Children’s Social Care Reform
In January 2016 the government announced its vision for reform in children’s social care.
It seems a higher level of priority is at last being afforded the work of agencies in this field than previously, including setting specific time-based targets to enable progress to be more effectively measured.
In publishing the document ‘Children’s Social Care Reform – A Vision for Change’, the government has laid out its vision for every child being able to fulfil their maximum potential. This includes looking at the role services play in making that possible for the most vulnerable, the skills it expects from the workforce, and how it creates a culture of learning and improvement within those agencies.
By 2020 they envisage:
- A workforce with demonstrable skills and knowledge needed to fulfil their roles
- A service shaped by professionals not prescribed by central government
- A wider range of children’s social care agencies
There is an intention to deliver this under the headings of:
- People & Leadership
- Practice & Systems
- Governance and accountability
Having already progressed this agenda in legislation in recent years, the report still acknowledges plenty of challenges in meeting the vision.
People & Leadership
The government recognises the statutory responsibilities that social workers have and the burden this places on their decisions about children and young people. The vision puts emphasis on training and development and on supervision of practice.
This part of the vision includes:
- Senior Social Work Practice Leaders to hold responsibility for practice.
- A clear understanding of the skills needed for children’s social work.
- Reform of the system to achieve and monitor high standards of professional excellence.
- Attracting quality candidates into social work and supporting them to develop their skills.
This would be achieved by:
- Growing recruitment strategies to attract more excellent practitioners through work based graduate training and extending teaching partnerships between employing agencies and universities.
- Using assessment and accreditation across all levels of the workforce to ensure skill and knowledge levels meet requirement; this has been piloted by some local authorities.
- Developing a clear pathway for social work practitioners to become practice leaders.
- Developing leadership talent.
- A new regulatory body that focusses on quality of education, training and practice in social work.
The vision builds on the recommendations from the Munro report on Child Protection, calling for evidence led decisions made by skilled workers assessing, analysing and exercising professional judgement, allowing social workers to see themselves as agents of positive change.
It’s hard to argue against such positive reforms, but the vision lacks clarity in parts and does not describe fully how we reach the desired level; especially with vacancy rates as high as 30% in many parts of the service and much of the cover coming through agencies.
Practice & Systems
The vision seems to reiterate the ideas from the Munro report that agencies were more focused on following systems than on the people they served, ‘doing things right, not doing the right things’
The vision seeks to free up the best social workers and social work leaders to give them time to work with young people and their families by:
- Having a regulatory framework that is not so prescriptive it stifles professional judgement.
- Promoting innovation to move away from a risk averse culture.
- Developing a Partners in Practice scheme for better performing authorities to showcase how systems can be child focussed.
- Reforming how we learn from things that go wrong and developing a ‘what works well’ culture.
They propose to cut some of the unwieldy regulations imposed by the last parliament, but the devil is likely to be in the detail when announcements are made about reporting and recording requirements as they remain a significant pressure for the workforce.
It is recognised that this sector is less innovative than comparable sectors of service provision and that risk aversion prevails; but the vision doesn’t describe how the end goal is reached other than through innovation.
The inclusion of learning from what works well, whilst is welcomed, comes as little surprise. The introduction of appreciative inquiries into child protection started some time ago, and locally has been championed by Safe & Sound in advocating learning opportunities around CSE in Derbyshire, and through our Hub & Spoke project across the East Midlands.
It remains unclear, as the government is in a consultation period, how the system for Serious Case Reviews (SCR) will be reformed – we know they will be centralised, but we don’t yet know how that will inform local learning.
Governance & Accountability
This part talks of failing organisations being turned around quickly and of the creation of ‘dynamic social care organisations’, but again lacks the detail to explain how this will happen and what is meant by ‘social care organisation’. It seems likely that there will be increased scope for non-statutory agencies taking on more of the statutory roles of local authorities, ‘failing’ or otherwise.
The vision seems to blame Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs) where sufficient improvements have not been made and the government is therefore conducting a review of the roles and functions of LSCBs.
The proposed changes include:
- Reducing ‘checks & balances’ to promote a focus on accountability and using data better to inform improvement.
- Facilitating cross authority collaborative commissioning and delivery of services, such as regional adoption agencies.
- Encouraging a more ‘dynamic and diverse range of provision’ by supporting the emergence of not-for-profit children’s social care organisations.
- Imposing intervention when improvements are not quick enough, allowing the ‘best’ services to take over those ‘poorer services’.
- Working with Ofsted to ensure new inspection frameworks promote innovation, evidence based practice, and facilitates improvement in local arrangements for coordination of services and accountability, including the roles and functions of LSCBs
It can be seen that there is scope for benefit where authorities work together in commissioning and service delivery, economies of scale for instance and aggregating specialist provision regionally.
The recent practice of authorities in intervention being ‘buddied up’ with stronger authorities is likely to be extended but it will be interesting to see if this has the desired impact, where consultants have had little.
Some of these proposals need fleshing out with detail before clarity about resourcing and funding can be considered. Though the government has clearly stated an intention to improve social care services for children and young people, many would argue that this will not be possible without significant investment.
Therefore, at a time when finances in local authorities are, at best, stretched and facing further cuts, and with a deterioration in social conditions for many families, it is difficult to see how this vision is realised without the loss or deterioration of other equally important services.