Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MORGAN OBE, MAXINE
19 MARCH 2008
Q20 Mr Chaytor: Perhaps I can put
my question to Martin first. In this morning's press, you are
quoted responding to the Secretary of State's announcement yesterday
about early intervention for a limited number of children who
are considered to be at risk of being sucked into crime. Your
response was a little sceptical in my view. Could you say a bit
more about what you think of that initiative and how it relates
to looked-after children?
Martin Narey: I have not seen
the press this morning, but I am surprised if my response is reported
as being sceptical. I was really pleased with the publication
of the youth taskforce action plan yesterday. In the Home Office,
with a singular lack of success, I opposed the short-term, knee-jerk,
ASBO solution to children in trouble. Since I have been at Barnardo's
we have campaigned very hard for a more measured approach, which
accepts that ASBOs are sometimes necessary, but argues that you
need to offer some family support and some support to the child
if you are to make a difference. It is ridiculous that even now
only 10% of child ASBOs are accompanied by an individual support
order. I thought the tone of yesterday's publication was very
refreshing. I thought the investment in intensive family support
to help correct behaviour was very encouraging and the only quote
that I gave to the press yesterday was a genuinely positive one.
Mr Chaytor: It did not necessarily come
over that way in the paper I read this morning, but that is very
Chairman: Which paper did you read?
Mr Chaytor: I cannot
Martin Narey: I must say that
the press were searching throughout the weekend for someone who
would say something negative about it, but we were pretty positive.
Chairman: That is the price of
a free, democratic and balanced press.
Q21 Mr Chaytor: I want to ask about
local authorities and how they measure their success, or otherwise.
I am not sure who is best able to answer. New indicators for the
performance measurement system of local authorities will come
into force on 1 April this year. I am interested in your observations
either about the new set of indicators or the limitations of the
previous performance management system. Perhaps Pam would answer.
Pam Hibbert: I wanted to say one
thing, although not necessarily about the new performance indicators.
One of the problems is that we do not look for satisfaction with
the care service for children and young people. Roger's work is
brilliant at getting their views, but if we were providing a service
to any other group of people, we would look very much at their
satisfaction levels. For example, Ian Sinclair from York university
is a well-respected researcher into the care system in this country,
and he suggests that we should have exit interviews, as we would
in the case of a member of staff leaving a job. When children
leave care to return home or leave as young adults, an independent
person should give them a real opportunity to be frank about their
satisfaction with the service that they received. Those are some
of the things that are missing. Key performance indicators are
for local authorities and do not necessarily involve those who
are receiving the service.
Maxine Wrigley: As was touched
on earlier, outcomes are difficult to measure in matters such
as who goes to sports day, or who gives the child the extra push
when they are feeling a bit miserable and do not want to go to
school, and says, "Oh, come on, get to school,"as
parents do. Those are soft outcomes, not outcomes that can be
measured by computers. It is a people-type thing. Outcomes are
a difficult area. Young people want outcomes to be measured almost
in terms of business-customer or user satisfaction. The exit interview
idea is good, too, but, as part of the annual stock-take proposed
in the Bill, young people are asked whether they are satisfied
with the parenting that they are getting. That question needs
to be asked by an independent person by whom young people would
not feel compromised when giving answers. There is a huge paranoia
about risk, especially in respect of young children in care. We
have had bad examples of things in the past and social workers
often become very tied. People feel uncomfortable giving hugs.
We could talk for hours about that particular subject. There is
a bit of irony in the care system. I read in the Manchester
Evening News yesterday about parents who had been fined for
their children's absence from school. How ironic is that, given
that the state is the parent to children in care and we know that
their attendance at school is often bad. Is it not ironic that
the state cannot take itself to court and fine itself? Outcomes
are assessed in ways that young people feel are a little too scientific
and not soft. I know that they are difficult to measure, but it
comes down to people feeling secure and stable. As Alan Johnson
said, it is not just being cared for, but feeling cared about
and social workers treating young people as if they were their
own children. Young people think that social workers would not
do the job if they were not getting paid. There is always an element
of whether they really care. I shall talk later about outcomes
and measuring, because young people have set their own standards.
For example, A National Voice complements the work of Ofsted.
Outcome is a good issue to consider.
Dr Morgan: First, to reinforce
Maxine's point about the proposed ministerial stock-take, it is
vital. It is important that it is based strongly on children's
own views, their experience and their outcomes. I do not think
that it is all that difficult to assess or gather children's views
representatively about their outcomes. Secondly, I shall give
a recent piece of personal experience. Currently, my team and
I are auditing the recent Ofsted inspections and looking at whether
what the children think should have come out of those inspections
relates to what the inspectors came out with, and we will publish
those results. That involved sitting down with groups of children,
going through sets of standards with them and asking them basically
as a group, "Does your service generally do sort of all right
in the middle on that, does it do something that really should
be praised, and if so, what, or does it have something that really
needs to be sorted out, and why is that?" Children are able
to do that, and to do so seriously. Thirdly, children are very
worried about indicators and targets, not from the principle of
looking at a local authority whose performance on a particular
aspect is out of line with others, but because of the risk of
targets and indicators becoming the same thing, which they are
not, and being applied at an individual level. Children contact
my officesome have already done so this weekand
say that they are being told that they are going to be moved from
their placement, not because of their needs or views, which is
the proper basis, but because the authority has too many children
placed there. That is an illicit use of targets and indicators,
but it does happen and children are aware of it and are very concerned
Q22 Mr Chaytor: Pursuing the issue
of the limitations of the performance indicators and the fact
that they are crude proxies for quality, what lasting qualitative
measures could be introduced to give a better reflection of children's
view points? Pam mentioned the exit interview, and I like that
idea. However, it is retrospective and cannot really influence
what happens to children during their time in care, so could things
be done at an earlier stage to give a more accurate reflection
of the quality of a child's experience?
Dr Morgan: Yes, and my team asks
about various topics. There are questions about whether children
get the appropriate information, what they believe the quality
of the service they receive is, whether they believe that there
should be changes and what issues concern them about it. Children
of even quite a young age are quite capable of differentiating
between factual statement and perception. It is clearly in a child's
experience to talk about processes in a concrete way, such as
those relating to reviews, care planning, placement change, social
work access, support processes, and many of the things that we
have already mentioned. Children can be asked about those as well
as about their current experience of where they live. The trick
is not to worry about children being particularly inconsistent,
as it is my experience that children from some of those settings
are actually remarkably consistent in their views and evaluations,
in debating them and in reaching a consensus. The trick is to
avoid a situation where only the most articulate children or the
ones who, for example, are on the children in care council are
consulted. As one child put it, "I think that children in
care councils are a fantastic way to feed back how the authority
is doing, but I doubt if I would be on it, so where do my views
Maxine Wrigley: Although not in
any way an attempt to try to get young people to replace the role
of Ofsted, five or more years ago young people at A National Voice
set up their own set of standards and criteria in a charter mark
called LILACleading improvements for looked-after children.
That is there to complement what inspectors do, but the whole
idea came 15 years ago when I was a lay assessor working with
the social services inspectorate. I noticed one day that I had
forgotten to mention to a group of young people whom I had come
to talk to that I was a young person from care myself, and the
difference in the feedback and in their attitude towards me was
really huge. Young people having peers from care, and allowing
young people to be involved in setting their own standards and
criteria around quality is a really important point. We have seen
lots of evidence, across general use services but also across
looked-after young people services, that, when young people do
that, they get some transferable skills and feel more confident
in the whole system. That is a great way to improve quality, along
with what Roger has already been saying. It is important that
young people own that process.
Chairman: Pam, you have a wonderful way
of signalling with your pencil.
Pam Hibbert: Sorry. It is a very
brief point, just reinforcing that. Barnardo's and other organisations
did a piece of work with SSI in 2002, where we involved care-experienced
people in inspections of children's services. There was a real
quantitative difference between the information that children
gave to those people and what they gave to the professional inspectors.
That is another way of getting such views clearly.10
Chairman: That is a pretty revolutionary
innovation, is it not? Exit interviews might spill overevery
child who leaves a school setting might have exit interviews.
That would be revolutionary. Sounds like a good idea.
Q23 Mr Chaytor: To pursue the question
of the relationship between the individual child and the local
authority, comment was made earlier about x per cent of children
not understanding the concept of corporate parent, or some of
them not liking the term. Does that matter? In terms of the quality
of care for the individual child, do they need to know about the
local authority? Surely the immediate carer and the child's social
worker are the key points of contact. In terms of a child with
one or two natural parents at home, does it matter whether they
know the constraints on their natural parents' capacity to provide
certain activities or benefits? It does not really matter that
they are not aware of the limitations of the local council or
of the NHS if their natural parents are looking after them. Is
this a major problem, the unhappiness with the concept of a corporate
Pam Hibbert: If it is your own
parent and you say, "I want a new pair of trainers",
your mum says, "Well, I have the gas bill to pay this week,
so you will have to wait until next week," whereas your residential
worker or foster carer is going to reply, "I will have to
ask your social worker, who will go back to the budget and their
manager will say yes or no." I guess it is that sort of difference.
As a child, you can have those negotiations or arguments, storming
off or whatever, but in care you are distanced from those sorts
Dr Morgan: Of course children
know that they do not have the same natural parent arrangements,
but equally there is not always a clearly identifiable person
who has the final say. That is the issue. Who has the final say?
Who do I have to win over to the idea? It is not always my social
worker, because they have all this stuff that I do not understand
behind them, which means that they cannot do it. It is the speed
of responseto the new trainers. Consulting with some children
placed in boarding schools, they were saying that the school quite
happily charges all sorts of things to parents, but people cannot
do that with our childrenthey have to go through a system,
by which time they have missed whatever it is they were going
to be paying for.
Q24 Mr Chaytor: Finally, pursuing
the issue of accountability and the local authoritythe
nature of corporate parenthoodwhat are your views on the
concept of independent social work practices? Is that likely to
enhance the capacity of local authorities adequately to take on
board children's views and improve the quality of their experience?
How does that affect the nature of the corporate parent concept?
Who is the corporate parent, the ISP or the council? I am curious
as to how you feel that that might play out.
Maxine Wrigley: I am not known
for sitting on the fence, but I am going to have to on this one
a bit. I think that the jury is out until some of the pilots have
happened. As you know, we gathered over 23,000 words from young
people during the Green Paper consultation and this was a question
we asked. Young people are nervous that there could be another
layer between them and the corporate parent. They are also slightly
nervous about the idea of independent, add-in people making profit
from the care system. On the other side, they are quite keen on
a new model, like the GP model, that would allow for 24/7 access
to support and for needs to be met better and more locally, without
having to move loads of placement around the country. The result
of our consultation with young people was sort of mixed, but they
were keen to see how the pilots go. I am afraid that that is the
best that I can do on that issue.
Q25 Chairman: There is nothing wrong
with sitting on the fence or with objective independence.
Pam Hibbert: I agree with Maxine.
This is a bit of a wait-and-see matter. I have a couple of issues.
There is concern about what the relationship of the independent
social work practices will be with things such as health services,
education and schools. What real power will they have? I bear
in mind the setting up of youth offending teams, where the idea
was that they would bring in the resources of their parent agencies.
That has not necessarily worked in all areas. There are some reservations
about how much this move could distance local authorities from
their corporate parenting role. In the end, the issue depends
on how much power the independent social work practices will be
given to make key decisions and have the final say.
Q26 Chairman: As I listen to your
comments, I have a mental picture all the time of a teenage child.
I wonder why that is. Is it just a prejudice of mine? I guess
it is to do with talking about trainers and so on. Reading through
all the stuff that the Committee has received since getting into
this issue, time and time again it seems that the problems are
greater for the 11 to 15 age group than for younger children.
Are we picking up the right resonance?
Martin Narey: In the working group
that I chaired, we inherited a view from the Care Matters Green
Paper that the future population of children in care will be smaller
and younger. Our working group concluded that it will be a little
larger and significantly older. As we look towards 2020, the average
age of that population will continue to increase.
Q27 Fiona Mactaggart: Does not that
mean that the whole issue of the transition from care to adult
life must be dealt with more seriously? One piece of evidence
that I was most struck by in the Barnardo's memorandum was the
number of young women leaving care who were at risk of sexual
exploitation. This is one of those issues that systems do not
like to address. Therefore, they manage not quite to notice. This
issue is a bit like preventing running away. Our system is very
good at recording when young people in care run away. The police
know about it much earlier than they know about young people who
are not looked-after running away. I am quite concerned that we
are rather stupid. One of the things that I am hearing from you
is that the system can be stupid because it counts things that
are easy to count in a stupid system and does not count things
that you need to count in a clever system. It seems to me that
this is a really critical matter that we have to nail. Do you
know how we can nail it?
Martin Narey: First, I agree with
you about this particular vulnerability. You have been with me
to one of our projects in Middlesbrough, and I would say that
the majority of the girls and young women whom we are supporting
there have previously been in care and are now being sexually
exploited. We are doing some more work on that at the moment.
My initial view when I was asked to chair the working group was
that some fairly easy gains could be made and that it just needed
a bit of strong direction. The more I got into it, the more complex
I found the issues to be and the more difficult I found it to
come to any generalised conclusions about the way forward. It
is safe to say that this must be a very individualised process.
I do not have any simple solutions, other than the very obvious
one. The proportion of young people, male and female, who are
on their own aged 16 and 17precisely the time when most
children of that age still enjoy huge financial and emotional
support from their parentsis astonishing. We should not
scratch our heads and wonder why so many of them are in prison;
where else are so many of them going to go? It is astonishing
that some of them survive the process.
Dr Morgan: I would like to add
to that, but may I go back to the point that you were making,
Chairman, about the image of the teenager? Numerically, that is
right, and I agree with Martin in terms of the trend. However,
it is equally important to bear in mind that there are many much
younger children in care. We must ensure that the views of primary
school-aged children are sought out and considered in relation
to their understanding and not necessarily their chronological
age, as those are two very different things. It is too easy to
fail to ascertain or take into account the views and concerns
of children with disabilities, particularly those with communication
problems, and I wanted to make those two points. To return to
the issue of leaving care, members of my team have coined the
term "careism" as something that people suffer from
because they may be far younger than the majority of people going
out independently for the first time. People then meet those prejudices
that we mentioned earlier, which affect, for example, schooling.
When people start hitting further education, vocational education,
employment and accommodation and all those areas, saying "I
have been in care" can trigger all those stereotypes and
problems. It is an issue of equal opportunities. One of the things
that the majority, although not all, of children who do not have
a care experience have, even once they have left their teenage
home, is the ability to go back again. Many return more than once
and get financial and emotional support. However, many children
in care do not have that backstop.
Maxine Wrigley: We carried out
the largest survey on this issue. It was called "No Place
Like Home" and involved nearly 300 young people and nearly
300 workers. Interestingly, we spoke for the first time to housing
workers and leading care workers and both groups fully acknowledged
that there was not enough support for young people. There were
young people out there aged 16 and 17I was left in a flat
at that age and told, "That's the end of it. Get on with
it." Even since the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, there
has not been much change. Protocol between housing and leaving
care does not exist in enough places. Obviously I do not deny
that there are some good examples, but young people have no safety
net. After leaving home, many teenage children can return and
will always have a bedroom there. The average age for leaving
home is 24 and I have friends in their 30s who know that they
can go back any time; they can still take their washing back or
if they are skint they can borrow £100. All those things
happen for people well beyond their teenage years, and if that
safety net is not there, it can be isolating for young people.
There is the whole issue of 16 and 17-year-olds being exploitedwe
know that certain dodgy types, drug dealers and paedophiles, will
prey around children's homes and residential units, or where there
are hostels. In our survey of nearly 300 young people, one in
10 was still living in bed and breakfasts or hostels, and a further
one in 10 were sofa surfing, staying with their mates. Some of
that was because they had a flat, but it was in such a dodgy area
that they did not feel safe or want to go round there, so they
stayed with their friends instead. I do not pretend that the housing
situation is goodgenerally it is not good in this country
and we know that there is a massive shortage. However, some young
people who are on the precipice of leaving care are bearing the
brunt of that. There have been suggestions for amendments to the
Bill calling for a transitional state. The Children (Leaving Care)
Act 2000 has not really worked in the way that it was intended.
That is a shamethere needs to be a transitional, gradual,
leaving of care. Young people should not feel that that is the
end of their parental support at 18; it needs to be gradual and
people should be able to go back into care or some area of support
if they are not happy.
Pam Hibbert: I endorse that, but
I wanted to say something about the preparation for leaving care.
The young people we spoke to said there was an awful lot of emphasis
on practical thingshow to cook, how to clean, how to budgetbut
very little on issues such as how to deal with loneliness, how
to get into the social networks of the area you are moving into
and how to know where to go in an emergency. They felt that some
of the emotional skills needed to survive were just not being
addressed in preparation. Fiona, in terms of your point around
the vulnerability of children and young people, we do an awful
lot of work on sexual exploitation and we have become very concerned
about the incidence of young people who have been in care figuring
among our service users. We are actually doing a piece of work
over the next year, which we hope will be published, that will
look at that matter and the surrounding issues.
Chairman: A lot of us are picking
that up in our own constituencies. We are quite interested in
the report. Quite a number of lead organisations have not yet
given any written evidence to this inquiry; some of the witnesses
have not and a lot of the major people have not, so if you know
people in the network, tell them that we are still receiving and
want to receive evidence.
Q28 Paul Holmes: I want to clarify
the point that Martin was making about the age profile of kids
in care. The Government are saying that they want to move towards
a system in which there are mainly younger kids who leave fairly
quickly to adoption or long-term fostering. You are saying that
in reality, until at least 2020, it will be older kids and teenagers.
Why is that?
Martin Narey: We did a piece of
work in the margins of the working group to try to see what would
to happen to the population if Care Matters was implemented
in full. There were two significant drivers towards there being
an older population and we concluded that by 2020 there would
be about a 10% increase in the numbers in care. One driver was
classification, which was influenced by the possibility of classifying
disabled children who were in 52-week placements as children in
care, but also, a significant driver was the veto on leaving care
at 16 or 17 that the Government promised would be offered to children,
which will make the population larger and older. The working group
did believe that you could have a smaller and younger population.
In the margins of the work I did for the working group, although
we did not have time to discuss this to a conclusion, I was struck
by the number of professionals who told me that if the system
moved more quickly and if we intervened earlier, some children
would be taken into care at a much earlier age and might be adopted
and have their long-term future guaranteed, but that the system
was cautious and slow, so often by the time the in-care decision
was made the adoption route, for example, was pretty much closed.
Q29 Paul Holmes: Two questions arise.
First, if the preponderance of children in care are teenagers,
are they teenagers who have been taken into care as teenagers,
or are they people who have been in the system from a young age
and are still there as teenagers?
Martin Narey: I could go back
to my report and offer the Committee a better analysis of that.
My recollection is that it was characteristically children who
entered at under the age of 11 and then were staying for a very
long period. There have been fewer children entering care for
some time now, but they are staying much longer.
Q30 Paul Holmes: You said that the
system is too cautious and slow, and perhaps should be taking
children into care earlier. Is it cautious and slow because it
is bureaucratic, or because of the deliberate policy that the
best place for children is with the family, and so you hang on
until the last minute?
Martin Narey: I did not conclude
that. I made a reference to it in my report, but I did not feel
that in the time we had available to write the report we could
come to a conclusion. One of the consistent things that was reported
to me, which the Committee might care to look at, was the contention
that braver decisions made earlier in a child's life might have
led to a much better outcome for that child. Many social workers
said to me that it was very clear to them that some children were
bound not to succeed in the family home and that the system, with
the best of intent, tried to hang on for rather too long to the
prospect of making a success of the child staying with the family.
Q31 Paul Holmes: My wife was a children's
social worker through the '80s and '90s, and she often said that
the philosophy and training were that you must make every effort
to keep the child in the family, so one went right to the wire
before taking them into care. We learned from the academic research
before we started this that in England, even more than in Wales
and Scotland, we tend to take far fewer children into care and
do so later. Many European countries take children into care much
earlier because they see it as a positive thing. We see it as
a desperate last resort.
Martin Narey: My assumption when
I chaired the working groupMaxine, who was certainly the
most influential member of that group, changed my views on thiswas
that it would be very easy to set some targets and drive down
the population in care. We quickly concluded that to make any
such recommendation would be glib. It was much more complicated
than that. Nevertheless it was interesting that if a system worked
really well it would have a great deal of family support and would
make a success of children staying in their own home whenever
possible. It would also intervene much earlier to take children
into care and perhaps get a route out for them before it was too
late. Once a child has been in care for 12 months, the
chances of them getting out of care are significantly reduced.
Q32 Chairman: On that point, why
is there such a differential between local authorities on the
numbers in care and the speed. Is this is a real problem that
some local authorities just perform totally differently from others?
Martin Narey: They do perform
differently, but it was impossible to conclude that they perform
badly. The range is astonishing. These figures will have changed
a little, but not very much. For every 10,000 of population the
rate of looked-after children is 13 in Rutland and 221 in the
City of London. In Merton it is 27 and in Manchester it is 154.
It is a quite astonishing range. Although we were very impressed
with what Merton was doing, we avoided the conclusion that you
could simply target that and get the local authority that made
extensive use of care to reduce its numbers. We thought that would
run the risk of the wrong decision being made for individual children,
when care would be the best option for them. What we urged the
Department to do was to conduct more research into this. Having
said that, we suggested that a system worked if it had the following
characteristics. First, all decisions should be made at a very
senior level in the local authorityI support all that Roger
said about caution in this respectand secondly, there should
be a much greater investment in family support. Merton, for example,
spends half as much on family support as it does on looked-after
children. Authorities that have a lot of children in care spend
hardly anything on family support. Thirdly, there should be a
speedy decision-making process and decisions should be made at
an earlier time in a child's life. Our conclusion was that that
would probably lead to a smaller population and much more success
in getting children permanently out of care.
Maxine Wrigley: As I said, things
have changed quite a lot from the 80s, which was more my time
in care. Now, people are starting to approach it more as an individual
package of care than a general population of young people in care,
and that can obviously be a good thing. As someone who sat on
Martin's group for the future of the care population, we felt
that teenagers had their own special, unique identity. It is a
difficult time in life anyway and it is particularly difficult
for young people in care. We felt that more support from family,
friends and carers was needed. So many young people I spoke to
said, "Actually, my auntie or my nan would have looked after
me and it would have prevented me from coming into care."
But nobody ever asked; nobody ever thought that was possible.
So we really welcome the idea of social workers considering who
else could offer support before taking a child into care, because
once a child has been there for more than 12 months, they tend
to stay in the system for quite a lot longer. I also think that
the view of care in this country is quite negative. Perhaps a
cultural shift and change is needed. I believe that there is a
major difference between the 150 authorities. I almost see there
being 150 care systemsthat is how it feels to me after
doing my job for several years. I think that that is down to leadership.
Where there are great directors and leaders, you will get good
authorities. Finally, as Martin said, Merton having fewer per
10,000 than somewhere else is not necessarily a good thing. To
return to what we talked about earlier, customerthe young
people and service userssatisfaction is the best measure.
Q33 Paul Holmes: You seem to be saying
that the state should be intervening morenot lessand
Maxine Wrigley: Yes.
Q34 Paul Holmes: Pam said something
about children saying that it is a relief to be taken into care,
because at last they are safe. Is that generally the view of children?
Maxine Wrigley: It is such a tricky
decision and I would not want to be a social worker making it.
It is a very difficult oneyou are damned if you do, and
damned if you do not. You have to be careful, obviously, because
there are examples of children who have not been protected properly,
when they should have been, and others of social workers who have
been overzealous and come in for stick as a result. In Martin's
group, which I sat in on, we discussed how some local authorities
in Scotland are not hanging around for too long when drug-misusing
parents have been given several chances to sort out their problems
in order to keep their children. We talked about how in Scotland
decisions are being made a bit quickerif you have had a
few chances, but still have not sorted things out, why should
the children suffer for longer before going into care? There are
more and more examples of children coming into care when social
services have made that decision a bit quicker. You are right
in that we cannot hang around for ever wondering whether to take
a child into care. Sometimes you need to be decisive, as long
as there is a uniform decision-making structure.
Dr Morgan: A fairly consistent
view of children discussing the coming into care policy was summed
up by a particular group of young people along these lines: "Where
there are difficulties, try and sort them; if there is a danger,
take me away from it, and consider whether other members of my
family can look after me instead of strangers, because I feel
less safe with strangers. However, don't push the latter, if it
is not the right thing for me." In summary: "Make the
right decision for me, at the right time for me, and don't leave
me in danger." We need to spot the right time for the child,
which is the basis of a lot of children's concerns about quotas
to drive down numbers. One child said, "If you make the right
decision, you will end up with the number in care that you end
up with." It cannot be left at that, owing to inter-authority
differences and other questions, but at the individual level that
is absolutely right. May I add one more point about the differences
between authorities? There are also a lot of differences within
the same authoritydifferent teams and workers can have
very different thresholds and approaches to the same sorts of
issues, even within the same authority. That is just as important
as inter-authority differences for the child on the receiving
Chairman: Thank you very much.
Martin is now leaving us and we are moving to Annette.
Q35 Annette Brooke: Throughout our
debate, I have been struck by the idea that, in theory, there
is a very large number of adults around a young person. How do
young people feel about this divvying up of the tasks?
Dr Morgan: First, you are right;
there are a lot of adults. Secondly, they keep changing and churning.
Thirdly, you often do not know what their roles are. Children
are clear that they want to know who makes what decision, as we
said earlier, and who provides them with which service. I know
that there are all sorts of theories about attachment, but within
that they say, "I want some form of stability and somebody
who can, at different ages, see me through situations. When there
are tricky times"for example, when going through a
process of adoption"can I please have the same person
dealing with it, not somebody who doesn't know the original history?"
One thing that I have picked up very clearly from children is,
"Don't fall into the trap of assuming that you can provide
a one-stop-fits-all solution by, for example, bringing a social
worker into a school to be the gateway for everything else. Apart
from the fact that I might not want my peers to know that I'm
seeing that person," which is very likely to happen in school,
"I understand that if I have a particular problem, I go to
a particular person. I would actually quite like a choice of who
I go to with particular issues." Finally, when you ask children
directly, "Who would you go to with a particular problem?",
you hear, "Friends and parents." Interestingly, you
get parents even when children already have social workers and
counsellors on the scene, but you get a choice element. They do
not necessarily say, "My particular social worker."
It is almost like all of us when we have a GPs' surgery with a
lot of GPs. We tend to choose which one we go to for different
issues, and it is not necessarily always our designated one. It
is an issue of choice, as well as having that range and some stability
Q36 Annette Brooke: Following on
from that, it is obviously important that there are key relationships.
Could it be more flexible than it is at the moment in terms of
the young person being able to choose, as you are suggesting?
Could we incorporate a choice of key worker into the system? Could
a young person say, "I want my foster carer to be my key
person"? Could another say, "I want my social worker"?
Could that happen at the moment, or could changes be made to make
Dr Morgan: It could happen more.
It is interesting. If you look at the current national minimum
standards for children's homes, they stipulate that wherever it
is feasible, children should have the choice which member of staff
is their key worker, as well as having an element of choice, as
I described, to approach others and not being limited to their
key workers. Children have said very specifically, "Why doesn't
that apply to my social worker?". Choice and change. It also
carries forward to other people such as advocates and independent
reviewing officersthe point about it being very important
that it is somebody whom the individual gets on with. Children
are realistic enough to know that there are constraints on choicethat
they cannot just run through all the people that there are and
say that they want somebody else, and that sometimes it is not
in their best interests, although they may not get on with somebody,
to change them. There is an issue, within the constraints, of
having a choice in the first place. If we can stipulate key workers
in the limited work force of a children's home, which is quite
often a small group, we ought to consider it more in relation
to social workers, who are key workers for children in care.
Q37 Annette Brooke: Is that something
that could be included, do you think, within the Bill that is
currently passing through the Housethe right to have a
Dr Morgan: I do not see why not,
as long as the words "wherever feasible" and all those
sorts of statement are there.
Q38 Annette Brooke: Could you also
tell us a little bit more about how children relate to social
workers in general? What are their feelings about social workers
and the work that they do?
Dr Morgan: We did a major consultation
recently of over 500 children about their views on social workers.
It was very interesting that when we started to do that, social
care and social services audiences in particular said, "Oh
dear, that's going to be a very worrying reportchildren's
views about their social workers." It was not. They valued
their social workers very highly, but there was a lot of consistency
in the things that they wanted from them. We have mentioned some
of them already, and some are addressed in Care Matters.
We have talked about accessibility. The term "effective social
worker" has come up very frequentlysomebody who can
make a decision and make it happen without it either unravelling
or disappearing into some other process so that children do not
know where they areas well as social workers who keep them
informed. About three quarters of children said that they felt
that they were usually kept informed by their social workers about
what was happening to them, but if that figure is turned around,
almost a quarter said that they did not feel that they were informed.
One child said, "Changes in my life happen suddenly and without
warning." It is about being kept informed, even when nothing
is happening: "Yes, we are still on it; we haven't got the
answer yet". That is the issue of feedback from social workers;
social workers keeping their promises. I could go on, but I think
that there is a consistent specification of what makes a good
social worker relationship. My final point on that concerns the
ability to have a social worker whom you can contact when you
are first beginning to think or worry about something, and with
whom you can talk the matter through, rather than waitingsometimes
because you know that they are busy and are dealing with higher
priority crises than perhaps your issue might be at the momentand
saying, "I don't feel I can approach them at the moment.
They are very busy people." There should be somebody you
can contact early and who can give you that time. A lot of that
is reflected in the Green Paper and the White Paper.
Maxine Wrigley: To echo what Roger
has been talking about, we have also done a lot of work around
social workers and young people do want more access to social
workers at more regular times. They are very keen that social
workers are paid well and supported well. Young people have made
comments about how tired they look and how many cases they have.
Young people have made some great practical suggestions about
how social workers should have administration help so that they
do not have to do so much paperwork and can get on with the role
of being a social worker. Young people mention that a lot. Also,
they were really keen that social workers should just spend more
time in general with them. They wanted to spend more time with
their social worker. That was the No. 1 thing that they said about
them, because they felt that time with them was always quite rushed.
There is also the recruitment and retention issue. That is very
difficult. This is an extreme example, but I met a young person
who had had more than 12 social workers in a short time. You cannot
really get to know someone like that. We know that there is a
big problem. In London in particular there is a big problem with
recruitment and retention, and I am really glad that at the moment
there is a big media campaign to improve social care. Let's hope
that that does what the other campaign did for teachers and we
get more social workers in the job, because that problem has had
a really negative impact on children.
Dr Morgan: A lot of children say
that when they are in placements they do not get the opportunity
to speak to their social worker on their own. About a quarter
of them said that they always had a care worker with them. Were
you going to pick that up? Sorry, I pre-empted you.
Q39 Annette Brooke: I had read messages
around social workers in your report, which is interesting. We
have talked about the churn effect, and about how social workers
themselves could respond more to young people's needs. Is there
anything structural that could happen that would make for better,
stronger relationships, in addition to the things that we have
talked about so far?
Maxine Wrigley: There is the £500
lead budget idea in the Green Paper. A care person, such as a
social worker, would be able to make some basic decisions around
spending in a very flexible way, and not have to go though the
whole bureaucracy and that machine that is behind the social worker.
That is the sort of structural measure that would ensure that
there is a little more speed in making decisions and spending
money. When I was in careI know it still goes onyou
could wait five or six weeks for that decision on those new trainers,
by which time there was a whole new trendy pair that you might
want instead. Some decisions need to be made more quickly.
Dr Morgan: There is also the issue
of clearer systems of delegation: which decisions can and cannot
be made by, in particular, the front-line carer, the foster carer,
the member of staff in a children's home and the social worker,
and which decisions need, quite legitimately because of the cost
level, to go somewhere else. And the child needs to know that.
There is no reason why the child should not know who is to make
the decision about their trainers, their overnight stay or whatever
it might be.
Pam Hibbert: If some of those
structural changes about decision-making were made, that would
be important for two reasons: not only do children not always
understand the system, social workers do not always understand
where they need to go to get things. The system can sometimes
be used as an excuse for people to say no, to not have to make
a difficult decision, so structural changes about being very clear
about where decision-making power lay could help with all of that.
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