blame culture: a ‘learning organisation’ with ‘a sense of collective responsibility’.

This is a report about staff retention and recruitment, but I think it could equally be a report about good management in general – do the opposite to each of those negative factors above and you are likely to have an organisation that not only retains its staff, but also achieves high quality by meeting the needs of service users in an efficient, safe and focused way.

More organisations should try it!!


[1] “Children’s Social Work Workforce during year ending 30 September 2014” SFR 07/2015, 25 February 2015

[2] Curtis L, Moriarty J and Netten A (2010), ‘The expected working
life of a social worker’. British Journal of Social Work 40(5),

Monday, 2 November 2015

2025 – an outsourcing odyssey

Let’s wind forward 10 years to 2025.

A children’s charity called ProtectOutsourceOrg* has just gone into liquidation. Commentators in the press are pointing to the similarities to the Kids Company debacle, ten years previously in 2015. It seems that for years there have been concerns about ProtectOutsourceOrg, but little or no action has been taken and the government has continued to fund it. Various people are now coming out of the woodwork to say that they have been telling people for years that it would all end in tears, just as happened with Kids Company.

There is one big difference, however, between the fictional ProtectOutsourceOrg and Kids Company. Whereas Kids Company provided children's services which were essentially preventative, ProtectOutsourceOrg was one of the charities which had secured a contract to provide child protection services, as part of the British government’s outsourcing initiative. On the day it went bankrupt hundreds of Section 47 enquiries were in progress and tens of care proceedings were before the courts. Hundreds of children subject to child protection plans were depending on social workers employed by ProtectOutsourceOrg to safeguard them from abuse and neglect.

On the day ProtectOutsourceOrg went bottom-up a lot of children became much more at risk of significant harm.

Is this just future fantasy fiction (or social science fiction, if you like)? After all, ProtectOutsourceOrg doesn’t really exist; it is just a creation of an eccentric blogger’s imagination.

Fiction it may be, but it is pretty credible fiction in my view: a realistic prediction of what could happen. If three successive governments could sit on the developing Kids Company debacle as various ministers and civil servants agonised and felt concerned, but continued to write cheques, then surely the same thing could happen in the future when a similar sort of organisation has been trusted with similar, but even more safety critical, responsibilities.

Nobody should want to wait until a “ProtectOutsourceOrg” debacle actually happens, because it can be avoided NOW – simply by revisiting the government’s child protection outsourcing strategy and recognising that it has enormous and unacceptable risks.

* No such organisation as ProtectOutsourceOrg exists – at least I hope it doesn’t. Several Google searches have failed to find an organisation with such an ungainly name. Some early versions of this post had sweeter sounding and more plausible names, but I found that Google searches for them did not produce null results. Not wanting to liable anybody I thought up this weird name.