Saturday, 29 October 2016

I would be so impressed …

I would be so impressed if the British Government put aside considerations of who is responsible and who is not; and whether the French or the British government is to blame for the mess; and if it resisted the barracking of the British right-wing tabloids, with their odious slurs against children in Calais; and if it just did the RIGHT thing.

The RIGHT thing would be to ensure that in the aftermath of the closure of ‘the jungle’ every child who was in that dreadful camp is offered safe and secure accommodation and the chance to grow up in a safe and secure environment.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


Somebody I know who was a senior nurse told me that she once wrote a memo to her manager pointing out that some planned changes in the hospital were not in patients’ best interests. The memo was returned with just four letters on it: “J-F-D-I”.

It took some time to establish what the manager meant. And it was a shock when the clarification came:

“Just F***ing Do It!”

That kind of unacceptable bullying is apparently widespread in the NHS. The Guardian has carried out a survey which shows a widespread bullying culture.

After the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal and the Francis Report of 2013 - which talks of “… a culture of fear in which staff did not feel able to report concerns; a culture of secrecy in which the trust board shut itself off from what was happening in its hospital and ignored its patients; and a culture of bullying, which prevented people from doing their jobs properly” (page 10) – we could have all reasonably expected that this was a problem that was being addressed throughout the NHS. But apparently it is not.

Everybody has to wake up and realise that bullying cultures are not just facts of life that have to be tolerated. Not only are they morally unacceptable but they are, as the Francis Report demonstrates, systematically unsafe, nay dangerous.

People who question actions and policies and orders should never be silenced with JFDI. They should be respected and listened to and congratulated for expressing their concerns. Not to do so sows the seeds of disaster. In civil aviation they learnt this long ago, not least because the world’s worst aviation disaster seems to have occurred because nobody wanted to challenge the bad decision of an authoritarian captain. But in British public services – of which child protection is still an important part – we have, apparently, a long, long way to go. 

It’s not just sad, it’s scary.

Unbelievable, unacceptable, disgraceful, sad …

Apparently children have been left sleeping out after the clearance of ‘the jungle’.

There really aren’t words for it. It’s a disgrace.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

How full is your stress bucket?

Researchers at the University of Plymouth have studied stress in 427 social workers in the UK. Not surprisingly they found high levels of stress and many people were found not to be coping well. Importantly they found that stress was related to characteristics of the social work system, not individual social workers, and that bureaucracy and heavy caseloads were important factors. They found that good leadership and good supervision can reduce stress.

To hear more about the research click here.

This research will not come as a surprise to most people who work as social workers. It is, however, a welcome confirmation of what we know from personal experience. Stress at work is a very significant problem for social workers.

Anybody concerned about service quality and about recruiting and retaining a high quality social work workforce needs to take notice of this research. Stress is not just a fact of life for children’s social workers, it is something that needs to be tackled if children and young people are to receive the services they deserve and need.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Regulation - The Right Decision

The Government has at last taken the right decision to abandon its attempt to locate social work regulation within the Department for Education.  It will now create an independent body to take over regulation of social workers from the Health and Care Professions Council.

One puzzle is why it has taken so long for ministers to realise that creating a regulator controlled by central government was exactly the wrong thing to do. Another is why the Chief Social Worker for Children, Isabelle Trowler, maintained earlier this year that a government controlled regulator was ‘essential’.

If children’s social workers are to have any confidence at all in professional regulation it has to be absolutely clear that the system of regulation is free from interference by politicians and civil servants.  Anything less is unacceptable.

I struggle to see why the Chief Social Worker for Children apparently failed to see that. It seems that helping ministers to impose unacceptable and damaging government policies on children’s social work has now become central to her role. Thank goodness that on this occasion it hasn’t worked and that sense has prevailed.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Troubled families? No, a troubled programme!

The Department of Communities and Local Government launched the £448 million Troubled Families Programme in 2012, with the aim of transforming the lives of 120,000 of the most disadvantaged families in England. By 2015 the Department was claiming that the programme had achieved almost a 100 per cent success rate, resulting, it was said in huge savings in Government expenditure.

Many commentators at the time thought that all of this was just too good to be true.

But the Government was adamant. The programme, it said, had been a huge success. Now comes the publication of the National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme Final Synthesis Report which concludes:
“The key finding from the impact evaluation using administrative data was that across a wide range of outcomes, covering the key objectives of the programme - employment, benefit receipt, school attendance, safeguarding and child welfare - we were unable to find consistent evidence that the Troubled Families programme had any significant or systematic impact. That is to say, our analysis found no impact on these outcomes attributable to the programme, with observed outcomes for the Troubled Families Programme families being very similar to the outcomes for a matched comparison group of families.” (page 69)
Ill-thought-out policies, devised by politicians and policy-wonks and self-appointed experts are the curse of public policy. Not only are they a great waste of public money, but they are a great waste of human resources and human effort. They are huge distractions. During a period when important mainstream child welfare, safeguarding and protection services have become increasingly under-funded and under pressure, to squander public funds on flaky innovations, which then achieve nothing, is little short of reckless.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Please just get on with it!

Having had a brief moment of optimism about Calais, I’m back in the slough of despond again.

Please, Home Secretary, just get on with it. Just get on with it and take ALL the children from Calais who have been identified as having a legal right to be in the United Kingdom. It is as simple as that – no quotas to appease the right wing tabloid press, just get on with it.

I can only agree with the spokesperson for French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, who is quoted by the Guardian as saying: “We cannot imagine the UK, with its traditions of human rights, will refuse to admit unaccompanied minors into the UK. The main objective is to ensure that these minors have a better life in the UK where they have family or friends living in the country.”

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Calais - a new sense of urgency?

I’m glad I didn’t promise to eat my hat if Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, made a welcome U-turn on taking children from the camp at Calais. I’m glad that she has now put in hand what seem to be genuine measures to prioritise getting children to Britain.

If she succeeds in that I’ll be glad to say well done. I will be glad to have been proved wrong. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Shame of Calais

In Brexit Britain xenophobia is plat du jour. Some politicians seem to have lost their moral compasses. The Home Secretary, for example, used her speech at the Conservative Party Conference to flirt with the idea of requiring businesses to list their foreign workers. Despite howls of anguish from sensible commentators, the Daily Mail appeared to heartily endorse what it chillingly called a “rivers of Rudd” speech, claiming that she had the backing of a majority.

As Home Secretary, Amber Rudd is responsible for the immigration service and for immigration policy. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that a report by the Red Cross reveals a damning chronicle of delay, intransigence and obstruction by British immigration officials who appear to be frustrating attempts to admit those unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Calais, who are eligible to come to Britain. Even the French government, whose record on refugees at Calais is far from good, appears to be aghast at what is going on.

Anyone who opposes child abuse and neglect has to recognise that it cannot be part of government policy to actually sustain the conditions in which it thrives. But that is what is happening. Somebody somewhere should be helping, safeguarding and protecting unaccompanied children at Calais; not making it more likely that they will suffer maltreatment. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

“Why am I going to confide in someone I have only known for 5 minutes?”

“Why am I going to confide in someone I have only known for 5 minutes?”

Those were the words of a seventeen-year old young man who experienced four changes of social worker during the last 22 months of his life. According to the serious case review report the records indicate that he saw no one social worker more than five times during that period.

The young man was subject to a full care order. He was found hanged and later died in hospital. According to the coroner, the exact causes of his death still remain unclear.

Vulnerable children and young people cannot be expected to form trusting relationships with their social workers if the social worker keeps changing. High turnover of children’s social workers is an important cause of poor quality and unsafe services. There’s no point wringing hands and blaming the local authority concerned in this case. Failing to retain children’s social workers is a national disease which has been going on for years and years. It’s about time for some more effective medicine. 

We need a national strategy on retention and we need it now.