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Government plans to reform social work could make services worse, say MPs

Posted on 15/07/2016 by Aminul Hoque

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Tory-dominated committee says bill fails to address core concerns such as worker caseloads and numbers quitting the profession

A Tory-dominated committee of MPs has delivered a scathing critique of radical government proposals to reform children’s services, saying they fail to tackle the core problems faced by social workers and could make services worse.

The Commons education select committee said key parts of the Children and Social Work bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords, contained significant weaknesses and were potentially detrimental to the social work profession.

It attacked ministers’ focus on structural reforms and said improvements in services were more likely to come from concentrating on the basics, such as reducing social worker caseloads and preventing experienced professionals from quitting the profession.

Ministers have argued that the performance of failing social work departments can best be improved by introducing academy school-style reforms taking them out of local authority control, thereby freeing them from regulations that supposedly crush innovative ways of working.

But the committee report said government should not push ahead with such changes until there was evidence they worked. “Interventions for poorly performing children’s services should focus less on unnecessary structural change and more on giving local authorities appropriate support.”

The committee said ministers had rushed into the reforms and had failed to properly develop the proposals with experts in the sector. It called on ministers to abandon plans to set up a new social work regulator and instead help the profession set up a new independent standards body.

The committee chairman, Neil Carmichael, said: “The government’s new reforms do not focus enough on tackling the endemic retention problems in children and families’ social work, and ministers must now make it a priority to fix this issue.

“Improving post-qualifying prospects, increasing the voice of social workers at a national level, and changing the ‘blame culture’ persistent in social work are important steps which can be driven forward by a strong professional body,” the Tory MP added.

It called on government to impose limits on social worker caseloads and cut high vacancy rates. It heard evidence that “the negative rhetoric from central government about social workers and the fear of being blamed for mistakes was contributing to high stress and low morale in the workforce”.

The attack by MPs came as peers in the House of Lords warned they would vote down a controversial proposal in the bill that would enable councils to opt out of a raft of legal duties to vulnerable children on the grounds that they hinder alternative methods of working.

Lord Watson, Labour’s education spokesperson, told ministers on Monday evening that there was “deep-seated resentment and opposition” among Labour, Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers to the proposals to side-step children’s legal rights contained in clause 15 of the bill.

Labour is concerned that clause 15 is abackdoor way of introducing for-profit providers into child protection and diluting long-held children’s legal rights, allowing the government to resuscitate earlier failed attempts to open up core child protection functions to the market.

Lord Warner, a former Labour health minister and now an independent peer, speculated that clause 15 was a “short-cut way of outsourcing whole chunks of services” while the crossbencher and former inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham called it “a classic example of regulation too far”.

Responding for the government, education minister Lord Nash said the government had no intention to change regulations to allow profit-making in children’s social care or of using clause 15 to circumvent that position.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We agree with the education select committee that social work is one of our most important public services and that work is needed to improve its quality.

“Excellent social work transforms lives – that’s why the government has invested over £700m in training and recruitment; why we have committed a further £200m to innovation projects intended to increase the quality of social care practice, and why we intend to accredit every children and family social worker in the country to a high standard.”

 

 

Source: The Guardian