Balls to Balls

Yesterday Ball announced a plan to ‘transform’ social work and inject £58 million into the system. This came as the government responded to Laming’s report following the ‘Baby P’ tragedy.  Although actually it isn’t about transforming social work – it is about transforming children’s social work.

I want to look at what he has proposed though. And I apologise in advance for any possible cynicism.

Ed Balls
Image via Wikipedia

Under the proposals:

* 200 university places will be created to enable graduates to convert to social work.

Maybe I’m missing something here but there is already a Masters Degree for those who have graduated in other subjects – why, I’m a Philosophy graduate myself and somehow I managed to find myself on a ‘conversion’ course 10 years ago. How exactly will this be different from the current Masters which accepts graduates of other disciplines? Maybe a one year instead of a two year course similar to a PGCE? That would hardly be a positive move. I am plain confused by this.

* A recruitment campaign will be launched to tempt back social workers who have left the profession.

Well, we knew this was coming and all I can say is ‘good luck’ to them. Although to be fair, I think a ‘refresher’ course for those that have been away from the profession for a few years is not a bad thing. I left the country for two years and went immediately back into a statutory team where a refresher would actually have been very useful.

* A newly-qualified social worker support programme will be launched for all new practitioners joining statutory and voluntary services this September.

I’m glad that this is covering voluntary organisations as well as statutory. Honestly, I think the year should be linked to the professional qualification to be honest and that you shouldn’t actually be a registered social worker until after this year.

* A new practice-based masters degree in social work will start in early 2011 so practitioners can continue to develop.

Again, I thought these were already up and running through the post-qualification scheme which can be combined to achieve a Masters qualification. So it’s hardly new.

* A new advanced social work professional status programme will be launched to help experienced social workers stay on the front line.

I refer to my previous point. How is this different from the current PQ framework with its Specialist Social Worker, Higher Specialist Social Worker and Advanced Specialist Higher (or whatever it’s called) system which is supposed to run up to Masters degrees.

So well done for achieving so little, Balls. Although I’m hardly surprised. Oh wait, I forgot. There’s some more checking and balancing and proposed changes to the ICS (IT) system.

Balls said: “We are going to make the ICS system less clunky. There is too much of a divide between management and frontline social work. Managers need to spend more time on the front line supporting social workers rather than too much about process and bureaucracy.”

Thanks Balls. What about putting in managers that actually are registered social workers too. And how was the process and bureaucracy created in the first place? I’d venture a guess that it’s due to the obsession with performance indicators in inspections of local government – the monitoring of councils is all by targets and there is little evidence of any monitoring of quality in any areas other than those that can be placed into some kind of ‘target figure’. A number rarely tells a story of a piece of good work done. Exceptional work can be done outside ‘target’ time frames so it would count quantitively against a council when the actual face to face work might be of a great quality. There is no allowance for this in local government.

The Social Work Task Force also published an interim report yesterday on its findings as reported in Community Care.

In its interim findings, submitted to children’s secretary Ed Balls today, the Task Force reported that social workers were “demoralised”  by media vilification, causing them to leave their jobs.

Well, yes, and Balls has hardly done much to help that, has he? He has appointed an Agony Aunt onto the Task Force at the expense of people who actually know about the job. At the same time as urging ‘the best’ graduates to go into social work – knowing what this says about the people already working in the profession.

Mark Easton in the BBC’s blog writes about this stating that

The word that some would say is missing from today’s proposals is “trust”. The plans suggest ministers do not have real confidence in social workers to do their job. Every scandal is seen as evidence that the public servants employed to protect vulnerable children are failing. The response is greater control from the centre.

And he has a good point. Balls has clearly no faith at all in the current work force and hardly does anything to help morale – in fact – I’d say he has an adverse effect. After all,  let’s see how the Daily Mail interprets the statements made yesterday – a lovely helpful headline –


That kind of thing really helps with morale, you know.

And just on another comment that I couldn’t let pass and this is from the Mail report

Tory children’s spokesman Tim Loughton said: ‘Ministers cannot hope to entice more social workers back into the profession unless they fix the problems that originally drove them out.’

Sorry? SORRY?? Do the Tories not realise the responsibility that THEY hold for creating the issues as well? These underlying problems and difficulties did not only appear since 1997. They were deep-seated through the Conservative government but would I’d really like to know is what they would propose positively.

What I do think is needed is a more substantial change if it is going to make a difference and more concentration on what is and has gone wrong which can only be done by speaking directly to staff who are currently working in the field.

Apparently the Task Force is looking to appoint some more front line workers for a ‘reference’ group – I know that at least when I find an application form, I’d be more than happy to apply to join it and would encourage others to do so – and the Social Work Blog writes on the same issue, urging social workers to take action in making sure our voices are heard this time. If we aren’t heard, I fear to think where these proposals and mishmashing by central government will be leading us.

17 thoughts on “Balls to Balls

  1. Very interesting! I was thinking that someone should write a damn good soap opera or drama about social work and social workers…ironic that the only way to reposition poverty, crime, exploitation and vocation is to write a hit!

    Why don’t you set up a blog linked to some creative writing, scriptwriting course where there could be a collaborative script? The BBC Writer’s Room might be a good way of connecting these issues with energetic and creative thinking? Might help! Something good might come of it!

    • That’s something I hadn’t thought about! When I have a little more free time I may well investigate the possibilities!

  2. I am a mature student, starting my Access course in September and hopefully going on to do the Social work degree. It does appear that the government don’t listen or take action based on social worker’s opinions and experiences. I am also a little deflated that Ed Balls believes that the ‘best and brightest graduates’ should be recruited. Firstly what does that say? I am not an ‘A’ grade student by any means, however I am a very hard worker and would be totally commited to being a Social Worker. Now I am doubting myself. Am I not clever enough?

    Sorry about the rant

    • Karen – you are right. I am furious about the ‘brightest and best’ comment as it is plain demoralising and far from helpful.
      There is a LOT more to being a good social worker than being top grade graduate – although the university degree is intellectually challenging, you very much need to have a high degree of ’emotional intelligence’ too.
      Please don’t doubt yourself – I am sure you are on the right path and after all, governments and especially ministers change!

  3. Ironic that Balls seems to not be aware that some of the ‘brightest and best’ graduates are all ready entering social work, and insulting actually. I am one of those brightest and best from last year’s graduates, but must admit I did weigh up very carefully the option of large and welcoming bursaries and golden handshakes offered by teaching, or the possibility of obscenely large salaries within 5-10 years from graduate management schemes before deciding to spend two years with no money training to then spend the rest of my life with little money- because social work is what I care about. Being constantly told by government that the profession I am entering is under performing, inadequate, badly trained, untrustworthy, and not worth decent pay is insulting to say the least. 😦

  4. Social Services plead shortage of staff and financial resources as excuses for overlooking torture of children (even after 60 visits to Baby P). In other European countries they take children from parents only if they have been severely physically or sexually abused but in Britain we waste most of out valuable resources fighting cruel cases in secret and costly courts to remove children and even new born babies at “risk of emotional harm” and for similar lesser reasons. The parents of Baby P would never have gone to court to fight for his return if he had been taken earlier as parents that violently physically abuse their children avoid courts like the plague!

    Physical torture KILLS KILLS KILLS!!!
    Emotional abuse does NOT
    Poor school attendance does NOT
    A cluttered house does NOT
    Witnessing domestic violence does NOT
    Hostility to the “professionals” does NOT
    A parent with learning problems does NOT

    Where therefore should the “SS” priorities lie?

    With stopping violent and harmful abuse that is physical of course ! To save lives of course ! To stop taking babies at birth for “risk of emotional abuse”and to stop taking children for adoption for any of the other problems listed above !
    The vilification will stop if you do this,

    I would have thought myself it was MORE IMPORTANT to concentrate on preventing babies being tortured rather than the more common rush to remove babies AT BIRTH from mothers whom some highly paid psychobabble merchants have decided may at some future date emotionally harm their babies!Crystal ball gazing?

    If all the resources of child protection were used to examine thoroughly (looking for visible bruises and burns) say once a month, all those children suspected of having been seriously physically or sexually abused thousands of children’s lives would be saveriority to stopping life threatening physical abuse and not d
    That is how to improve the image of social workers

    • This discussion has already been had, Ian. You left a similar comment a few months ago which resulted in a debate and there isn’t any point in repeating it.

  5. Balls wants to recruit more and better social workers ;
    Recruits are slow to come forward because of bad press.
    The only way to stop bad press is for social workers to devote resources to save lives; not chasing abroad to appear in foreign courts trying to bring back parents and children who have fled the UK to avoid forced adoption !Also of course avoiding court actions on non life threatening issues
    Sorry if the remedy is something I did advocate previously but Balls deserves a simple jargon free solution and that is what he will get from me !
    There is NO other way to stop bad press ,so no other way to both find new social worker recruits and also keep them working for social services without resigning before their first year is out!

    • You may not have mentioned recruitment specifically but the points were made. Anyway, maybe it would be useful to make a case to the social work taskforce as they are currently accepting submissions.
      Bad press is about much more though than child protection and taking children from parents. Just as social work is about much more in general.

  6. On the whole social workers get quite a good press helping the aged, and young people in trouble generally.
    It is ONLY in the field of child protection that they really get villified and justifiably so until they get their act together in ways that I will not repeat yet again for fear of irritating those who have read them all before !

  7. Ah, cb, you do rants beautifully. I think you need to do them more often.

    Let’s ask Dear Dierdre what she thinks of his proposals…Oh, wait, we don’t care what she thinks. 😀

    • I think you are right. I do need to rant more.. although you should see what expletives are contained in my ‘draft’ posts that never make it to the public area.. !

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