Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Order. Before we go any further, I must say that not for the first time in my inauspicious career as a Chairman of Committees I have been too lax. I can see that hon. Members want to point out that clause 1 is related to clauses 2 to 5. It is reasonable to refer to that in passing, but in future we will have more tightly drawn clause stand part debates.
Annette Brooke: I intend to be fairly brief so that I do not repeat what has already been said. I may stray over all six clauses because then those will be over and done with, but I promise not to make the same points again.
We must remember throughout this process to focus on the individual child. We all get dragged into using generic terms such as looked-after children for those who will be in the system for a long time, but we must think about individual children and what they have told us over and over again about the strengths and weaknesses of their relationships with their social workers. It is important to appreciate that there are many strong relationships, but a number children do not feel that they have been supported sufficiently. Their views on this matter are all-important.
As I said on Second Reading, I have some reservations about social work practices. I want to achieve the very best for our children so I do not have any reservations about the pilots. They will help us to see whether we can improve the relationships between children and their social workers. As has been said, the key to that is a stable, highly qualified work force that is responsive to the needs of children. That needs working on across the board.
I agree that it is important to look at local authorities and social work practices together to ensure that we achieve an overall gain. It is important that this is not a zero-sum game in which we lose in one respect as we gain in another, hence my earlier intervention on the Minister. Social work practices will be very focused on one objective. It is an important objective, but we must be assured that the important preventive work and family support work is being provided by highly qualified social workers.
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It is also important to not focus just on piloting social work practices. I am sure that there will be many innovations within local authorities. We should be looking at those to ensure that we are spreading good practice. My colleague in the other place, Baroness Sharp, mentioned that the Children’s Workforce Development Council is currently seeking bids to trial new arrangements for social workers in 18 local authorities. Those trials will remodel social work teams to improve the recruitment and retention of social workers and other social care staff. They will aim to increase early intervention work and tackle bureaucracy. We need lots of innovative practice and we always need to be evaluating.
Social care practices are in the Bill so they have a high profile, but we should evaluate them fully before extending the pilots. Most importantly, we should look at the outcomes for all the services dealing with looked-after children. We want the pilots to proceed, but we are asking for a more holistic approach that will look at the whole system in this area.
Kevin Brennan: I will attempt to respect your infallibility, Mr. Pope. However, I think that it would be appropriate to respond to the debate that we have had. We will then have to be very tight in our debates on the following clauses.
Hon. Members have raised a number of questions on the pilots of social work practices. I welcome the tone of those questions in supporting the need to innovate and try out new ideas where we know that the system has not been serving vulnerable children as well as it should have been. We have a moral obligation to try out good ideas when they come forward. That is what we are doing in part 1 and in clause 1 in particular.
I will deal first with the points raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. The Government recognise the need to support social workers in doing their difficult and important jobs. We were pleased that the commission that he chaired on behalf of his political party supported many of the Government’s commitments, innovations and approaches in this area. The Government is investing over £73 million in “The Children’s Plan: Building brighter futures”. We published the document earlier this year; I have a copy with me, and members of the Committee are welcome to one. The aim of that plan is to tackle recruitment and retention and improve capacity and morale over the next three years in the social care work force, including piloting newly qualified social worker status. It will also look at workloads and at the bureaucracy surrounding social workers, which are key issues, particularly against the background of high vacancy rates and turnover in some areas.
For that reason the Department has commissioned the Children’s Workforce Development Council to pilot—as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned—other approaches with local authorities, to remodel the delivery of social work and understand how best to configure roles, capacity and support, with the aim of improving the outcomes for and the experiences of vulnerable children, young people and families.
Therefore, it is not just about this pilot; there is a broader agenda as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out. Local authorities involved in those pilots are testing a wide range of approaches, including consideration of the roles of admin staff in social work teams, and the roles of social workers in multi-agency teams, as well as the newly qualified social worker pilots, which will provide managed case-loads for new social workers in their first year’s employment in children’s settings. I have a copy of the information on the Children’s Workforce Development Council pilot programmes, which gives an additional flavour to our discussion about the piloting of social work practices. Those pilots are in the Bill because we have to legislate in order for them to be carried out, not because we seek to feature them or put them above the other pilots and innovations in this area.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham also mentioned the registration of social workers. Clause 2 will require the local authority functions being discharged by a social work practice to be discharged by or under the supervision of registered social workers. There was also a query on how the pilots would be regulated and scrutinised. Many people will pay close attention to the work of social work practices in the pilot phase. As part of the contract management process, the local authority will keep a close eye on the outcomes delivered by the practices, and the independent reviewing officer will review and challenge—that is the key point—their work in relation to the individual children they serve. Ofsted will take a broader look as part of the new inspection arrangements for local areas, which include programmed inspections focusing on the quality of services for looked-after children. In addition, we expect that there will be regular scrutiny of the standards of practice in social work practices, to support national monitoring and evaluation of the social work practice model.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham also asked whether social work practices will provide greater continuity of outcome. Our aim is to find out whether they can. We believe that they have the potential to bring greater continuity and stability for looked-after children, and that there is sufficient evidence to legislate in this way. However, we are not pre-judging that, because we need to ensure that the pilot is genuine. That is why we are testing the model as outlined in the clauses.
In relation to finances and the overall effect of social work practices, which hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, mentioned, it is absolutely clear that we must look at social work practices on a level playing field. There is no point making this the sort of pilot that is set up to succeed. We want to set up genuine pilots that will be independently evaluated. The funding that we are providing, £2 million per annum for the six to nine pilots across the country, is intended only to support the initial set-up costs.
Local authorities receive £5 billion a year from the Government, of which approximately £300 million is “Care Matters” implementation plan funding. Of that, roughly £6 million will be available for social work pilots over their period. In many ways, they will be no more generously funded than the other pilots that have been referred to, such as the Children’s Workforce Development Council pilots, which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned. There is a level playing field.
On a point that hon. Members are concerned about, we will ensure that the impact on wider services and other children is an integrated part of the evaluation of the pilots. We want to judge them not in isolation from the rest of the social work world but in the context of any potential impact or knock-on effects. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, if they are successful and work for social workers as well as the young people with whom they deal, there is long-term potential for them to act as a magnet to attract people into the profession.
Annette Brooke: One comment that is often made by young people is that they want potential 24-hour-a-day contact. Although that might sound demanding, as a parent one is used to receiving phone calls at all times of the day. Does the Minister feel that social work practices will be able to give something extra to get closer to that parental contact? Will there be in the contracts reasons for somebody to be on tap for a longer period?
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Lady makes a valuable point. We have already found in some of the expressions of interest from third sector organisations that are interested in running social work practices that they feel they will be able to be more flexible, providing not a nine-to-five service but one that is available longer. In one case, I believe that it was to be until 10pm, with special payments available for people who were called out during later hours. That is perhaps a more personal and individual service than there might be from the emergency team in a local authority. There is potential for the out-of-hours service that she refers to in the social work practice model. Again, that is only potential, and we will we not prejudge whether that will happen in practice. We shall ensure that the wider impact of the practices is taken into account in the evaluation.
The funding of social work practices will be set out in their contract with the local authority, which will be crucial. Like any other contact, it will set out the services to be provided, the standards to which they will be provided and the payments that the local authority will make. Crucially, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, an element of the contract will be outcomes-based. It is important that we ensure that social work practices have the incentive to improve.
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Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): I hear what the Minister says, but in many cases social workers are unable to perform their statutory duties, whether health assessments or statutory visits, purely because of the weight of bureaucracy hanging over them. I spoke to a social worker only a few weeks ago who told me that the laptop that used to be on the left of her desk is now in the middle, because she spends most of her time on it. What assurances can the Minister give that social workers will be involved in not only the evaluation but the practice of the pilot scheme, and that they will be given the freedom and authority to get on with their job rather than be faced with the same bureaucracy as current social workers?
Kevin Brennan: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Committee and, once again, to the House, and I thank him for his intervention. He is right in the sense that one of the purposes of the social work practices is to create a setting in which a group of professionals can work together outwith the bureaucratic structures that they might face working within a large social services department of a local authority, where there may be 400 or more employees. The hon. Gentleman referred to a GP’s practice as an analogy and that may be appropriate. Working as a team of professionals, with the ability to employ their own admin staff to help with the natural bureaucracy of running any small operation, they would be free to engage more directly in their social work with children.
In evaluating the pilots, we will see whether social workers will be freed from the bureaucracy of line management and of working in a large organisation to be able to run with the ball a little more, with clear direction set out by the contract and by the management of the social work practice. It will be for the local authority to decide whether to engage a social work practice and to negotiate a costed contract, bearing in mind its internal costs and budgets.
We are supporting local authorities to improve the recruitment and retention of social workers through learning from good practice such as that in Barnet, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned. If we could reproduce the “Barnet formula”—to coin a phrase—across the country, we would all think that we had successfully implemented the care matters implementation plan. I acknowledge the progress that has been made in Barnet.
I mentioned the newly qualified social worker status programme, which will be targeted, early on, in those areas where there are recruitment difficulties—London and the west midlands—and will use a major marketing campaign for social workers. Obviously, we are looking at the recruitment and retention of social workers. Social work practices are only one remodelling approach; approaches have been mentioned.
Mr. Turner: Would the hon. Gentleman see the new operation describing how people are released from the local authority by freedom or where they have an equivalent list of responsibilities, but are a different body?
Kevin Brennan: I think that I understand what the hon. Gentleman is driving at. Basically, the social work practice will be working to a contract agreed with the local authority, which, in effect, is delegating services that it would otherwise provide directly. The social work practice will have the freedom to operate as an organisation within the contract, which draws up the services that it is expected to deliver. On that basis I will sit down.
The Chairman: I think that it is safe to say after that debate that if I were a referee at a Euro 2008, I would be on my way home for not giving out enough yellow cards.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Restrictions on arrangements under section 1
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
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