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.

Social Work Taskforce Reports

The final report of the Social Work Taskforce, set up to look at the profession as a whole, is published today. There are not going to be any surprises as there has been an interim report already and much discussion of its contents.

The Guardian reports more details about it and it seems to be a very positive move forward for the much maligned profession that has too often been a government pawn. Switched and swapped and chopped and changed to meet the needs of the policies of the political mood of the day, however, I  expect a lot of public sector workers can say the same.

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Back to the report itself though, again, Firstly, there is the introduction of a ‘licence to practice’. I haven’t seen too much of the detail about what this might involve along with the registration that already exists but it would mean a year in practice for newly qualified social workers before they achieve this ‘licence’ – presumably involving some kind of ongoing assessment to ensure that a sufficient standard is met. I’ve made my point many times on this matter. I think it is wholly positive as to rely on universities to produce fully-qualified and ‘ready to practice’ social workers has been a consistent failing of the current system. It also  puts social work more in line with other professions such as teaching and strengthens the quality of the profession as a whole.

Again, going back to the Guardian article, there will be no cap on caseloads but the introduction of some kind of monitoring system so that caseload numbers are managed. Personally, I think the ‘overworked’ issue isn’t simply a matter of numbers. If there is no effective caseload-weighting, the numbers make no sense. I’ve held caseloads of over 40 and caseloads in their teens – one might  not necessarily make me less overworked than the other if the complexities are not equivalent. Everyone working in the area will know that one extremely active case can be as busy as 10 bubbling along smoothly cases and so the numbers game doesn’t really work.

It seems that the emphasis on pay reform is being devolved to local authorities to work out career structure and link pay to training and career development. Although I’m relatively content with my pay, I accept I get paid more than the majority of social workers at my grade (non-management, non-senior) due to the London weighting and the higher pay that is usually commandeered in the Capital (because costs of living are higher – not for any more special or exclusive reasons) and the AMHP supplement – however the pay is a constant issue and whether we like it or not, just because it is a so-called ‘caring’ profession, does not mean that we should have to accept lower pay on that basis. There is an more interesting argument to be had about the traditional ‘female’ professions having lower pay on the basis of responsibility but this probably isn’t the place for it. Suffice to say if pay is to be addressed, that can only be a good thing.

As the article says

Employers will have to work with unions to reform social workers’ pay so that it reflects their career development and progression. Ministers will say that if this does not happen locally the government may introduce a national pay review body along the lines of those already in place for nurses, teachers and the prison service.

There is some mention of a practice-based Masters qualification. I hope that some consideration of the mash that is the current post-qualification framework is taken. It is easier to tie the post-qualification framework to academic qualifications perhaps but there are already routes to Masters’ level courses through practice-based qualifications. More streamlining perhaps and more flexibility. I never really liked that I had to make a choice between Adults and Mental Health as they run two different paths through the post-qualification system. The Foundation Trust have necessitated that I take a ‘Mental Health’ pathway when some aspects of the ‘Adult’ pathway such as ‘Personalisation’ and ‘Safeguarding Adults’ would be equally useful. I would prefer that we weren’t necessarily pigeon-holed. I do need more details on that aspect though.

The other issue brought up is the institution of a National College of Social Work. I know this has received some attention and Balls announced it at the weekend. Personally, I’d like to know what the remit is and how the interplay with BASW and the GSCC will ride with it. If the fees to be registered are to increase as the GSCC demands independence, and the College of whatever form it takes, will, no doubt, demand a fee payment as well as payments to BASW and a Trade Union (I know these are strictly speaking optional but I don’t see them as a choice!) we could be bombarded with costs to practice.

I’m sure there will be provision made for this and I like the idea of the National College but I would  like more detailed information about what it is. I expect that might come out as the day progresses.

So generally, it is hard to think of anything negative to say about the Taskforce report – not that I was looking for negativity of course. It seems a fairly broad, positive move to refocus social work. I think there is a lot more work to be done however, including at a ground level.