Shoesmith, Balls and Appeals

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I was trying to steer away from discussion of the Shoesmith’s appeal against her dismissal by Haringey Council (via Ed Balls, the responsible Cabinet minister at the time) and her victory in the Court of Appeal – but having followed the case from the outset, I can’t quite resist coming back to it.

There are a few issues that have caught my attention in the press and blogs that I  have read over the past few days.

Firstly there is a confusion between the outcome (namely Shoesmith losing her job) and the process (being sacked via the Minister in a press conference on the basis – according to him, at least – of an OFSTED report, the findings of which she was not able to respond to).

I am biased although I have no time for Shoesmith. Like almost every Director of Services (Adults and Children) she is happy to take the pay without having an idea of how the services are, or aren’t being run ‘under her watch’. She doesn’t come across as a particularly sympathetic character and I think her lack of knowledge of social work  – as she comes from an education background – has come back to bite hard.

But, and this is the big but – that doesn’t mean she is suddenly an exception to employment law – and of course, that’s what the Court of Appeal found.

Secondly, Balls hung Shoesmith, and by extension the social work profession and professionals out to dry. It’s all very well saying responsibility should lie at the top  but if that is the case, why not the Children’s Minister himself? You see, the problem with the uproar following the tragic death of Peter Connolly, which led to the highly charged press conferences and shamefully manipulative exchanges in the Houses of Commons is that it was a manufactured outrage. Yes, of course it is beyond awful when a child dies following abuse and it is a failing when the systems that should protect that child break down but Peter Conn0lly isn’t the only child, unfortunately, to die under those circumstances and in the face of Ed Balls’ posturing and much as we would like it to be different, nor will he be the last one.

There was the awful tales of Alex Sutherland, Khyra Ishtaq, Baby B – and many others – so why was Peter Connolly thrust into the public consciousness such that the memories of a boy whose life was cut short are remembered by the details of his death and the photos released to the newspapers?

Well, that would probably be an interesting research project all in itself about media and the human psyche – but Balls admits that he succumbed to pressure regarding Shoesmith and the pressure was put on by the tabloid press. He even added insult to injury by throwing Deirdre Sanders, the agony aunt of the Sun newspaper onto the Social Work Taskforce which was to look at ways of improving social work practice. If anything demonstrates how he threw the profession to the baying wolves, it is that.

As for Shoesmith, however she may or may not have done her job, hers was not the hand that beat Connolly. She deserved better from her employers regarding advice although who knows if they gave her that media management advice and whether she chose not to take it or whether she was just thrown to the wolves by her employers.

The OFSTED report by which Balls condemned Shoesmith is faulty in the extreme and was altered. I wonder who might have put pressure on OFSTED to change this.

There is a lot of poor practice and poor knowledge of processes knocking around in this case. It wasn’t all to be laid at the feet of Shoesmith. It looks like the ex-minister had more to gain through his pandering to the press than anyone else and the shame is that it is on the back of a tragedy.

Shoesmith isn’t a social worker and never has been (although the Evening Standard headline seems to state it) but it’s easy for the press to make the leap because they have no idea about the actual facts nor do they check them. They want a hate figure. I am uncomfortable defending Shoesmith to a point because I am not sure exactly where the blame lies but the blame for processes should lie between the police service, the health service and children’s services.  Another Serious Case Review and more about the failings in communication between agencies. The profession really needs far more radical proposals than those set out in the Munro Report but it’s a start.

What Shoesmith was entitled to was the same process of natural justice that everyone else is- I don’t say she shouldn’t have been dismissed, that’s another argument entirely and to be honest, I think she should have been – but Balls was looking to the headlines rather than the law book when he acted to dismiss her.

For that, he should apologise rather than taking refuge in the baying crowds of populism – oh, but he’s a politician. However much I may hate the current government, and however much Osborne makes my skin crawl, I will never forget the shameless pandering to the tabloid press that Balls engaged in on the back of the death of a child.

Munro’s Interim Report on Child Protection – some thoughts

Professor Munro published an  Interim Report on Child Protection – subtitled ‘A Child’s Journey’  yesterday with some ideas, thoughts and (most importantly) hard research evidence about changes that need to be made in the child protection system and particularly in the way child protection social work operates.

As will be enormously apparent to anyone who passes by here, I have no experience at all in working in child protection services so I don’t want to comment on some of the details which relate to things that I don’t have any idea about (like ICS – their computer systems).

There are a number of points though that came to me as I read through the interim report. This is, though, from the viewpoint of someone who is very much a non-expert so do take my comments with the proverbial pinch of salt.

Nothing came as a great surprise to me. I have often felt, through conversations with colleagues and friends as well as my experience as a foster carer, that some of the child protection departments sound plain toxic in terms of management styles and healthy workplaces.

Everyone is under pressure to hit targets. I have worked in that style of team myself where you really do feel like an automaton just pumping out work of varying quality to meet targets, targets and more targets at the expense of quality interactions and interventions – or as Munro puts it more simply – help.

It does seem (and this is wholly anecdotal evidence) more prevalent in child protection teams due to the pace of the work and statutory time frames in which to work.

The report itself makes interesting reading – but I fully accept that my definition of interesting might not be a standard normative base.

It is however eminently readable which isn’t always the case with these reports and documents.

There are four chapters after the introduction.

1.  Getting Help Early

This has focus on – as it says – early interventions. I do like her use of the word ‘help’ for families rather than ‘intervention’. It reminds me how distant some of the jargon becomes and how words themselves can frame ways of working and attitudes.

She mentions the planned expansion of the health visiting role and the importance of Sure Start programmes (which the government seem to be cutting).

It’s interesting as well that she focuses on the importance of universal services to ‘catch’ children and families that may otherwise fall ‘below the radar’ – or, as she puts it – meet the threshold for statutory intervention.

She also praises and seems to support the idea of multi-agency teams. For me it’s obvious having worked in a social services team and then moving into an multi-disciplinary team. Working alongside people with different professional backgrounds and specialities is both a pleasure and a very sharp learning curve. There is nothing like meeting, working and talking to people across different services and professions to build relationships informally – going for lunch together, having a cup of coffee and casual chat – to build strong professional relationships. It can’t necessarily be forced but one thing that happens where I work is that if some kind of ‘blockage’ builds up with a particular team – we then go and shadow them and/or they come and shadow us.

There is nothing like knowing the faces behind the telephone voices for promoting better joint-working.

2. Child and Family Social Work

This is a big one. It found it fascinating to read because on some levels I understood but on other levels I was having some kind of insight into an almost parallel world.

Munro ties in very tightly with the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force to improve social work practice throughout the country.

It seems she has worked closely with members of the prospective College of Social Work (the SCIE one – sigh – that is getting boring having to differentiate). I wonder if that’s why BASW have been so quiet about the report.

Munro tries to focus on the expertise that social workers bring to child protection work and particularly to the nature of the relationships that they build and how that is and can be affected by some of the borked systems that are in place – it is what she calls a ‘rational-technical’ approach to social work.  This is a term for the manageralist leaning of social work practice dependent on procedural manuals and completing reams of paperwork at the expense of the face-to-face work with children and families.

Paperwork can be faultless but does that mean practice is any better? Recording of course, is important but as she says it is often the actions that are recorded rather than the thinking and reasoning.

It’s a fair point and there may be other places to record the processes behind decisions being made. The importance is that THERE IS thinking behind the decisions and reasoning and that it does not become process-led or defensive.

There are some thought-provoking paragraphs about the importance of intuition and expertise in communication – evidenced throughout – as one would expect of a professor with a research base.

I’m glad that Munro mentions time and managers giving staff the time to develop their skills and practice. I wonder how this will be possible in a world of contracting and contracting out local authority roles and functions.

But this is a report which recommends an idealised version of practice.

Munro also considers the career path of social work which currently heads straight from front line work to front line management to senior management. There are no ‘professional experts’ within teams and few, if any, promotion or development prospects if you do not want to be a manager. That’s somewhere I’ve arrived myself actually. I’m quite happy to be a practitioner and have developed in the sense that I’m a Practice Assessor, and AMHP and a BIA but that’s probably as far as I can go without a managerial role that would take me away from front line practice. And I have over 30 years to go until I retire. If I ever retire.

I’ve pretty much exhausted available post-qualification training that is open to me at the level which I am at.

Actually, that’s quite depressing when I think about it. I’d love to study more. I sit with my nursing colleagues who are working on research projects, my occupational therapist colleague is also currently engaging in research, medical colleagues are conducting their own research. Why can’t I, as a social worker, take that path (while practising – I don’t WANT to leave the front line to do research work full time)? I can’t because the local authority have no training budget and I can’t afford to fund myself.

I hope that’s something that is picked up on. I would love to be an ‘expert practitioner’ type! Oops, got off the topic a little there.

3. Managing Front Line Social Work

Munro starts this chapter with a great line that I’ll paraphrase by saying that social workers have spent so much time on guidelines and regulations and concentrating on good reports from Ofsted that they have lost sight of the needs of the child in the process.

The bureaucratic monster is proverbially eating itself and forgetting who it is meant to serve.

Munro highlights a blame culture that seems to permeate the sector. It is hard not to feel that when you have ministers like Ed Balls showing so little support to the profession. But that was yesterday (I’m  not going to forget that, Balls).

The front-line manager often creates the culture of the organisation to their staff. This is crucial and managers need to be very good at managing and not just experienced professionals who have reached ‘their turn’ at promotion. Perhaps poor management is a reflection on the levels of progression for social workers. People might feel pressured into managing when it isn’t what they want because that is solely where the career progression lies.

Colleagues of mine often comment about me not being a manager or a senior practitioner because of the amount of time I’ve been hanging around in the service. It is rarely positive comment – something along the lines of ‘oh, you’re still in that job’. It doesn’t bother me because I have an idea of what I want to do but I can see it would play on the mind of others.

Munro also mentions the process of supervision and how it  has become a task based run down of management issues. I’m very lucky to have professional and management supervision separately.

I meet with a senior social worker in a different team and we discuss my professional development and issues away from my office. She knows my managers and colleagues but mostly just by name and it allows for some distance ‘from the ground’ and discussions about issues in social work, use of theories – it is something more like the supervision I might do for a student than the type of supervision I tended to get prior to this as a practitioner.

My manager still supervises me for case discussions and to see where I’m up to and I would go to her for advice about managing cases but being able to talk about the wider issues of social work in a different setting has been a real breath of fresh air in my practice and my enthusiasm for the job and the profession. I can’t speak highly enough of the split and I hope it is something that is promoting throughout the sector. It does take time though and partly works so well because I get along with my supervisor (which is completely random – I had never met her before she was ‘allocated’ to me). She tells me she gets as much from it as I do.

I completely understand that I am somewhat unique in that I have these two supervisors. It dates back to a particular incident where I kicked up a bit stink that went to senior management and demanded more professional support. It was conceded but it was hard fought and it is far from standard in my organisation.

4. Shared learning and accountability.

I’m not going to comment much on this because it refers to details which really are out of my sphere of knowledge.

Munro considers the role of Local Safeguarding Childrens’ Boards and the learning from Serious Case Reviews.

This is also where she considers unannounced inspections of services as opposed to planned inspections which take significant amounts of resources to prepare for.

All I will say here is that unannounced inspections are always the best way of getting a good idea and understanding of practice in any area. I’m a big fan of unannounced inspections in adult social care, care homes, hospitals and social services departments.

My old manager used to randomly patrol the office and pick out random files from the old filing system and take them to her office to read though to check on case recording quality and that paperwork was where it should be. It meant we were much more attentive and careful on a continuous basis.

This is a very slanted and somewhat haphazard almost stream of consciousness piece about my response to Munro so I apologise in advance for that. Busy week at work!

I feel the recommendations are positive but I do worry that the whole narrative of change in the social work profession is being led solely by child protection social work.

I am concerned that, for example, if there is a proposed Chief Social Worker, they will completely forget that there are other areas of social work that exist and again, just as in the training and throughout my career,  the protection of vulnerable adults and the needs of older adults will be pushed into the periphery by the more headline-grabbing needs of child protection.

For the moment though, I hope it becomes an opportunity to improve social work practice across all sectors.

(Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Mental Capacity Act tomorrow – I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to comment on this review!)

Serious Case Review

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Two serious case reviews relating to the circumstances of the death of Peter Connelly (also known as ‘Baby P) were published for the first time yesterday.  I read through the second one (pdf) this morning but to be honest, gained no new information from it. I don’t know how different the first one was so I’ll rely on newspaper reports to inform me.

Interestingly, the second report was demanded by the Department of Children, Schools and Families when the first one was seen to be inadequate. I know for the interests of further knowledge I should read both but honestly, my heart isn’t in it.

I instead refer to Patrick Butler’s comment piece on the Guardian website which teases apart the issues of the two serious case reviews and the politicking that allowed a tragic situation where mistakes were made without any shadow of doubt, into a pillorying of social workers and social services nationally with the explicit agreement of Ed Balls and his government.

What did I learn from the second report? That the case was mismanaged and mishandled by numerous agencies, including social workers, doctors, the police etc.

This shouldn’t absolve social workers from their responsibility of course and there is absolutely no pleasure or pride in saying ‘look, they did it too.. it wasn’t just us’.

The difficulty is that joint-working seems like a far-sighted dreamland where people of with different professional and personal backgrounds come together to battle through their own assumptions and ‘walls of knowledge’ to share openly.

The fact that information sharing and multi-disciplinary working and the problems with it tends to come up with alarming frequency at reviews into deaths of children in care as well as adults who require the same protection, is an obvious result that greater information, better interdisciplinary working and just easier and more open systems will lead to better outcomes.

This is not a work of genius or anything new. The consideration is why hasn’t this been done and what is the best way for it?

IT solutions have proved to be clunky and unpopular.

I go down an old-fashioned but possibly (and this is where the problem comes in) more time-consuming route of both physically working more closely together across agencies but more importantly or perhaps more practically, getting to know who the people are in different agencies and build up those relationships of trust and routes of conversation that allow people to admit difficulties and cut down some of the bureaucracy.

I am of the mind that if police officers responsible for safeguarding came into our offices informally and regularly so we have names to contact and likewise if social workers had the time to meet with the GPs to discuss – and this is the important bit – not just individual cases as they arise but ways of working and getting to know each other as people, it would shore up the ease of the flow of information.

The difficulty is that this takes time and there is little value and even less measureable data on the quality of inter-professional working relationships.

In a world of measured outcomes and performance targets, we shouldn’t forget the human relationships, the informal conversations – the knowledge of where someone stands – when Mr X means ‘serious’ you drop absolutely everything and run but that Mr Y says ‘serious’ to mean anything out of his own personal comfort zone and Mr Z’s use of ‘serious’ is his baseline ‘normal’.

Greater trust and understanding of different systems is crucial. One of the things I did pick up from the SCR that I read relates to poor communication and a lack of understanding between the agencies, perhaps most notably between children’s services in Haringey and the health services.

In my opinion, the best way of tightening links formally is to tighten links informally. Professionals owe it to the public to work well together and they.. we.. work better with people who can relate to and whom we know personally. Systems set up for particular failures can often be weak because they might plug one gap  but miss another than comes out in a SCR the following year.

What needs to be fixed is the underlying distrust and professional silos across individuals who work in health and social care and then the information deficit and knowledge gap can be plugged both informally by Dr Y calling Mrs P who she met on a training course and sometimes chats to when she has some concerns that she isn’t quite sure about and by Mrs P sending a quick email to Dr Y asking to just pay closer attention to child X because she has a few gut feelings or is concerned about the relationship between child X and their foster carer.

It’s hard to quantify how it might happen in practice. That’s why I am no policy writer and just a humble practitioner. What won’t work is developing reams of policy documents in response to every mistake that is made.

We need to work on the structural failures rather than the failures of specific individuals and note that poor practice is sometimes just poor practice.

That isn’t saying we should be complacent, of course we shouldn’t – but sometimes the answers are just very straightforward.

More staff, better management and supervision and more trust and respect between professionals.

Day of the Ed

Having satisfied myself that I can’t separate my work from my politics, I have a somewhat indulgent post about the current events of the day. I’ve been following the Labour Leadership contest with intermittent interest.

Since the election the interregnum between Gordon Brown’s resignation and the assumption to the role of leader by  Ed Miliband has given the coalition time to ride out their ‘honeymoon’ period. At the time, I thought it might have been better (although I don’t think the Labour Party constitution would allow it) for another leader to be crowned as soon as possible. In retrospect, I can see the benefit of having had the hustings and debate about the leadership and more importantly, the time for the Coalition to ride out the initial positive freshness and have a strong leader in place for the upcoming spending review and into the future.

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I am no wise political pundit – I was always expecting a Miliband victory – just not necessary that particular Miliband..There was the curious factor in having two brothers fight the election against each other and in a competition between two Eds and two Milibands, I suppose it satisfies a certain neatness to have the candidate who is both an Ed and a Miliband win. Away from the flippancy,  I expect an intellectual rigour and broad understanding of policy. The noises made seem to be fairly positive and, as the election proved, the electorate needed change and if I had had a vote, I would have voted for him.

I don’t really need to explain my views about Balls – I have elsewhere and I won’t ever be able to shake off my distaste for him. I find him below contempt.

I respect Diane Abbott as a politician and have for a long time. She is a welcome face of diversity among the candidates – not just as a black woman but because of her background politically. She is a strong conviction politician. I hope she has a place in the future of Labour and that her voice remains strong although I don’t really have much doubt that it will – it’s just a matter of  how closely she is held to the centre of the power axis.

Burnham was a bit bland in my view and I didn’t really know where to place him but I’m not a long-standing Labour activist. My only ‘contact’ with him was a Secretary of State for Health and to be honest, he didn’t have time to make a deep mark. I have no doubt he’ll pop up again.

So back to  the Milibands. David, possibly lost out by being more closely associated with the previous government and the backing of Blair possibly didn’t help him in the wake of the publication of  Blair’s memoirs but ultimately, the race was just so close that any number of things could have affected the result one way or the other.

Ed placed himself to the left of David. He spoke more about grassroots and not losing sight of the Labour movement from which the party grew. David, as the more senior politician was more closely linked to the previous government and her policies – some of which, especially the military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and deeply unpopular. Ed is a little less tainted by association.

The whispers have already started about the place the union and affiliate membership had in the electoral college system that Labour uses to elect a leader. I expect they will continue for a long time. As a union member, I don’t see why the positions of the unions shouldn’t have value. Although there’s a massive difference between union member and union activist (which I’m not really – although I’m beginning to feel maybe I should be.. ). Lots of the target centre voters are union members as well – they aren’t the sole domain of the blue collar classes. I have a feeling unions may become ever more important over the next few years as well as the cuts bite and it’s worth remembering that union members are people with votes too and shouldn’t necessarily be discounted so readily by the press.

From here, I wish all the candidates well, especially the new leader of the Labour Party. Personally, I hope he’s able to restore some of my faith in the Labour Party.

On a more fraternal note, I wonder if it’s the first time that the winning leadership candidate told his closest rival that he loved him on stage.

Balls and Hypocrisy

Just a quick post today. I was minding my own business reading the Evening Standard on my tube journey home yesterday when I came across the following headline


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I had to double-take and hold down a rue snigger. This is ED BALLS! The man who put an agony aunt from The Sun on the Social Work Taskforce! He is criticising Brown for pandering to the popular press?


I know social workers aren’t his target audience but Ed Balls really thinks he can gain favour by criticising Brown over this when he displayed the worst examples of actively pursuing the ‘hang ‘em’ brigade of the right-wing press in the aftermath of the inquiry into the death of Peter Connolly. He was the first to appear in the popular press telling them exactly what they wanted to hear and handing Sharon Shoesmith and the socialworkers involved, in Haringey,  to the howling press and public. All for the sake of some popularity.


I don’t know what planet Ed Balls is on but he is certainly in no place to criticise Brown for pandering to the press when he engaged in far worse during his unfortunate tenure as a minister.

Shoesmith and the aftermath

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Sharon Shoesmith’s appeal against her dismissal as ‘unlawful’ was rejected at the High Court yesterday but it wasn’t as straightforward as some headlines might suggest.

I haven’t a great deal of sympathy for Shoesmith necessarily. I think that there has to be an element of ‘the buck stops here’ where bad practice is concerned, particularly as it seems that the poor practice was related to atrocious staffing levels and poor supervision but I think that Ed Balls’ media play party with her and others in Haringey as the sacrifical lambs was incredibly uncomfortable.

It felt very much like a response to a media baying for blood rather than a considered investigation about what had gone wrong and how better outcomes could be achieved.

The judge though rejected this interpretation and has indicated that an employment tribunal may be a better place for Shoesmith to address her grievances directly with Haringey.

The Guardian has an interesting follow up about the effect of the case on child protection in the UK and asks the pertinent question of ‘Who would be a DCS (Director of Childrens’ Services) in the UK?’. Hopefully, the answer will be found through those who have an interest in the quality of work produced rather than the quantity necessarily but that’s a pipe-dream in a system built on targets that don’t always allow a professional judgement to be made as regards priorities.

The shortage of Child Protection Social Workers increases meanwhile as does the  number of children taken into the care of local authorities. It is no coincidence.

While for Shoesmith in particular, whatever should or shouldn’t have been done will, I suppose, go to tribunal – the sadness of this instance is that there is a group-think about social workers which has been damaged by both media responses and by a government (Ed Balls) snuggling up to the media portrayals of everything being the fault of social workers and social services. There is an inability to detach poor practice by individuals from the profession as a whole.

Meanwhile, the Mail has another ‘social workers want to snatch my child’ story. It is, of course, hard to see this story as anything connected to ‘journalism’ as clearly only one side can be told. But anyone who has a sniff of knowledge of social work departments will know that ‘cuddling your child for too long’ is absolutely not going to be anything close to a reason for removal, intervention or even .

The Mail seems to attract these stories and they tell their readers exactly what they want to read – that those nasty nasty child snatchers might take your sweet child if you just cuddle her too much..

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Report Reporting

So the Task Force report yesterday was pretty much as predicted. Personally, I think a lot of the contents are very welcome with the main concern being the lack of money to implement them – but I’m willing to engage positively with the process of change in the hope that some of the issues that we have been complaining about in social care will change – it’s that old chestnut – the triumph of hope over expectation but leave me in my ‘happy place’ however briefly!

I thought it was interesting to consider how some of the press reported on the publication of the Task Force report which in it’s full glory can be found here. I was about to print it out at work to read later when I realised it was 71   pages and thought that was a bit much –  more trees saved.

The Independent focuses on the tagline of ‘better pay’ for social workers but no money to fund it – which is the crux of the problem really.  Similarly, the Times also looks at the ‘elephant in the room’ – namely funding for the additional money that might be spent to implement the recommended changes.  The comments though are a little disheartening. There seems to be a perception that anyone with a bit of ‘common sense’ and ‘life experience’ can be an effective social worker. I think there is so little understanding of the importance of training that it is almost frightening.

The Daily Mail meanwhile go for a whiny

‘Social Workers to be given pay RISES in the wake of the Baby P scandal’ which is a disgustingly ignorant headline. Their capitals by the way. It is a plain misrepresentation which panders to their insufferable readers. The comments are enough to make my stomach churn. I would love that reporter to come to my office to see the work we do on a day to day basis.

The Sun’s agony aunt, Deirdre Sanders who actually sat on the Taskforce tells her readers

How we can stop another Baby P’

She seems to put things in patronisingly simplistic terms but it gets the general message across although I think that relating all the changes to a single child’s tragic death is not entirely a fair explanation of the scope of the work done. There is a generalised thought lingering in my mind that there should be a wider understanding of what we do as social workers in adult and mental health services rather than the focus solely on child protection issues as the Task Force was to concentrate on social work as a profession rather than one aspect of it.

Meanwhile on the safer arms of the pages of the Guardian, there are a number of articles addressing different parts of the report.  From the details of the report to opinions by Peter Beresford who discusses the long term commitment needed across the political board for the reform process to Ray Jones who writes in praise of the taskforce – although not without a well-aimed kick towards Ed Balls (and quite rightly in my opinion) who

followed through on the tabloid-generated victimisation of social work and social workers by himself vilifying those who gave their professional lives to protecting children. Not surprisingly there were then major problems in recruiting and retaining social workers, and the workloads for those who stayed increased. Who wants a job where, when a tragedy occurs and the going gets really tough, you and your family are hounded by the paparazzi and hung out to dry by politicians?

I was applauding in my chair as I read that!

Community Care, a magazine aimed specifically at those in the social care sector in the UK, unsurprisingly has a lot more in-depth coverage – from their own discussion of the main components to reactions from ADASS (Association of Directors of Adult Social Services) and ADCS (Association of Directors of Childrens Services) which understanding question where the money is going to come from to their own views (via the Group Editor, Bronagh Miskelly’s blog).

Personally, I think the issues around training and recruitment are far more important than the pay issue but I accept it’s because I’m not unhappy with my salary – although more is always good..

One of my favourite (and I mean that in an ironic way) quotes comes from the Independent piece where Tim Loughton, the Conservative shadow children’s minister says

“The task force makes some sensible suggestions for improving social work and child protection, many of which we proposed some time ago.

“Ultimately the success of these proposals must be judged on whether they improve conditions on the front line. This Government has strangled social work with 12 years of bureaucracy – it is important that it now acts to improve the situation.”

Sorry, but a Conservative shadow minister saying the government has strangled social work with bureaucracy? Shows very little understanding of the last Conservative administration… and the one before that, and the one before that.

I am no fan of the government and couldn’t despite Balls any more than I do at the moment but the Conservatives are hardly speaking from a position of authority after seeing what they did with and to the profession.

But in general, I am left with a warm buzz of excitement that changes might be implemented to benefit the profession and most importantly those who use the services provided by social workers in the future.

Fast-track Social Work

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Yesterday, Ed Balls announced a plan to fast-track other ‘professionals’ like lawyers, teachers and police officers into social work on a one year ‘scheme’.

He says that this scheme – which will attract a £15,000 payment to those who take up the offer – would appeal to those who might be put off by a three year degree.

I wonder how much he knows about social work itself though outside his departmental bubble. Ten years ago, I took a two year postgraduate Masters course – the kind of which exist currently – and alongside me on my course were former teachers, police officers and even (believe it or not!) a clinical psychologist. Sure, we didn’t get £15,000 but we did two placements alongside the academic training.

I wonder how it will be compressed into one year. My understanding is that it will be ‘on the job’ type training. Perhaps he hasn’t learnt from the difficulties universities are having at the moment in finding placements.

Maybe I’m just too cynical but I have to wonder if Balls is even aware of the post-graduate route to train as a social worker. He seems completely oblivious to its existence – from his comments that social workers should be trained to post-graduate level (a good proportion already are, Balls!) to his comments that some professionals wouldn’t want to leave work to take a three year unpaid degree (the Masters attracts more funding and it’s only two years so no lawyer/teacher etc would be taking the three year route anyway!).

For all that, I don’t want to be too cynical. It isn’t Ed’s fault he is so ignorant but the idea behind it – namely to encourage people to seek a second career in social work – isn’t a bad one. I am just confused as to how the necessary skills can be compressed into one year – after all, as practitioners, they will still need the same knowledge and experience.

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