Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)|
12 MAY 2008
Q220 Mr Chaytor: What specifically
prevents the existing arrangements with the local authority as
a government provider from ensuring that continuity?
Professor Le Grand: That is a
good question, and the basis of one of the many discussions that
we have had. Why, in 40 years of local authority social services,
have we not seen that development, or why have we seen trends
moving in the other direction, towards greater managerialism,
and further away from the building of relationships? There was
quite a lot of controversy within the group, as well as from the
people that we have heard about, as to whether that was due to
the innate nature of a large, bureaucratic organisation or whether
it was due to central government imposing requirements on local
authorities to improve practice, which meant that central government
had to impose a degree of managerialism. That is why we felt that
we could not decide the issue a priori and why we have
gone for pilots. We wanted to see whether social work practices
would be able to operate more as free agents, or whether they
would be subject to the same pressures as local authorities.
Q221 Mr Chaytor: But the opening
chapter of the executive summary to the paper poses the question
of whether some of the problems that you have identified could
not be dealt with by adopting good practice pioneered by leading
local authorities. Then you give no answer as to why extending
existing good practices is not a solution to the problems.
Professor Le Grand: Well, because
we do not know. As we know, in every public service, good practice
is going on in one or two places, but it is never adopted more
widely. Why is it not adopted more widely? I would argue that
it relates to the whole competition and choice argument. On the
whole, the incentives are not there to adopt good practice. There
are some top-down incentives, and internalised incentivesthe
kind of internalised incentives and pressures that a social work
practice that was determined to do a good job and to keep its
livelihood would face. In some ways, large monopolistic organisations
are not the best way to spread good practice. The question that
must be put to those who believe that such work can be done by
local authorities is why they have not done it already.
Q222 Mr Chaytor: I come back to the
question of innovation and variety. You are saying that you expect
social work practices to deliver greater continuity to the individual
child, but that you also expect greater innovation and variety
in the ways in which they deliver the service. At what point does
that diversity of practice and method lead to what people tend
to call the postcode lottery? At what point does fragmentation
of the system occur, in terms of the difficulty of dealing with
children who move around the system from one local authority area
Professor Le Grand: It is always
a problem, in the sense of the decentralisation issue versus the
necessity for a national standard. One person's postcode lottery
is another person's decentralisation of power. Yes, I think that
there would be more variation under the social work practice ideaas
I said, for me, that is probably one of its virtuesbut
there would still be checks and balances within the system. There
would still be the IROthe Independent Reviewing Officerwho
is appointed by the local authority. The local authority would
set the contract with the social work practice. Those contractswe
have some draft contracts; there is one in the report, actuallywould
take account of Every Child Matters and its outcome requirements.
As I have said, one of the exciting things about this whole development
is the focus on outcomes and the idea that we could start contracting
for outcomes. I think that that will ensure the right degree in
maintaining both national consistency and accountability, which
is also implicit in what you are saying.
Q223 Mr Chaytor: The pilots are due
to start this year and the planned implementation in 2009-10?
Professor Le Grand: That will
depend on the Bill receiving Royal Assent.
Q224 Mr Chaytor: Yes, but what about
depending on the outcome of the pilots? Is it not rather a short
period in which to evaluate their success or otherwise?
Professor Le Grand: The pilots
will run for two years. I hope that they will start in 2009, and
they will run until 2011. One of the problems in that whole area,
of course, is that most of the outcomes that we want to achieve
are many years in the future. Obviously, we look to the educational
attainment of looked-after children; we want to know whether they
will go to university. However, those things are so far in advance
that no conceivable piloting process could test them. We felt
that two years was probably an acceptable compromise, and that
we would be able to see something about continuity and something
about stability. Given the substantial degree of discontinuities
and instability in the system at the moment, we will be able to
see whether it will make some difference. Part of the process
of evaluating outcomes for the children themselves will involve
hearing their own views about it, so we will be able to pick up
on those. Your point is perfectly valida lot of those things
will take a very long time to appearbut we felt that two
years was probably an acceptable compromise in order to get some
answers to most of the difficult questions that we try to grapple
Q225 Annette Brooke: Could I pick
up on a point about Every Child Matters and integrated
services? I have a slight problem with comparing a GP practice
with the possible social work practice. I do not think that GPs
are fully engagednot all of themwith Every Child
Matters and with integrated services. Is there not a danger
that disintegration will be a backwards step away from all the
work that is slowly taking place to integrate services?
Professor Le Grand: There is possibly
a danger, and you are probably right to draw attention to that
danger. Again, that is one of the things that we mention. We want
to look at the impact on the whole system of the social work practice.
Part of the evaluation of the pilots will involve trying to get
some assessment of what happens to the rest of the system as a
result of the piloting process. I am not highly convinced that
it will be an enormous problem, although I am willing to see the
results of the evaluation, partly because of the idea that the
social work practice would, in some sense, act as the lead professional
on behalf of the child and would try to bring these services togetherit
would be integrating and co-ordinating and would be close to the
child. I am not highly convinced that it will be an enormous problem,
although I am willing to see the results of the evaluation, partly
because of the idea that the social work practice would, in some
sense, act as the lead professional on behalf of the child and
would try to bring these services togetherit would be integrating
and co-ordinating and would be close to the child. It would try
to work towards the integration taking place at the child's level,
which is probably where it ought to take place.
Q226 Annette Brooke: Will these practices
be able to offer a 24-hour service? We have heard from various
groups that that is desirable from the young person's point of
view because, like in all families, the problems do not always
crop up in working hours. Is this a real add-on for the social
Professor Le Grand: I have heard
that criticism too. We are talking about six to 10 social workers,
and I think it is perfectly possible for them so provide a 24-hour
service with one person on duty. My wife was a member of an intake
team a while ago that had about the same number. She was on duty
for a night every two or three weeks. In that instance, they were
dealing not just with looked-after children, but a whole range
of social servicesit was in the pre-split days. I would
have thought it was perfectly feasible for a six to 10 group of
professional social workers to provide a 24-hour service.
Q227 Annette Brooke: I suppose that
leads to the question of whether you are going to get the one-to-one
relationship that the young people want. That is perhaps asking
the impossible, but it is still something that obviously happens
in mainstream families: there is 24-hour contact with the same
parent or carer.
Professor Le Grand: Yes, but that
would be true of any social work. Unless we have a single social
worker for a single child in a local authority or anywhere over
24 hours, there will be some discontinuity in that respect. An
important point that tends to sometimes get confused in our discussions
is that the person providing the day by day carethe foster
careris not, of course, the social worker. The important
thing is that the social worker is there day after day, week after
week, month after month, year after year and that they develop
an affection for the child, get to know the child, and become
part of the child's life. That is what we meant by that kind of
continuity elementnot perhaps continuity in the sense of
if there were an emergency in the middle of night.
Q228 Annette Brooke: I think some
of the young peoplesomeone to whom we had spokenhad
perceived it in that way. I take it that the role of the corporate
parent will remain lodged with the local authority, so can I ask
Steve whether there are potential conflicts between the social
work practice and the role of the corporate parent? How will they
Steve Titcombe: I would have thought
that the contract arrangements to which Julian referred would
be at the heart of setting out clear standards and expectations
of the social care practice. That organisation would be required
to provide evidence and information to explain its performance.
The other mechanisms that the corporate parent and elected members
locally would want to use are the mechanisms that are in place,
through which they have direct contact with children in care and
officers. The corporate parent mechanisms could work pretty well
in terms of social care practice. I do not think there is a problem
Q229 Annette Brooke: Finally, we
have talked a lot about workforce development and obviously there
are different pathways for career development within a local authority.
What career development would there be for social workers to encourage
them to stay with their practices and to give that continuity?
Professor Le Grand: By moving
from junior partner to senior partner. It would be a bit like
some of the processes that occur in relation to GPs. In a way,
that is part of the point, and that is exactly what my colleagues
were saying. Many of the social workers told us that they did
not want to leave the front line, but that the only way in which
they could move on to a better job, pay and working conditions
was to move into the managerial world or outside social work altogether.
In a way, part of the point was that that would be a more attractive
career than is currently offered, because it would preserve a
substantial degree of personal responsibility with a front-line
Annette Brooke: We will have to see the
pilots, I think.
Q230 Paul Holmes: Does that not imply
that there would be considerable extra resources for those teams?
If you are to have a good pay structure within a team of eight
or 10, which keeps people for many years in the same group to
provide continuity, it would have to be a much better pay structure
than is available within social services for normal social workers.
Professor Le Grand: That is right.
More generally, the arrangements would be professional partnerships,
so the reward structure for the social workers would include pay
and the surpluses that are generated by professional partnerships,
just as partnerships work more generally. We think that there
would be considerable savings from losing a lot of the managerial
overhang within local authoritiesyou would not have that
hierarchy. I do not think that you would require more resources
for doing an equivalent job for an equivalent number of children.
Chairman: I want to look at other remodelling
Q231 Lynda Waltho: On the other remodelling
projects, Care Matters contained a proposal for remodelling
social work pilots, one of which is in your authority, Steve.
What innovations will make the biggest difference to social workers'
ability to plan and provide care for looked-after children? That
is open to anybody to answer. I would like to speak to Steve later
about specific issues in his authority, but what innovations will
make a difference?
Chairman: Is that directed at Steve?
Lynda Waltho: I am sure that Steve is
raring to go.
Steve Titcombe: First, we have
recognised there is a problem for children placed in our Children's
Homes, who want to see more of their social worker. Our homes
are doing a really good job. Children who are well placed and
getting on well tend to go down the attention priority list, so
social workers give less attention to children and young people
in our children's homes. Youngsters have said that there is a
very good service from our residential care workers. Part of our
pilot is to have social workers work with children in children's
homes. We think that that will have big pluses for youngsters'
care planning: it will involve the youngsters in their care plan,
ensure that it is up to date and alive and well, and also help
them to see a way forward more speedily than happens at the moment.
There is still a reliance on social workers that I think is sometimes
not helpfulperhaps other members of the workforce should
do some of the jobs that social workers do. We expect that youngsters'
plans will be activated more clearly and rigorously. They may
well, for example, re-establish contact with home more quickly
than otherwise, or get access to services in ways that have not
happened before. The second part of the project involves supporting
children out of care using solution-focused therapy to promote
the resilience and strength within extended families. It supports
children more effectively at home within the extended family rather
than the birth family. We hope that those two innovations will
make a real difference.
Q232 Lynda Waltho: On some of the
other pilots, and to address the concerns of young peopleI
have spoken to many young people in Dudley, which is my local
authoritythe idea of 24/7 access comes at the top of everybody's
list as far as I can see. There is also the idea of introducing
an element of choice of social worker, but that is quite difficult
because it is a who-is-your-favourite-teacher type question. Also,
there is a feeling among young people that their social worker
will engage with them and agree on a way forward, but that that
gets frustrated further up the managerial line. Do you think we
will be able to address some of those issues, which young people
always bring up, with the remodelling?
Jane Haywood: Some of that will
be addressed. Part of the reason for setting up the pilots was
to listen to what children and young people said they wanted from
their social workers. Children and young people influenced the
selection of the pilots and they will assess whether they have
been successful in trying to respond to that concern. An issue
that we may get wrapped up in during our discussion in the next
hour is why it is always the social worker who has to do all that
work. If the residential worker or foster carer were skilled and
properly trained, access to a social worker on a 24-hour basis
would not necessarily be required because there would be other
people close by. What we are hoping to do with the pilots is think
more imaginatively about how the social worker works with other
professionals so that we can use social workers for what they
are uniquely skilled at, rather than having them try to do a range
of jobs. Some of the questions are about how social workers work
in a multi-agency team or link into a children's centre. In Derbyshire,
in an attempt to get into some of the rural areas, there is a
kind of flying social worker service.
Q233 Chairman: Where is that?
Jane Haywood: In Derbyshire. They
are trying to get into the rural areas. A lot of the work involves
trying to pick up problems before they become huge, and doing
Celia Atherton: There are some
issues around the evaluation of the remodelling pilots and the
social work practices pilots. If there were a common evaluation
method, we would really be able to see something interesting about
what happened in the pilots and in local authorities. Julian knows
that I am rather sceptical about the social work practices pilots,
but we are going to have them. I hope that we really mine them
for good-quality information. I do not think that we will get
much information about children's outcomes, or the five outcomes.
I do not believe for a minute that we can get that in two years.
There will be lots of information about what it takes to set these
things up, but, having said that, lots of other information will
apply across both pilots. What skills do people use? The flip-side
of the postcode lottery should be personalisationnot what
is available, but whether people get the things that will really
make a difference to them. How much personalisation is there?
How much sharing of expertise is there? How much integrated working
is done in both pilots? Will we develop pilots and social work
practices that do a great job but exist in a little castle all
by themselves, or will they add value to the sector? Will the
remodelling social work pilots add value within the local authority
and much more broadly? I think you can evaluate that, and you
can get some really good learning for work beyond the pilots.
Jane Haywood: That is a really
good point. We have a comprehensive evaluation process in place
for our remodelling pilots. My guess is that we have not made
a strong enough link with the evaluation of the social work practices
pilots. I will take that away and look at whether we can make
it work. Both are just starting, so there is no reason why we
cannot make some links between them.
Professor Le Grand: So will I.
I will pass that on to the group that is involved in that work.
That is a very good strategy.
Q234 Chairman: On the back of that,
we are very impressed by the fact that there are pilotswe
are always interested in basing policy on evidence and we pursue
the Government on that all the timebut the children whom
we represent cannot wait for two years. There was mention of 2009
and 2011. That is all very well, but I was depressed, Julian,
when you said that you are pessimistic about learning from good
practice in good local authorities. Is there no hope of improving
practice for two or three years? Can we not get on and do something
now to tweak, push or oil the system? Yes, let us wait for Julian's
wonderful pilots to come through and learn from them, but can
we not be doing something now?
Professor Le Grand: People are
terrified that we are going to rush in with another dramatic organisational
change and make it universal. It is interesting to hear you say
that, because everyone has been giving precisely the opposite
messages: "For God's sake, leave things alone", "Let's
have some stability", "If you're going to try these
things, try them as pilots", "Don't disturb the system
too much, until we know whether these things work."
Jane Haywood: Actually, I think
that a lot of work is under way already to start to tackle some
of the problemsfor example, Every Child Matters,
which kicked off some time ago, and the work to embed the common
assessment framework and multi-agency teams. We have a programme
of work to improve what happens to newly qualified social workersthat
will happen this year, with newly qualified social workers receiving
extra support. I always say that whatever the problem, the workforce
are the solution. We can implement remodelling pilots and test
them in practice, but unless we focus on the skills and development
of the workforce, no kind of structural change will have any impact.
Q235 Chairman: It will not work if
it is not well managed. We have been told that clients get upset
if there is not continuity of contactwhether in foster
care or regularly seeing the same social worker, rather than a
fantastic churn. Surely it is not complex to do something about
that quite soon.
Jane Haywood: If you look across
the country, you will see local authorities actively trying to
address those issues. I am convinced that the newly qualified
social worker support will start to address them, and certainly
start to reduce the loss of social workers in the first year that
they come in.
Q236 Chairman: Will local authorities,
or whoever is involved in supplying the social care system, listen
more attentively to the evidence that young people in care want
continuity? What they want is not complex.
Jane Haywood: I think that directors
of children's services have heard that message very clearly and
are trying to resolve the issue.
Q237 Chairman: You come from near
my area, do you not?
Jane Haywood: I am from Leeds,
Q238 Chairman: Did you not do something
Jane Haywood: Yes.
Q239 Chairman: I went to a children's
centre recently. I was told that social workers there receive
10 cases and then do not take any more, but stack. That suggests
that they are not listening very much. Did you know that all those
children are stackedflying around waiting for a social
Jane Haywood: Yes, absolutely.