Lord Laming’s report into safeguarding children will be published later today. At the LGiU we hope this is the start of a new approach that enables us to move forward, following the botched response to the Baby P case which made matters worse.
While the government was throwing red meat to the tabloids, and contributing to the hounding of social workers, they further undermined this incredibly important profession. A toxic mix of swaggering politicians and vicious reporting compounded the core problem, which is that social work is the Cinderella profession.
For years social workers have been neglected and left overworked, undervalued and underpaid. We don’t need Lord Laming to tell us that the case load is far too high, that there are major recruitment and retention problems in the profession, and that the culture is target focused not child focused.
The current approach does not value front line practice, but instead moves experienced social workers into management roles, tying them up in red tape and paperwork. We need an ‘expert social workers’ programme, just as we have in teaching to keep good teachers in the classroom, that gives incentives to experienced and high performing social workers to continue to practice, rather than manage.
We need to do more to release social workers from administration. Just as in policing there is an emphasis on civilians to help with paperwork, we must free up trained and experienced social workers to focus on children not bureaucracy.
We need a stronger national voice for social workers which leads to a step change in how the profession is viewed and its ability to represent itself to other professional bodies and with central government. This could be a statutory body such as a Royal College. Its first campaign should be to bring pay and status for social workers into line with other similar professions such as teaching.
The government should take the lead in supporting the profession. This week they announced the fast tracking of teacher recruitment and training with much fanfare. The Government should now launch an initiative to encourage people to join the social work profession. This could include fast tracked training and golden hellos, and must include a commitment to a new culture which will value social work.
Jasmine Ali, Head of the LGiUs Children’s Services Network, has had a long career in social care. She says that the key is to speed up the integration of children’s services so that children don’t fall through the cracks in the system. We must stop playing pass the parcel between agencies and instead make sure there is shared responsibility and clear decision making, so that urgent interventions are made.
We must improve information sharing between staff working with children in different agencies such as the health service, police, social services, education and housing. This has been a political football for too long, delaying the implementation of the ‘ContactPoint’ system. We need politicians of all parties to come together with the political will to achieve a consensus around the right balance between protecting human rights and gathering and sharing data in a way that could save children’s lives.
The heavy boot of Whitehall and the wise words of Lords cannot solve all the problems. We must move from trying to impose change to working with the profession and the local government sector has to take a stronger role in intervening to prevent failure.
We will comment here again later when the Laming report is published.