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

Letter to the Chairman submitted by Mick Lowe, Director of Strategy, General Social Care Council (GSCC)

  Thank you for the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the Committee's inquiry into Looked After Children on Monday 30 June 2008. It was a very useful session, and the General Social Care Council will be very interested to read the Committee's report upon publication.

  As you may recall, 30 June's session featured a number of witnesses, and as time was restricted the opening statements in the second session were cut. I would like to take the opportunity to outline some of the key points I would have made, and offer some follow-up points we thought it would be useful to draw to the Committee's attention.

  Building a confident and competent workforce of social work professionals is absolutely central to the Government's plans for improving the life chances of all children. A range of factors must be in place, including the solid foundation of the new social work degree with access to quality practice placements; supervision and caseload management; and consistent employer support for a social worker's ongoing training and learning.

  The social work degree, which is now required for entry into the profession, teaches relevant aspects of the law, but this is only the first step in preparing social workers for complex child protection, fostering and adoption cases. The other elements of training, supervision and support, such as post-qualifying learning, all need to be in place for social workers to take this work on and to improve the profession's recruitment and retention rates.

  There is still some way to go in achieving this. We would like to see stronger partnerships with employers to improve the quality and availability of practice placements and for all employers to sufficiently support social workers to complete post-qualifying training and learning, which is the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills in specialist areas.

  We believe that employers' commitment to training and support would be strengthened if the GSCC code of practice for employers was put onto a statutory footing. The GSCC is disappointed that the Government isn't taking the opportunity to introduce this in the Health and Social Care Bill, and I enclose, for your Committee's information, a copy of our Codes of practice for social care workers and employers.[7]

  The GSCC is strongly in favour of the continuation of the generic degree. As we heard from other witnesses in the session, a social worker needs to be educated and trained to understand the adults in the lives of children and the dynamics and relationships that develop. Children's lives are shaped by adults and it is impossible to provide social work without this understanding. The post-qualifying training and learning framework provides the opportunity to build specialist knowledge, and social workers can opt for specialist courses and placements within the generic training. This is consistent with other professions such as medicine and the law, where post-qualifying learning is an expected part of a doctor or lawyer's professional development.

  Specific questions were raised by the Committee and by witnesses about the content of social work education and the training curricula. It was acknowledged that policy changes and professional knowledge and understanding are always going to be developed whilst practicing and it is, therefore, essential that social workers and their employers are strongly committed to ongoing training and learning throughout the social workers' careers. The notion of kinship care, raised by the Committee, is a case in point.

  Although the GSCC does not have responsibility for workforce planning, we take the view that supervision by senior practitioners is essential to a social worker's development. Therefore the Committee's consideration of how important it is that experienced social workers are retained in frontline children's services would be welcome.

  One point of clarification to the transcript is that at Q400, the figure of 550,000 referrals is for England rather than the UK. The GSCC's remit covers only England.

  Research which may be of interest to the Committee in preparing its report:

    —  "Care Profiling Study" Judith Masson, Julia Pearce and Kay Bader with Olivia Joyner, Jillian Marsden and David Westlake, University of Bristol, March 2008. The Ministry of Justice/ University of Bristol study analyses the characteristics of a sample of nearly 400 cases of care proceedings involving 682 children that went before the family courts between 2004 and 2007. It found there were overwhelming reasons for social services taking the children into care, with an average of seven different risk factors being found in each case.

    —  "Globalisation and Child Welfare", Professor June Thoburn CBE Lttd, University of East Anglia, 2007, and Professor Thoburn's submission to the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which details some of the reasons for difference between countries which the Committee may find of interest following their visit to Denmark. Professor Thoburn is Vice-Chair of the GSCC, although the research is written in a separate capacity.

  If the GSCC can be of any further assistance to the Committee in addition to the oral evidence and written evidence we submitted focusing on workforce issues, please do not hesitate to contact us.

  I look forward to reading the Committee's report.

July 2008

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