Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 247-259)


12 MAY 2008

  Q247 Chairman: Jane, you are staying there, because you are from Yorkshire, and I ask our other two witnesses to join us. David and Pat, you are cheating, really, because you have had an insight into the sort of questions that you get. It was very good of you to sit and listen to the first part of the sitting, because that makes everyone better informed. The second part of the sitting will be slightly shorter than the first. David, you heard all that was said: where are we?

  David Crimmens: Interestingly, the University of Lincoln, where I teach, is in Hull. I was interested in Graham's comment about ex-students of the University of Hull. There are some issues around the employment of social workers, in the sense that the four local authorities in the Humber sub-region may well now have a largely qualified workforce for different regions, but according to the newspapers during the week, the city of Stoke was paying a £4,000 hello to newly qualified social workers to come and work in Stoke-on-Trent. So, I think there still is an undersupply of social workers nationally. It is about whether people, in relation to their family commitments and other things, are able to move from the East Riding to Stoke-on-Trent or to one of the London boroughs, where there seems to be a constant demand for social workers. I say that as an aside and to locate myself firmly in Yorkshire, as that seems to be important at the moment. I am a qualified social worker and I am also a qualified community and youth worker, and that has had a fairly fundamental impact on the way that I see work with children and young people, and the way that I practise and research, because it draws on two distinctly different traditions. Hence my fairly long-standing obsession with the issues around social pedagogy. From the point of view of the workforce, I wonder what Sir William Utting would say if he were sitting here today, 17 years after he published his report on children in the public care. His recommendation was that the minimum standard for a qualification in children's homes should be NVQ3. Seventeen years later, and in spite of significant investment through the training support grant, we have not reached that minimum standard. I have not seen any research—I do not know that there is any—and I do not understand why, after all that time, we have not managed to educate to A-level standard people who work with some of the most troubled and troublesome children in our society. We should think about the fact that teaching is now being talked about as a postgraduate profession; think about social work, which is now effectively a graduate profession; and look at the developments in early years, in terms of the early years professional status, and all the work that has gone on over the last decade or so to try to raise the education standards of people working with children so that they at least start to approximate the norm across all continental Europe. In terms of the comments that you made at the outset about whether there should be radical reform or whether the system is good enough as it is, I am not sure that the system needs radical reform, but it certainly needs development.

  Professor Petrie: Speaking as someone from Lancashire, I have been asked to provide evidence about social pedagogy and what that approach means. I have researched social pedagogy in some detail for the past eight or nine years, but I have been in contact with pedagogues in Europe for 15 years longer than that. Pedagogy is not an easy concept for English people to come to terms with, but it has a long history that goes back to the beginning of the 19th century. The social pedagogue is a role and a profession that is recognised in most European countries. If somebody said, "What's a teacher?", we would look at them and say, "What do you mean?" Well, when you say to some of our European colleagues, "What is a social pedagogue?", they look at you with the same sort of bewilderment, and then find it quite difficult to answer, because the profession is quite complex. Over the past eight or nine years, my study has directly addressed the question, "What is pedagogy?", and tried to come to terms with that question. It was a case of looking at Flanders, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and France, where I found a sort of uniformity of understanding—there are some differences in organisation, but there is a uniformity of understanding across those countries. One of the problems is that "pedagogy" and "the pedagogue" are lost in translation. I have seen English language publications from continental European countries that use words such as "teacher", "educator" or "education" to translate from their own language a word very similar to "pedagogy". In Italian and French, they use the words "éducateur" and "éducation", which does not mean formal education. In conclusion, pedagogy, as it is understood in continental Europe, is what we might think of as education in the broader sense of that word. It is not formal education, but the support that adults in a child's life—professional and others—and society in general give to that child to support their ongoing development. That is the work of the pedagogue on behalf of society, whether, as is the case in some countries, the pedagogue works across a range of services from early years through to residential care, or, as is the case in other countries, whether the pedagogue works more closely within the social work sphere. At any rate, the pedagogue works and is trained at graduate level to work, day by day, in close contact with children. In residential care, for example, that involves supporting a child's connections with their own family and their formal education, sitting down and eating with them, talking with them and supporting them emotionally. The difference in training compared with that for social workers involves a much greater emphasis on child development and group dynamics, and there is also work on the arts and creative opportunities for children, which is what pedagogues bring to their day to day work in, for example, residential settings. They not only concentrate on the child and the child's problem, but ask, "What shall we do together?" the pedagogue and the child or group of children engage in joint activities such as making kites and flying them, or playing hide and seek all over the house—as a young person said in one of the studies in which I took part. Role plays may deal with problems, but they are not seen as therapeutic work and the arts subjects are not used on the basis of diagnosis. Those activities are just for children to enjoy their time with their pedagogues and other young people.

  Q248  Chairman: Some members of this Committee who were on the previous Select Committee on Education and Skills went to Denmark to meet pedagogues who are involved with children up to the age of seven. Would that be the same pedagogue group that is also in social care with the same basic training?

  Professor Petrie: Yes.

  Chairman: We are familiar with that, but they belong to a totally different union—the teachers' union takes over when the children are seven.

  Professor Petrie: There are two unions. One for people who work in nurseries and out-of-school child care services and a second union for those who work in what we would call social care.

  Chairman: In a couple of weeks, we are going to Denmark to see what they do.

  Professor Petrie: In some of my work, residential care is seen as a plum job, so they cut their teeth in the early years services but have ongoing and specialist training.

  Chairman: And they then move on. I must not break up the questioning. John, you are going to start us off with the status of residential care in the system.

  Q249  Mr Heppell: From the evidence that we have heard so far, there is still a tendency to see residential care as the Cinderella, and that every social worker manager would prefer to have children not in residential care, which seems to be almost a last resort. What effect does that Cinderella image have on the service in care planning?

  David Crimmens: I wonder whether the notion of a Cinderella service has become so deeply embedded in popular culture that we believe it. I spent three years working on a research project to examine the evolution of a children's home, and that was not how those people perceived themselves. Among those who look after children who are highly marginalised, there is a tendency to develop a sense of being in the bunker alongside the children whom they are looking after. To have solid relationships with children, there must be a strong sense of identification. It is a fact that residential child care in this country has declined phenomenally, not only in the early days in the 1970s, but during the 1990s to a relatively small number of children. Given that relatively small number, we should be able to see residential care, as Willie Utting suggested, as a placement of choice that can achieve particularly good outcomes for young people—teenagers and those who do not need alternative parenting, but who need looking after and developing so that they can grow into healthy, law-abiding citizens.

  Q250  Mr Heppell: Just to follow on from that, does the image become more of a problem the fewer such children there are? In Denmark and Germany, almost 50% of children in care are in residential establishments. If you get to the situation where you just take the most difficult children into care, does that not give an image that residential care is bad and that the last thing you want to do is to put people in it?

  David Crimmens: Residential care and children in residential care have had a better press over the past decade. When I first went to Hull, the story on the front of the Hull Daily Mail was about the leader of the council being up in arms about the behaviour of children in a children's home opposite where he lived. The consequence was that the children's home disappeared fairly quickly after that. You do not tend to see those sorts of examples as frequently as you used to. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that we have a concentration of children who are more troubled with the task of trying to develop their skills and potential in a situation where, particularly in terms of human resources, it is clear that the sector is under-resourced. I have thought for some time that the dichotomy between a family and a residential placement ought to disappear, and that we should instead ask, "Where is the best placement for bringing the child on and meeting their needs for somewhere to belong and to be brought up until such time as they can either return to their family or become independent?"

  Jane Haywood: The question is whether residential care is fit for purpose, and I do not think that it is. We are warehousing children in residential and foster care, if we do not put fully trained and skilled workers with them. We keep them safe and give them some care, but we are not actually able to move them on so that they can learn and grow, become independent and achieve their outcomes. We have a mixed group of workers in the foster and residential care workforces. Their absolute passion about and commitment to the child, their level of skills and the warmth that they give to the child are great to see, but we must give them the other skills to do the job. That would start to relieve some of the pressure on the social worker. Why is the residential worker or the foster carer not able to manage the relationship with school, ensure that the school is given the right support or draw in the help of a virtual head, child and adolescent mental health services or out-of-school activities, if they are needed? We do not allow them to do those things. Instead, we say, "All you do is care, so those other things must be done by this other person." Actually, if we invested in their skills, they could do a different job. They could become the social pedagogue of the type that has a real impact overseas. That way, we could release our social workers to do the job that needs to be done.

  Q251  Chairman: On that point, is there not evidence that the best place for a child is in its natural family, that the second best is good foster care and the least-favoured option is institutional care? Has research not shown that the psychological effect of institutional care is more damaging than foster care?

  David Crimmens: The discussion of the evidence has been fairly contentious between academics. Clearly, as a society, and internationally—I am talking about the children's rights convention—we are committed to every child having the right to a family life, but what do we do when their family of origin is unable to look after them in either the short or long term? That is the fundamental question. Are children better off or likely to thrive most in a family placement or in some kind of institutional setting? The evidence is variable. If we were to ask children in residential care, we would hear many of them tell us that that is where they want to be. They say that they have their own family and that they hope that they will be able to return to them when the dust has settled, but in the meantime they do not want another family. They want to live in group care.

  Q252  Mr Heppell: I suppose that I am thinking the unthinkable. Could the problem be the other way around? A recent survey said that 75% of the staff in residential homes are completely satisfied and really enthused by their job, so I wonder whether we are looking for qualifications when they are not necessary. We have an under-qualified staff who learn some of the skills. You have mentioned the social pedagogue and other things. Sometimes, people want to talk or relate to someone, but I am not sure whether that can be trained—it comes as a person's life skills. I wonder whether we are trying to invent—it seems this way to me—a qualification. We have the social work degree qualification, but we seem to be saying, "The degree qualification is great, but it doesn't actually train people to do the job." That is a worry, because then I start to think, "Well, why have the degree qualification? What is the point of a qualification if it doesn't actually enhance the job?" I know that that must sound controversial, but it seems to me that we might be looking for qualifications that are not necessary.

  Jane Haywood: We need people with warmth and the ability to give a listening ear. Only so many people can do that, and only so many people can cope with the stress of what that listening ear finds out. We need that, but if such people are going to help the child move on and deal with the things that they are talking about, that requires a higher level of skill, an understanding of child development and an understanding of the research that Celia was talking about. What is the intervention that will help that child move on? It is about not only keeping them safe—if it were just that, it would be easy—but helping their development. If they are supposed to be helping our children in care to improve their GCSE results but they have no qualifications themselves and struggle with literacy and numeracy, they will not be able to help.

  Professor Petrie: Or provide a good role model for them in educational terms, either.

  Jane Haywood: Absolutely.

  Professor Petrie: In one of our studies, we talked to about 100 staff in Denmark, Germany and England. We asked them what they would do in response to various hypothetical situations—for instance, if they heard a child crying at night. The English people were much more likely to talk about procedures and organisation. They would give what they thought was the right answer to a researcher. When asked what they do when they hear a child crying at night, they might reply, "I get up, I put on my track suit, I wake up my colleague, I go and knock on the door." They have been trained in that, and they thought that that was the important thing to tell. The Danes and Germans—it was not that they did not follow procedures, because they gave other evidence that they do so—spoke much more in terms of providing emotional support, listening, empathising and finding more help. They are trained to be reflective practitioners and team players, and they have support in team meetings where they discuss things clearly and supportively. They are not locked down in organisation, procedures or, as I have seen in children's homes, logging everything.

  Q253  Mr Heppell: I am sorry to interrupt, but you seem to be saying that it is not more training that is required for what is happening in residential homes, but different training.

  David Crimmens: May I take this up. I heard a degree of Geordie pragmatism in your question. The research that you referred to about morale and job satisfaction was commissioned by me on behalf of the Social Education Trust. It was carried out in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately, and it made it clear that the best-qualified workforce in the UK was in Northern Ireland, working in children's residential care. They had the highest morale and job satisfaction in terms of how that was measured, but they were clear—they had a higher number of people professionally qualified to social work standard—that social work was not the right qualification for residential child care. The issue is not about the qualification per se. It is about learning processes that focus on an understanding of the child as a whole person rather than as bits—not a juvenile delinquent, a depressed child, an anorexic or whatever, but the whole child—and what kind of process has to be undertaken in order to enable that child to prosper and grow.

  Q254  Mr Stuart: Are you saying, David—well, you just did—that a social work qualification is not the right one? It has been suggested that we need to put more elements into social work training that take into account residential care. Are you suggesting that we should have a social pedagogy training course as opposed to social work with a bit of residential care add-on?

  David Crimmens: To return to the comment that I made initially, we do not have a professional education structure for residential child care. The national minimum standard is NVQ3. I have spent the past 17 years working with social workers, among others, on their professional education. They tend to focus on problems—they go in and resolve problems. There is a certain understanding of the notions of pathology, for instance, and the response is based on the idea that problems can be solved and people will get on with their lives. The pedagogue is concerned with children's upbringing and their education in the broadest sense, outside school and outside the family. It is about all the things that children need in order to grow up. Social pedagogues engage with those processes on the basis of the experiences of everyday life. That was why I said that youth workers have historically tended to be more the kind of people who have worked with such issues in England.

  Q255  Mr Stuart: I want to find out—I did not really get a direct answer to my question—whether we should just bolt some extras on to existing social work training or whether we need something entirely separate.

  David Crimmens: I would argue for something entirely separate—a different pathway, because there is different core content.

  Jane Haywood: In the two different pathways, there is different core content, but there is also some common content, which we would not want to lose. There is a common goal, but the roles are different.

  Q256  Mr Stuart: In your opening statement, David, you mentioned the collapse in the number of children in residential care. One would have thought that 17 years on, with a massive contraction in the workforce, a massively reduced number of children and a subsequent focus on children who are much more demanding, there would be an explosion in the qualifications of those looking after them. It is quite hard to imagine how there would not be. One would think that there would be specialist people who, by hook or by crook, were trained up to do it. Instead, we are still chronically short, which seems very peculiar. You told us about the problem, but you did not explain how we have got ourselves in this position, or what you feel we should have in our report to try to ensure that, 17 years on, we do not all end up complicit in another 17 years of failure, if that is what it is.

  David Crimmens: For me, it is about the two R's—risk and regulation. The response to the child care scandals of the late '80s and the '90s particularly pinned down the need to specify the number of people who should be working together in a children's home. Although the numbers reduced significantly, the size of the workforce did not reduce proportionately. Before the 1989 Act, I ran a specialised children's home, and we often worked with one or two on shift. One thing to consider, particularly with adolescents, is that if you load a children's home with staff, you do not necessarily get a better learning environment for those children to grow in. I suppose that one thing that would enable more social pedagogical engagement with children would be to relax some of the regulations. I am thinking about what the new Secretary of State said when he came in—we have to allow children to play snowballs and conkers, and equally we have to start trusting the professionals in whose training we have invested large resources to get on and do the job on behalf of the rest of us, as they do in continental European countries.

  Professor Petrie: We found in our study that the ratios of children to staff were much lower than in the continental countries that we studied. That might account for the relatively high numbers of staff in our homes. I would just like to take up the question about other sorts of training being tacked on to social work. In fact, that is something like the model in Sweden, where there is general social work training and a specialism in social pedagogy, and there are other pedagogic courses that Swedes can take. Let me point to the value of the pedagogue in fostering. In France, for example, the people who support foster carers and deliver training, often on the same basis as the education and training for pedagogues, are from schools of social pedagogy. Residential care is important as far as pedagogues are concerned, but they have more than that to offer to children in care.

  Q257  Mr Stuart: Despite the changing face of training, 17 years on, we have still not got the workforce trained to NVQ3. Should the Committee recommend in its report that such a standard becomes mandatory at some practicable point in the future?

  David Crimmens: Yes. The question is how, and it is about finding ways of engaging with a residential workforce with a view to considering modern approaches to work-based learning, learning in groups, distance learning and group learning. Otherwise it is impossible to conceive of a situation in which we can pull out those people and take them through a conventional university-based education.

  Jane Haywood: Wherever people work in the children's workforce, the minimum qualification must be a Level 3 and it must be graduate-led. We are not there across the country and across different settings partly because, in this country, we still have a view that anybody can look after children, that it is not a skilled job and that it is not difficult—all you need to do is to be cheery and friendly and it will all be fine. When you are looking after other people's children, it is a completely different job. That is the push for us right across the piece. In our early years sector, we are pushing for a minimum of Level 3. At the moment, most in the early years setting are at a Level 2.

  Q258  Mr Stuart: You are the chief executive of the Children's Workforce Development Council. Are you saying that the Committee should recommend to the Government that they make that mandatory at some practicable point in the future?

  Jane Haywood: Yes.

  Q259  Chairman: You might know that one of the very first inquiries under my chairmanship of the previous Education and Skills Committee considered early years. We went to Denmark and looked at the whole notion of qualification around pedagogues. What you are saying in a sense, Jane, is that we should have a pedagogy profession that people know about, and that is used in early years and residential care. If we talk about it only in terms of residential care, we are considering only a very small base. We said extensively in the report, and since, that it is a scandal that our very youngest children are looked after by the least qualified and poorest paid people in the community—certainly in the education sector. Should you not be out there campaigning, as Graham says, for a pedagogy profession that is well trained and reasonably well paid?

  Jane Haywood: Yes.

  Chairman: Are you?

  Jane Haywood: Yes.

  David Crimmens: The question is how to get there. Rome was not built in a day.

  Jane Haywood: If we look across the piece, we have in place what is called the early years professional status. People at graduate level are getting the status to lead the early years. There is constant pressure from underneath to get to Level 3, but that is still not required. Similar things are happening in the youth workforce and are starting to happen in the play workforce. Now we are having conversations about the residential workforce. The problem is that we are doing that down different strands. I would like to hear a clear statement that says across the children's workforce—wherever you work and whatever your role is—the minimum qualification is Level 3 and it is graduate-led. Within both those sets of qualifications, there is a common core of child development. The next stage of the children's plan could make that clear statement. It will take us a while to get there with different sectors, and that is partly because many foster carers do not have qualifications. They are actually quite scared of going for qualifications, but we do not want to lose them because their skills are very good. We want to help them to get better, so we have to put in place training and development with which they will feel comfortable and that will move them on. You will need a different action plan in different parts of the workforce.

  Chairman: If I was in the private sector selling these qualifications, I would think, "Look at all these classroom assistants who have to be trained."

  Mr Stuart: Yes, I was thinking that as well.

  Chairman: It sounds like good business to me—you have lots of people.

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