Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460-479)|
27 OCTOBER 2008
Q460 Chairman: Poorly trained
social workers result in over-compensation in regulation?
Steve Goodman: Yes. In Hackney,
we are completely changing the way in which we do social work.
We are emphasising systemic approaches and social learning theory
interventions, which have a good evidence base. We have created
consultant social work units instead of teams, and we are attracting
high-quality consultant social workers, most of whom have been
trained abroad. We are protecting them from bureaucratic burdens.
That is leading to far fewer children in care. We have reduced
our number of children in care from 470 to 340 in the past two
years. That means we have about 63 children in care per 1,000
now as opposed to our statistical neighbour's 94.
We also have an improved service for our looked-after children.
We believe that "Reclaiming Social Work" signposts the
way in which children's social care needs to be practised in this
Steve Goodman: Yes.
Chairman: Jolly good. Marion.
Marion Davis: Every local authority
is in a different situation. Our looked-after children numbers
are comparatively low but rising, which is a different scenario
to that of my colleagues. I do not think that there is a right
number of looked-after children. We should focus much more on
the quality of the assessment and the work that is done with individual
cases or families. As colleagues have said, what we are all engaged
in now is trying to shift our resources towards supporting families,
investing in early prevention and using the common assessment
framework and the greater effectiveness that we have as partnerships
and children's trusts to prevent families being under the kind
of pressure that necessitates children coming into the looked-after
system. I would not see care as always a placement of last resort.
It would be a mistake to see it in that way. We know that for
many children who are looked after, their long-term outcomes are
not good. If we can support families to safely parent and bring
up their own children, then we believe strongly that that is the
right way forward. Integrated children's services departments
or directorates, as they are variously called, are using the power
of partnerships to bring together a whole series of measures in
a way in which we did not when we were social services departments
and education departments working separately. There is still a
long way to go. Some ask, "Are we there yet?" The answer
is no, we are not. Even this Government, who are clear that they
are in a hurry to narrow the gapsrightlyin equalities
between children and families, have acknowledged that it is at
least a 10-year programme, and we are only five years on from
the launch of Every Child Matters. There are a huge number
of measures in Care Matters, most of which local authorities
welcome. An awful lot have yet to work their way through or to
be seen to provide the outcomes that we need and the more positive
experience for children and young people who are on the edge of
care or who become looked-after. We are trying very much to see
that as the spectrum these days. I can offer a perspective on
corporate parenting later.
Chairman: Yes. Douglas, do you want to
ask Steve a quick question before I go back to John?
Q461 Mr Carswell: You said that
most of the social workers you were talking about were trained
abroad, but in which countries?
Steve Goodman: America, South
Africa, Canada and New Zealand. Basically, those training courses
teach social workers methodological approaches, which are severely
lacking in courses in this country in the main. It is also interesting
that some of the major universities that used to provide good
social work training, such as the London School of Economics and
Oxford University, have stopped doing so in the past few years.
Q462 Mr Heppell: That has thrown
me. Why have they stopped?
Steve Goodman: You might want
to ask them. When I did so, they said that they stopped because
they thought that academic rigour has been removed from social
work training criteria.
Pauline Newman: In Manchester,
we have some excellent social workers, although I am sure that
is also true anywhere else. We tried and succeeded in getting
some from Canada but, to be blunt, it did not work, for a range
of reasons. Broadly, there were similarities in Manchester with
what Hackney is saying. There is an intense connection between
the new children's trust arrangements and "Reclaiming Social
Work". To effectively reclaim social work, in my view, we
must have the kind of collaboration and working by other agencies
that means that social workers are used only when the need is
highest and at its most complex. One thing that we are trying
to move to is a neighbourhood-focused model that can put a team
around a child in a school using the common assessment framework
and the lead professional role. We are also trying to keep the
highly trained, reflective, systemic social workers for the most
complex needs, and providing them with the wherewithal to offer
a consultancy role to other professionals. To my way of thinking,
you cannot do that unless some of the children's trust arrangements
are working well, so that lower and more ordinary levels of need
could be dealt with by a lead professional in a SureStart centre,
a school or whatever. We have a pilot going on in the north of
the city. It must have the two things running together, but it
is about raising the profile of what are at times, in sharp urban
areas, beleaguered staff.
Chairman: Councillor, answer that question
briefly because John wants to go back to his main theme.
Les Lawrence: I honestly believe
that we have a golden opportunity to create a work force remodelling
process for social workers as we have with the teaching profession.
That has raised the profile and status and the concept of teams
within the classroom, let alone the school. If we applied the
same principles to social work practices, we would vastly improve
the esteem, value and nature of social work.
Q463 Mr Heppell: I want to return
to the earlier theme. Care Matters has lots of good
intentions to give more flexibility to foster parents. How do
you stop the misinterpretation of guidance from above and people
taking the safe option because they are governed by the fear of
risk? What is to stop that always being channelled out by the
individual manager, or someone saying, "Oh no, we can't do
Steve Goodman: That is exactly
one of the points that I am making: the culture that has grown
up around children's social care is risk averse. We need to move
to a culture that manages risks appropriately. That means that
you have to have high-quality foster carers with yes, reasonable
remuneration in terms of the money we pay them, but more importantly
expert support. We have, for instance, social learning theory-trained
clinicians offering advice to foster carers on behaviour management
techniques for the more difficult children that they are looking
after, and you have to have high-quality social workers supporting
those foster carers. You have to get those two things right. There
is nothing in Care Matters that I would necessarily disagree
with, but if all you do is that and you do not address the fundamental
issues of the quality of foster care and of social workers, you
will not move the agenda on.
Q464 Mr Heppell: Are the quality
and quantity of foster carers governing how many residential places
there are? Marion was saying, "If we could, we would have
more foster placements." Is the reality that if we had more
foster parentsmost areas are always struggling to find
moreand they were of good quality, we would have fewer
and fewer residential placements?
Steve Goodman: My personal view
is that we should not have children in residential care. That
should be the last option. Some 7% of our looked-after population
are in residential care. Residential care is not a place where
we should be bringing up our children. As Marion says, we should
be bringing them up in family-based situations as far as possible.
The evidence base for residential care is not a good one. I know
that you as a Select Committee and others have been talked to
by representatives of the residential care providers. They are
bound to make a good case for why residential care should be used,
but the evidence base is pretty
Q465 Chairman: We also talked
to a lot of children who had been in care, and a significant number
of them said that they preferred the residential situation to
some of the other experiences they had had.
Pauline Newman: I would have to
offer an alternative perspective, because, driven partly by shortages
of good-quality foster carerswe are currently setting some
standards, meaning we are losing foster carers but we are going
to stick with itwe elected five or six years ago to build
six small children's homes in the city in areas of high need.
We did an analysis. We went back to the notion of a children's
home in an area where we are getting a lot of young people coming
into care, and we have built six of them. The last two are coming
on stream this month. They have already reduced our use of external
residential care. It depends what you do with them. We have good
NVQ programmes and good training. We have recently had some of
the children's home staff on the emotional resilience training
course. For Manchester, it was necessary not to put our eggs in
one basket. At times, we are dealing with some young people who
do not want to be fostered. My view is that you need a range and
choice of places and situations.
Mr Heppell: I have to leave the Committee
to attend a debate on an Icelandic bank, but I will return.
Q466 Fiona Mactaggart: It is often
very convincing when we hear people at the leadership end of the
tree, which is who we are hearing from today, but we have also
spoken to children in care and to foster carers, and one story
has really struck me. I was talking to a couple of sisters who
were in care. They were 16 or 17, and they had a younger sister
of 13 whose behaviour was obviously very troubling. She was in
a children's home. The three other occupants of that children's
home were 16 and 17-year-old boys, and the two older sisters thoughtI
think they were rightthat that was an unsafe place to put
their younger sister. She is obviously very difficult to manageI
have no doubt about thatbut one of the things that we hear
about is people choosing that to give a safe option to a child,
but then saying to another child, "Oh, we haven't got around
to saying you can go on your school trip and your foster carer
is not allowed to approve your school trip." We have heard
that story from all over the country. It seems to me that the
way in which risk is being assessed is stupid. What do you do
to stop it being stupid?
Pauline Newman: To answer that
question directly, I think that it goes back to Steve's point
about both culture and the behaviour and attitudes that are expected
from staff and how they are performance-managed. It is easy at
our level to send out messages that have become heavily misinterpreted
by the time that they get to the front service delivery point.
It is our job to make sure that they are bolstered by sensible
guidance at each level. I certainly do not wantI do not
believe that we generally doto disempower young people
who want to do things as they would normally do them. We have
to get the processes on the ground well understood. In relation
to the discussion about corporate parenting, this is what I think
corporate parenting has to be about. Oodles of statutes are written
about the role of a directorate of children's services, and colleagues
may agree or disagree, but at the end of the day, I have decided,
it boils down broadly to encouraging collaborative working to
produce better outcomes for children. There are lots of pages,
but that is the nub of it. If that is our job, it is mirrored
by the job of elected members, particularly executive members
for children's servicesor whatever they are calledup
and down the country. Their job is to push those big blocks of
responses from local authorities into place: responses from leisure
about swimming pools, leisure passes and involvement in sport;
responses from health about all the kinds of thing that it presides
over; and responses from housing. There has to be involvement
in personal or smaller matters in terms of looking at the performance
management of the servicesinformation is supplied to them
about thatand dipping, as we all do, into the reality of
the situation. In Manchester, the scrutiny committee now has a
sub-committee that meets regularly with looked-after children.
All these things go on, but its job is to say all the time, "What's
the impact of this on the most vulnerable children in the authority,
including those who are looked after, and how can we positively
shape our offer to them within the broad offer to children in
Steve Goodman: But I think specifically
Chairman: Hang on a second, Steve. Caroline
was nodding, and she has been totally neglected. I think it is
time that Caroline had a shout.
Caroline Abrahams: I have been
listening to this debate with great interest, and I must say that
I have agreed with large chunks of itwhat has been said
resonates with me. We did some research over the past year with
lead members for children's services about how they understood
their roles, and we have been thinking a lot about the subject.
It is important that lead members understand that they are politicians,
not officers or super-officers. There is a bit of a risk, because
when you look at the backgrounds of lead members for children's
services, they are quite often selected partly because they have
a relevant professional background as a teacher or social worker.
At one level, that is great, but the risk is that they will get
drawn into the detail of delivery. As has been suggested, a separate
and different role has to be played. Those people are there to
work in partnership with their DCS. All the high-performing local
authorities have strong joint political and professional leadershipI
do not think that there is any doubt about thatbut there
is an inherent tension in that relationship, and those people
have to be nosey, restless and inquisitive, ask difficult questions
and sometimes put DCSs on the spot. Scrutiny is incredibly important
as well. We are certainly doing a lot of work to respond to the
research and to support lead members for children in understanding
their jobs and carrying them out as effectively as they can.
Steve Goodman: Specifically on
the issue that Fiona raisedschool trips and other things
that appear to the organisation to be minor but to the child in
care are very importantwe have said very strongly in Hackney
that the consultant social worker and the members of the consultant
social worker's unit should be able to make such decisions. Up
and down the country, including in Hackney a couple of years ago,
for lots of processes and procedures, managers who did not necessarily
know the child very well made the decisions. This is about a good
relationship between the consultant social worker and their unit
and the foster carer so that those sorts of decision can be made
as quickly as a parent would make them. Often, that involves the
child bringing something home from school, with a decision being
made that evening and the signed form sent back to school the
Chairman: Paul has been stimulated to
come in on that point.
Q467 Paul Holmes: You say, "Let
the social worker decide." A lot of children and foster parents
said to us, "Why not the foster parent?" They are much
more immediate. They are there the same day, just like a parent,
when the kid comes home from school.
Steve Goodman: Yes. The issue
there, of course, is that looked-after children can be in a very
different position. Some looked-after children are embedded with
a foster carer and have been there for a long time. As that time
increases, the foster carer should increasingly be able to do
the sorts of things that a parent would do. When young people
have recently come into care, more discussion would be needed
with the social worker. However, the issue here is the good professional
relationship between foster carer and social worker; it is about
enabling the social worker to make the decisions with the foster
carer about what is appropriate.
Q468 Chairman: Before I take this
question back to Fiona, early in our inquiry, we were told that
our terminology was old hat, that we no longer call these children
looked-after children, and that we have reverted to using the
term "children in care". Uniformly, however, you are
using the other term, so we are totally at sea. What is politically
Pauline Newman: I think that the
technical term is children in care.
Q469 Fiona Mactaggart: That all
sounds good, but we are always told that when you phone the social
worker, the social worker is often not thereno one is there.
Your system in Hackney sounds as though there might be someone
there who could do it, but that will certainly be someone who
knows the child less well than the foster carer, even if the latter
has had them for only a week. That is a symptom of a sort of risk-averseness
that worries me. I am talking about not only trusting foster carers
to approve a school-organised trip, but the problems of arranging
an overnight visit to a friend's house, which, in some ways, is
much more brutal for cared-for children, because they cannot bear
the fact that if they are going to go to a sleepover, Criminal
Records Bureau checks will have to be made on everyone in the
house that they would go to. From talking to such children, I
know that that can cause more pain than most other things. It
seems that we have failed utterly to normalise their lives, or
to make them feel loved and respected. As corporate parents, I
believe that we should all be ashamed of ourselves. I would love
to hear something about changing things for them that is more
radical than I think I am hearing.
Pauline Newman: I agree, but I
feel that if we now have a risk-averse social care profession,
we need to consider how it got there.
Q470 Chairman: Steve, would you
say that that is because you have rotten social workers?
Steve Goodman: I think that there
are other reasons as well.
Q471 Fiona Mactaggart: Is it because
you have badly trained social workers? Let us be honest.
Pauline Newman: I qualified as
a social worker donkey's years agoin 1976and the
profession has not had much respect over the years. Successive
inquiries might have shown failings in our multi-agency systems,
but from the social carers' point of view, they have been focused
on as the people whofor self-preservation as well as the
wish to do betterapparently got the message to take less
risk. This has something to do with the societal position of the
profession, and part of what Steve is talking about is raising
its head again. We are saying that this is a respectable profession
to be involved in. The bottom line is that many people now do
not trust social carers' judgment. If they do not trust them,
why should they keep moving things down so that social workers
can do themand eventually so that foster carers can do
Fiona Mactaggart: I do not necessarily
see foster carers as moving down.
Pauline Newman: I am sorry. I
agree entirely, but you have to feel some confidence. Someone
like me must feel confident that something about the analysis
among the child, the social worker or teacher, and the foster
carer is going to work well so that the right decisions are made.
We should feel that the person, as the youngsters themselves say,
is supposed to get to know the child, to listen to them and to
understand their wishes and feelings, yet that person can change
every four weeks. In Manchester, we have far too many changeovers
of staff. As a result, one can feel a bit insecure about that
kind of decision-making process. Additionally, children still
move placements quite a lot. I take your point, but for us to
delegate to a foster carer comfortably, in the context in which
we work, we would need relationships that were pretty sound and
secure. Perhaps we should listen more to the judgment of the young
people, but you can imagine the scenario when we get this wrong:
we let them go, and they are abused. Perhaps we should think much
more about how we protected our own children. Is not the bottom
line that when you allow them to stay overnight, you might not
know very much about the parents at all? You might just know something
about the other child, so how do you make that judgment? One of
the ways I made it with mine was to make sure that I trusted her
judgment, and the signs that she would knowwas she comfortable?
Marion Davis: I think that Fiona
raised some important issues about how young people themselves
become stigmatised in a lot of settings, whether at school or
wherever. I think that it is our responsibility to try to reduce
that feeling of difference and to support them in the sorts of
situations that you mention. However, I guess, as Directors of
Children's Services, we never forget that we have the ultimate
responsibility. We have to safely share that responsibility and
safely enable decisions to be made in the best place but, in relation
to the earlier debate about corporate parenting, I think that
the wider you define the corporate parenting responsibility, the
wider you can share that knowledge and that risk. We have talked
a lot about elected members as corporate parents, but I think
it is a much broader family that children have in that role. I
talk to elected members when they first come on to the council
and often ask them a little bit about themselves. I say to them,
"How many children do you have?" Of course, they never
say 488, which is actually the answer when they become an elected
member. However, what we are doing is very much about involving
the other partners in the children's trust as part of the corporate
parenting perspective so that we are training, on a multi-agency
basis, not just county council members and district and borough
council members, but staff and non-executive directors from the
NHS and the other partner agencies, to share in that responsibility.
Just as, a few years ago, there was a phrase: "Child protection
is everybody's business," I think that looked-after children
should be everybody's business. The only way in which we really
safeguard children and promote their well-being is by bringing
all those partners together. It is not an easy journey, but I
think that, in the long term, that is the way to go.
Chairman: Can I just hold everyone up
a moment to explain what we must get through. This is wonderful
for us and we are really enjoying it, but we want to get the most
out of the session, and that means, cruelly, that we must get
through another six sectors of questions, so I shall hold Fiona
in check for a moment. She can come back on lots of other things.
David, why don't you go for local authorities as corporate parents,
because we are there anyway.
Q472 Mr Chaytor: One of the areas
that we have not discussed so far in this respect is the relationship
between the local authority and the criminal justice system. In
my constituency that is a constant concern. It was interesting
that Councillor Lawrence, on the concept of the corporate parent
and multi-agency working, referred to health and made positive
noises: had he still been here I might have pressed him on whether
he really thought GPs have fully taken on board the Every Child
Matters agenda, but leaving that aside, in terms of criminal
justice, what do you feel is the state of the relationship between
your local authority and your criminal justice system, and what
needs to be done to improve that?
Marion Davis: Increasingly, youth
offending services are sited within children's services directorates
in local authorities, but we are still working very much with
the same partnership of police, probation, health and the local
authority and voluntary sector partners, on the whole agenda of
youth offending. We sometimes find ourselves in a slightly conflicting
situation with the police, as our respective targets pull us in
different directions. The police are urged to bring offenders
to justice quickly and we are urgedwe are all, in fact,
chargedto prevent youth offending: but we are in particular
charged to work with the individual young person who may have
got into difficulties. There is sometimes a culture clash: are
they children first or are they offenders first? That is not always
easy to square. Looked-after young people who get involved in
youth offending often suffer a double stigma, or double jeopardy.
Their education and housing needs and chances of employment, training
and so forth can be among the worst for our looked-after children
and for children in our area. We have to work particularly closely
with our partners to try to resolve some of the issues of that
group. We have had some very robust discussions about whose needs
we should serve. Through negotiations of the local area agreement,
we are starting to bottom out some of the conflicts. Certainly
the police in Warwickshire have softened their target-driven approach.
We are developing a closer understanding, but we still have a
way to go.
Q473 Mr Chaytor: Steve from Hackney
council, have any of your structural changes, or reorganisation
of social workers into these units, impacted or improved the relationship
with the criminal justice system?
Steve Goodman: I do not know specifically
whether it has. The fact that the youth offending service is part
of children's services means that we are working very closely
together across the piece. We are introducing the methodological
approach, the systemic approach and the social learning theory
into the youth offending service as well as replacing some of
the old youth inclusions programmes and youth inclusion and support
panel schemes. That is important. I agree with much of what Marion
said. Hackney has a reputation for having a lot of crime. In fact,
we are somewhere in the middle of the list of boroughs when it
comes to the amount of crime, but our reputation lags behind that
fact. The police have a responsibility to sanction and detect
quickly. We are trying to keep children out of the criminal justice
system. We have just agreed, through the youth crime action plan,
to have workers from the youth offending team in custody suites
to divert young people away from reprimands and into prevention
services. Children who are separated from their families and taken
into care in their teenage years face the worst outcomes of any
looked-after children. Again, we try to involve the family when
we are looking for solutions to a young person's issues. Generally,
we are working very well not just with the local police but with
the youth courts. We are one of the 10 multi-systemic therapy
pilots in the country, and ours is the only one focused on trying
to keep young people out of custody. To that end, we have been
working very closely with the youth court. It is early days yet,
but it looks as if we will get some good results. If you have
a child in long-term care, it is very important that the social
worker keeps working with that child through their journey through
the criminal justice system and does not say, "I will stop
now because the youth offending team is involved." Professionally,
the lead relationship for that young person is with their social
worker, and that must continue. That has not always been the case
in the past.
Caroline Abrahams: I think that
you have put your finger on one of a number of wicked issues in
this area, and that is the relationship between the youth justice
and the looked-after children systems. First, there has been noise
in the system for the past few years about the supposedly perverse
incentive on local authorities because the costs shift once young
people go into custody. I do not think that anyone has any evidence
that stacks up that suggests that that influences the decisions
that local authorities make. It remains a wicked issue, and there
is no doubt that tensions exist. Therefore, we will be running
a project that looks more specifically at the relationship. We
have also been running a project over the past year and a half
called "Children in Trouble", which works with four
local authorities to try to reduce the number of young people
going into custody. I am telling you this, because Salford, which
is one of our four participating local authorities, has specifically
tried to reduce the number of children in care going into custody.
It has managed to do so quite satisfactorily, without an injection
of new resources, by importing more restorative justice approaches
into its children in care system. It tackled head-on, with good
political leadership, some quite difficult issues, including the
attitude of people who work in children's homes, who are not a
very empowered group of people, and the way in which such people
interact with some of the systems and what that means for children.
It has also tackled the attitudes of people in the police force,
particularly police community support officers. It took the issues
on, and it has made a difference. We have a formal evaluation
of the project, but that does not give a good description of what
Salford has done. We are going to do that and circulate it to
authorities, because there is a lot for others to learn.
Q474 Mr Chaytor: Before I ask
Pauline to comment on Manchester, may I tell a little anecdote.
Last summer, I spent four weeks with Greater Manchester Police,
and I spent part of the time with police officers on the street,
all night, in different parts of the conurbation. The number of
young people we picked up who were routinely questioned by the
police struck me. The police were extremely efficient and logged
incidents, but at no point did they question why the 13-year-old
or 15-year-old was walking around the back streets of Ancoats
at 3.30 in the morning. Is there any protocol in Manchester whereby
the police report people of such ages automatically to the relevant
social worker? The police might know them well, or know that they
have been, or are, in care. Should they not be reported?
Pauline Newman: Yes, the short
answer is that there is a protocol. The youth offending team in
Manchester is run by the deputy chief executive's office. There
has been a great increase in joint working between the team and
children's services in the past year. As others have said, in
many places, the teams are part of children's services. In Manchester,
we also need to look at what has happened in developing joint
work on issues that impact on children, such as domestic abuse.
We have a joint, multi-agency sexual exploitation team, because
we are one of the northern authorities that have seen clear evidence
of the organised, targeted sexual exploitation of young women
and girls in children's homes. We have joined some things together
in the past year especially, but I regret to say that performance
management in both agencies is perhaps not at a stage that ensures
that it happens every time. We have nevertheless developed much
greater attention to missing children and children at risk of
exploitation. In recent weeks and months, the new thing is the
extension of the safeguarding perspective in relation to young
people, guns and gangs. In fact, the police want more from children's
services than we believe we can givewe need further debate
of some of the issues that are arising. A pilot approach to safeguarding
in relation to guns and gangs will appear in Government guidance.
Protective measures such as emergency protection orders are part
of safeguarding young men who are out on the streets despite repeated
warnings, Osman warnings and all kinds of things saying that they
are likely to be shot, or warnings about people who are likely
to shoot someone else. We have a lot of close working in Manchester.
It is very much part of our council-led approach and neighbourhood
focus to have respect action weeks to draw in high-profile policing
along with action by other parts of the council to improve things.
However, we come by very different routes. Some pretty strong
debates get going on such things at times.
Chairman: We can return to that and drill
down on it. I hope that you do not mind if I move on to variations
between local authorities.
Q475 Mr Carswell: I have two questions
in one. Why do different local authorities have such different
policies and, in explaining that, can you say whether it is necessarily
a bad thing? I am not convinced that differences between localities
per se are a bad thing. Why do you think there are differences,
and do you think that they are a bad thing?
Steve Goodman: Are you talking
about the number of looked-after children?
Mr Carswell: Yes.
Steve Goodman: Well, I have never
met a colleague who has not said that what they are trying to
do is keep children with their families, so I think that the policy
that we are trying to promote is the same; but, obviously, if
you look at the number of looked-after children across the country,
the outcome of that policy seems to be different, and cannot be
explained simply in terms of demography. Personally, I think that
it goes back to the issues that I have talked about before. There
are some issues around risk averseness. There is a view, which
I do not agree with, that if a child is in care somehow they are
safer than if they are at home, but that is not always the case.
I think also there is a value system, which actually might not
be clearly stated, but which is built up in a culture in each
authority, and which again might lead to different numbers. There
are also issues about resources. In Hackney, we have moved £2
million to family support services in the past two years, which
enables us to provide ongoing therapeutic and practical support
to families, so that children can stay with them. Not every authority
is in the position of being able to do that.
Q476 Mr Carswell: Caroline, do
you have anything to add?
Caroline Abrahams: You are right,
of course; there are major differences. Some of the reasons for
difference are good, and some are probably less good. I think
we have to make much better use of the data that are now becoming
available to really drill down and ask quite difficult questions.
As our colleague has just explained, to understand the different
rates of children going into care, one has to see the children
in care system in a much broader context of what local authorities
are doing in children's services, particularly in terms of prevention
and early intervention. I was on the expert working group that
the Government set up to think about the size of the care population.
The big question there was, "Is there an ideal size for the
care population?" We decided there was not, and that was
not the place to start. All things being equal, what is important
is that the right children are in care and that they come into
care at the right times. As has already been suggested, the outcomes
for young people who come in later are very poor indeed. At the
moment there are still a number of those children in the system.
What one would hope is that as authorities get better at prevention
and early intervention, as I think they are doingthere
is some evidence of thatwe will want snappier decisions,
safely and appropriately taken, so that the children who need
to come into care do so earlier, stay in longer and achieve better
outcomes, and one has fewer young people coming in a bit later
on. However, we are in the process of moving from where we have
been to where we need to go to, and different authorities are
going to be in different places, which is another reason why one
sees those variations.
Marion Davis: I agree with a lot
of what has been said, but what we have to remember is there is
not only variation between local authorities but within local
authorities. A county like Warwickshire, which is perceived to
be largely leafy and affluent, has areas of significant deprivation
as well. We see variation in rates of children becoming looked
after that mirror the social deprivation. The factors that lead
children to come into care, and their families to struggle, are
all those things that you will be familiar with, such as domestic
violence, worklessness, substance misuse and mental health problemsa
familiar catalogue of family difficulties, which are very much
linked to social class. As Caroline says, it is the quality of
our assessment processes, our work before families get to that
breaking point, and the security of those decisions, that are
important. The other factor that we have not mentioned is that
some authorities have significant increases in numbers of looked-after
children because of the volume of asylum seekers with whom they
deal. That is spread around the country in places that you might
not expect. The vast majority of our increase in looked-after
children is due to asylum-seeking young people coming into the
care system. They are a group that is something of a subset of
the care population, but they cause some concern, and have different
needs from some of the other children in the care system.
Q477 Mr Carswell: When people
talk about differences between local authorities, you often hear
the hackneyed phrase, "spreading best practice". Do
you know what best practice is? Do you have the wisdom to know
what practice should be spread? Surely, if it is so wonderful
and good, it should be allowed to replicate itself naturally.
Do you think central Government should have more of a role in
spreading best practice? Does it spread itself naturally?
Marion Davis: Central Government
are contributing to the spreading of good practice through things
such as the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in children and
young people's services, and there are now some very significant
bodies of research evidence to guide practitioners and policy
makers through organisations such as Research in Practice. There
are some very accessible materials, not just for professionals
but for elected members. The hard-pressed front-line worker is
not always in a position to believe that they are in command of
some of the evidence about what works, but it is the responsibility
of managers, particularly senior managers, to make sure that there
is an evidence focus for the way in which decisions are made.
There is now a growing body of research evidence. The Committee
may have heard from some researchers about what is out there.
Steve Goodman: As I said about
social work training, I think research in this country is pretty
poor. The evidence base should come from academia. Certainly when
we had a debate about what methodologies we should use in Hackney,
we did not get that ourselves. We went to academics and talked
to them about what the evidence base told us. One thing they said
was that a lot of the evidence base comes from research in other
countries, particularly the USA, so there is a key issue about
more academic research. If you look at the amount of money that
the Department for Children, Schools and Families spends on academic
research in children's social care terms compared with education,
you will find it is a very small amount.
Caroline Abrahams: I think that
is true. There is more that we need to know, but one of the things
that has struck me since I have been at the LGAit is coming
up for two years nowis that there is a lot of stuff out
there. There is a lot of information. People are bombarded with
information about what they need to do, but there is very little
about how to do it. That is one of the reasons why we have been
running a joint project with councils and the DCSF called "Narrowing
the gap in outcomes", for this group among many others. We
have been trying to help local authorities to answer those "how"
questions and understand what exactly they need to do. I am talking
about how they get from where they are now to where they all pretty
much want to be, and also what success looks like. All things
being equal, what might you expect to see in a local authority
area in terms of the provision and the balance of services? There
will be a range of answers, which will be influenced by culture,
geography and all sorts of other things, but there probably will
be some basic principles. At the moment, we are not very good
at painting the picture of what it looks like. That does not help
people to make the progress that they need to make.
Q478 Mr Carswell: One final question,
if I may. We have talked about variations between local authorities,
and in the short time available you have given a clue as to why
there may be differences. This is more of a comment. It is interesting
that at no point has anyone tried to explain differences between
what local authorities do based on the local democratic system,
the ballot box and elections. Do they have any real impact, or
is it really the unelected officers who are in charge, rather
than those people who pretend to run the show?
Chairman: Steve, you are smiling the
most; I think you should start.
Steve Goodman: I thought Mr Carswell
was making a comment.
Mr Carswell: It is a question as well.
Pauline Newman: I agree with Steve
that there is a lot of evidence from abroad. Certainly in Manchester,
parenting programmes and emotional resilience programmes have
resulted from evidence from America that those work. You get from
the DCSF a lot of national wisdom about things, but you have to
tailor it to your local situation. You should be very alert to
what statistical neighbours that look like you are doing. It is
very helpful to look at other places and challenge ourselves with
what they are doing. Clearly, officers advise members. We advise
them in the context of performance regimes that mean that we have
to try to get the authority into a particular position. Manchester
has to improve its teenage conception rate. There is a lot of
national wisdom, but the data suggest some additional actions
that are Manchester-specific. We give advice, but certainly in
Manchester, political commitments are there as well, such as commitments
to a high level of early years provision. We advise members on
the basis of what we are supposed to be achieving and what the
data and all the rest of it suggest. In the end, they make the
Q479Mr Carswell: Anyone else on the view
that it is the officers who run it?
Steve Goodman: Certainly, my experience
in Hackney in particular has been that the mayor and the lead
member have been extremely interested in what we have done, have
listened to our analysis of how we think that we should change
things and have been extremely supportive in doing so. What they
are clear about is what outcomes they are looking for. They want
children in Hackney to be safe, and they are looking for good
services to the most vulnerable children who live in the borough,
but in terms of the technical issues around achieving that, because
they are so technical, quite understandably, it is not as accessible
to members, perhaps, as the development of youth services, which
they feel they have a better handle on. To some extent, the relationship
is there, but they leave the technical issues more to officers
than they might in other aspects of the council's functions.
Caroline Abrahams: As I said before,
the roles of professional and political leadership are different,
but all the best authorities are strong in both. Frankly, a strong
lead member cannot make up for a DCS who is struggling, but a
strong DCS and a strong, visionary, powerful and committed lead
member who is making the case for resource allocation with their
colleagues in the council cabinet as well as championing the cause
of children with the local public can make quite a big difference
to what goes on.
1 Note by witness: The correct figure is about
63 children in care per 10,000. Back