Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640-659)|
17 DECEMBER 2008
Q640 Mr Stuart: So at best it distorts
their behaviour, and at worst it tempts them to distort the data?
Colin Green: It certainly changes
behaviour, because we will respond to how we are managed and performance-managed.
Q641 Mr Stuart: Last week, to my
astonishment, the chief inspector said when I questioned her that
she did not think that there was too much bureaucracy. Other Committee
members may remember, but from last week's evidence they had not
found that there was, chronically, too much bureaucracy suffered
by front-line social workers. Is it the evidence of the entire
panel here today that that is not the case?
Colin Green: Henrietta and I are
not entirely as one. Judith has looked at a lot of files.
Professor Masson: I have looked
at court files, which is rather a different thing. In the dim
and distant past, I looked at social work files. My experience
generally, and this perhaps does not relate to the most recent
practice, is that a lot of information is collected but, having
been collected, not very much information is read later on. So
if the social worker changes, the new social worker does not have
time to read the file. All the information has been collected
and it may be easily accessible, but the person needs to be given
the space to access it. I do not think that the Local Authorities
are necessarily very good at doing that.
Dr Proops: My contributionagain,
from the practitioner's perspectiveis that we cannot analyse
or manage these complex cases without a detailed chronology. All
of us have recognised that. It takes time to develop that chronology,
and perhaps rather too often the chronology is not available at
the time when the multidisciplinary team needs it. So if that
is an indication of either how the information is collected or
how it is extracted, from a practitioner perspective, that is
something that I am aware of.
Q642 Chairman: So if a baby is taken
into A and E and the staff access the data, will the system provide
all his, or her, medical records?
Dr Proops: There are ways of getting
hold of health data relatively quickly. To integrate that with
other data from social care
Chairman: I am only talking about healthcare
because that came up in the Haringey case.
Dr Proops: Children have more
than one set of notes. They will have records held within primary
care from their GP. If they touch any hospital, another set of
notes will be opened. They will also have a community set of records.
At the very least, they will have three sets of notes. Some places
will have systems whereby you can access those three sets of notes
relatively rapidly, but most do not. We do not do particularly
well in having a good overall picture of a child's health and
welfare, because the information is in a number of different places.
We will fall short with the note system, as our social care colleagues
will sometimes do.
Q643 Mr Heppell: I am worried about
this. It seems to be that one person's bureaucracy might be somebody
else's essential information. It seems that we are talking about
data being recorded and a system. If the tick boxes are wrong
because they do not give enough clarity, that suggests to me that
the case notes that the social worker would have to take would
have to be more extensive than the tick boxes, which would mean
more time spent recording the information than would actually
happen. Has the so-called bureaucracy not evolved because somebody
has realised that there is a failing in the system and said that
in future, people should record this, or, in future people should
make sure that they have this information? That is what this system
seems to be. It seems a bit nonsensical to say, "We have
devised a system of creating and collecting data," and then
write it off. I can understand it from a social worker's point
of view, because it gives them boundaries and it is prescriptive,
but has experience not shown us that this sort of system is necessary?
Colin Green: I think that is the
correct analysis. The history of this going back many years is
that some of the files were incomprehensible and there was not
an adequate assessment or adequate information-gathering. The
issue is about the balance of that. If we had a better-trained
work force they could use the tools better and there would be
more confidence that they could judge which bits to do in depth
and which bits to tick the box for. That is part of the issue.
People sometimes look at a long form and think, "Have I got
to fill in every bit of this?". If that is the message they
think they have from their manager, that is probably what they
will do. It may do nothing for the child. To some extent, the
tools have become very complex in part to compensate for when
the practitioners do not have a clear enough practice model of
how they do the job as a result of their training and other developments.
Q644 Chairman: Colin, can I push
you on this? The detail, the complexity of this, comes post-Climbié.
Colin Green: No. This comes well
before Climbié. The assessment framework was launched in
2000; the looked-after children records were launched in the mid-1990s.
It was those coming together that was the integrated children's
system. It is a practice system. It is a description, if you like,
of how the work should be done.
Q645 Chairman: Did the Climbié
tragedy have an effect on the way in which records were taken?
Colin Green: I think it probably
added further to the sense of a requirement to keep very comprehensive
records. We still have not quite got this right in terms of balancing
how records are kept and how they are used. It is not the keepingit
is the use of them.
Q646 Chairman: That is what I want
to nail down before you go. You have just alluded to the training
and the people who use it. What is coming out time and again is
the quality of the training of the social workers who make this
whole thing happen. That is not to criticise them, but the training,
you think, could be better.
Colin Green: We have many super
staff. However, they need to do this very sophisticated and complex
work, understand it and present it well in court, give confidence
to the judiciary in their evidence, and give confidence to parents
and children as well. We do need very substantial investment in
training and development. We also need to have enough people.
Again, you picked up on this point. I do not think you can run
a good service with substantial numbers of agency staff. You need
your own staff. That point was made last week.
Q647 Mrs Hodgson: I am going to come
on to training and experience now. The Baby P serious case review
did not explicitly blame the death of Baby P on the shortage or
the high turnover of staff. However, the British Association of
Social Workers put out a press release saying that we should not
look for scapegoats, but at the high turnover of staff in child
protection social work, excessively high case loads, over-reliance
on agency workers, as Colin just mentioned, and an absence of
supervision of often inexperienced or non-permanent workers. Do
you feel that the vacancy rate and the high turnover have an impact
on work with children at risk? What are the actual and ideal case
loads for a social worker? Is the answer simply to recruit more
Henrietta Heawood: The ideal case
load is a difficult issue. We cannot say what is ideal. There
was some research years ago that said a social worker could manage
seven families at any one timethat was as much as they
could cope with. There are case loads now of 25 to 30 children,
which may be fewer than 25 to 30 families, but it is still quite
a lot. Heavy case loads are being reported to us across the country.
Often, heavy case loads are held by experienced workers, because
they are the ones the managers will go to for help with a casehere
is someone who can do itso the good workers get burdened
more and more. We are also aware of Local Authorities being reliant
on agency staff. This is a complicated matter. In the Baby P case,
a number of agency staff were noted as working in Haringey at
the time. Agency staff can be good social workers. People choose
to work in that way and sign up to an agency, because they get
more money per hour and can stop work when they do not like it.
However, they are less likely to have a commitment to the particular
Local Authority that they are with, so the continuity may go.
Being an agency worker does not mean that someone is a bad social
worker, but it might mean that in that department there is less
loyalty and commitment to overall aims and objectives. For children,
continuity is terribly important.
Q648 Mrs Hodgson: So seven families
Henrietta Heawood: That is from
ages agoit was a bit of research stating that that was
what people could really cope with. That seems a very small case
load from my experience.
Q649 Mrs Hodgson: Do social workers
constantly complain about having too heavy a case load?
Henrietta Heawood: It varies.
Some Local Authorities are better than others and help their staff
to have smaller and protected case loads. However, across the
country, we are hearing of high case loads and of teams that struggle
to recruit and retain experienced social workers who can help
mentor and teach newcomers to the profession. That is what we
need: social work and child care cannot all be taught during the
initial social work qualifying course. It cannot all be learned
then, so to some extent, it must be learned on the job. It is
an apprenticeship, and learning on the job means that there must
be experienced, good supervisors, mentors and other members of
the team around to help people. If those people are not there
and the whole team is made up of new recruits, there is a problem.
Q650 Mrs Hodgson: You touched on
the issue of retention. I was going to come on to that later,
but I will mention it now. We need professional development for
staff and some encouragement for them to stay in the profession.
Following cases such as that of Baby P, I imagine that fewer people
will want to go into social work, and that those in social work
may decide to move on and do other things. Last week, the DCSF
published the 2020 children and young people's work force strategy.
I have it here. One of the things it notes that social workers
said, is that initial social work training programmes need to
be far better and people want "better access to ongoing professional
development". The Government hope to do what it says here,
"attracting and retaining the brightest and best in social
work", but I imagine that it is a hard time to do so.
Henrietta Heawood: That is absolutely
right. The association would like some commitment from the Department
to support social workersI do not know whether you can
relay our feelings on that to it. Perhaps the press section of
the Department could promote positively the good work that social
workers do. It is not just bad news all the time: thousands of
social workers do a really hard job, day in, day out, to make
the lives of children betterthat is their aim. But they
would like some better press, if you like, not these dreadful
campaigns in The Sun and similar newspapers. It is really
distressing to get that coverage when you have worked hard. Perhaps
the Department could run a campaign to help.
Q651 Chairman: Would Judith come
in on this question? We heard evidence from a deputy director
for social work in Hackneythis was before the Baby P casewho
said that he would not employ a British-trained social worker;
he recruited them all from overseas. Is social work training that
Professor Masson: No, I do not
think that social work training is that bad, but there are two
problems. If we recruit overseas social workers, they are used
to working in a different system and we need to put a lot of resources
into training them in the British systemboth the social
care system and the legal system. In doing legal research, I have
come across people who I am sure are excellent social workers
and very highly qualified in other jurisdictions, but who have
had perhaps a morning or one day of training on the Children Act,
and that is all they know. They are not in a good position to
work with our complex legal system and the high demands of our
courts. As for training in social work in the UK, universities
have a problem recruiting good students. What was done to the
social work training system and the resources taken out of it
in the 1980s and 1990sthe idea was that all we needed were
streetwise granniesproved a disaster for the production
of social workers. We do not have students at masters level coming
through. In the university system, I teach a little on social
work courses, but I do not get heavily involved in the issue of
how much theory and which theories are taughtI focus on
legal issues. However, there is a big issue around student placements.
Students all do placements on social work training courses. In
the 1970s and 1980s there used to be student units in all statutory
agencies, and students did at least one placement in a statutory
agency. They would spend six months of a two-year course with
what is now the children's social care department. It is very
difficult for students to get those placements now, so they do
placements in non-statutory agenciesworking in nurseries,
with lawyers in private practice or something like thatas
those are the only placements they can get. They therefore come
out without the heavily supervised student practice in a statutory
agency that they would have had on good social work courses in
the 1970s and early 1980s. We do not have a proper apprenticeship
system of combined training and education, and our social work
courses are generally much shorter. We are taking in undergraduates
and making them social workers in three years, whereas countries
such as South Africa and Australia are taking students and giving
them two-year masters courses after they have done general a social
care, sociology or other relevant first degree. We are not doing
Henrietta Heawood: I can certainly
add a bit on the shortage of placements. It is a concern for the
British Association of Social Workers and I do not know why it
is like that. I do not know why Local Authority children's services
and social care are not providing the placements that are needed.
Somebody must know why, but it is an issue. I have been around
for years, so I have seen a lot of changes in social workers coming
into the profession. When I went into the profession as a young
graduate a long time ago, it was a career choice for lots of people.
It was a good, solid, respectable career choice. I do not see
that now particularly, so the need to attract bright graduate
students is there. That is to do with the conditions of work for
social workers, the public perception and the low status that
they are given. I think that Ed Balls has talked about trying
to improve the status of social workers, as has been done for
teachers. I have been listening to programmes on the radio about
a scheme for prison governorsI do not know whether you
have heard itthat recruits bright graduates into the prison
governor system, and gives them a lot of help and fast tracking.
Something like that would perhaps help. It is the status of the
profession that is the problem.
Q652 Mrs Hodgson: That is exactly
the point that I was going to come on to. We talk in the DCSF
about teaching the profession at masters level, and I think that
that was what Judith was alluding to as well. The status of social
workers should be raised. Something that the Committee looked
at when we were in Denmark was the issue of pedagogues. In Denmark,
some child care workers who work in the profession are trained
as pedagogues with three-year degree-level qualifications. They
are not social workers; they are just below the level of social
worker, if my memory serves me right. We do not have that staff
level. We have the same people doing the same jobsI imagine
that we dobut they do not have that level of training.
I would imagine that if we did, and if social work became more
of a masters-level profession, the whole work force would be upskilled,
but would their status improve?
Henrietta Heawood: There are problems
for Local Authorities in the staffing of their departments, and
in areas where they have found that difficult they have a kind
of "grow your own" system in which they sponsor family
support workers and unqualified social workers to go through university
programmes so that they end up with the diploma in social work.
In some areas that is quite successful, but it is quite different
from what we are talking aboutbright graduates doing MAs.
Q653 Mr Heppell: On the
threshold for taking children into care under section 31, about
90% of proceedings are successful. In one respect, that is high,
but in another respect, when it is about taking a kid into care,
why have we got even a 10% failure rate, and what would be the
reasons for refusal? I think that you have done some research
on this, Judith, which shows that Local Authorities are responsible
and do not bring cases that would be considered frivolous.
Professor Masson: There is a small
proportion of cases where there is substantial improvement in
the parents' care of the childrena very small proportion
of casesso that an order is no longer necessary. There
is another small group of cases in which relatives are identifiedperhaps
a father who has been out of the child's life for 10 yearsor
come forward and end up with the care of the child, and no order
is required. Those are really the two things. There may be a relative
placement where an order is not required. In our study, we looked
at 386 cases; 21 cases were withdrawn, and they were mostly improvement
cases. There was one in which the Local Authority failed to prove
its caseI think that was partly about how the case was
presented. As a lawyer, I would say that, had that case been presented
to another judge, an order would have been granted, as there were
various technical difficulties. It was less than 10% in our study,
which was a random samplemore like 7%and only one
of those cases was a failed case. Local Authorities go through
rigorous procedures in determining whether proceedings should
be brought. It is not just the issue of the section 31 threshold
criteria, but the issue of what the care plan is and whether intervention
is necessary and proportionate.
Q654 Mr Heppell: I am trying to combine
my questions, because we are nearly out of time. In the Haringey
case, nine days before the child's death, the advice from the
lawyers was that there was not sufficient to get past the threshold
to go for care. What sort of advice or guidance do people receive
as to what the threshold should be? Can I just tie that in with
a couple of things? There is a lot of inconsistency between authorities,
so do you think that any of that is to do with resources? Do people
have different policies in different areas because of how much
they want to spend? I know that that is a bit of a muddled question.
Professor Masson: Can I take it
from the back? One of the major differences between Local Authorities
is how much access to lawyers they have. If they have only one
lawyer in-house and great limitations on using outside lawyersthis
is purely hypotheticalthey are going to bring very few
proceedings, because they do not have the staff to bring those
proceedings. So if an authority has more lawyers, they can bring
more proceedings. When the Children Act 1989 came in, in 1991,
the number of lawyers working with children in social care went
up enormously. However, there are huge differentials between authorities
that have four lawyers and authorities that have 10 lawyers, even
though they might have quite similar populations. It tends to
be partly historic, but strong legal departments might grow, and
small legal departments would not, because they are too busy holding
the fort, which will impact on the number of proceedings that
they bring. I think that I have already indicated that most Local
Authorities could bring more proceedings if they wanted to, and
that the success rates would not go down if they brought more
proceedings. So, yes, that partly takes account of the differences.
As for legal advice and decisions in individual cases, local authorities
vary as to whether a social worker can directly consult a legal
department for advice without management permission, or whether
they have to obtain such permission. I do not know what the position
is in Haringey; I have not done research there. In more local
authorities than not, I would say that the social worker is able
to phone the legal department and ask for advice. However, the
advice they get, as in any area, depends on the question they
ask. Before the decision is taken to bring proceedings, whether
emergency proceedings or an application for a care order, the
lawyer would expect to have a greater opportunity to look at the
available evidence, for example the case conference minute, if
there is a child protection plan, or at what sort of allegations
are likely to be capable of being proved, on the basis of whose
testimony and what documentation you have got. It is crucial for
the decision on section 31, not just as I might give it to law
students as a set of facts that I have already determined, that
we know what facts can be established. That is the crucial element.
If someone is phoned up nine days before and asked a question
and given an account, I imagine that they might say, "That
does not sound as if it has met the threshold." It is much
more likely to be an issue of "What are you planning to do
with the child?". If they are planning to leave the child
with the parents at that point, the issue would be, "Why
do you need to bring proceedings suddenly? Can we have an opportunity
to look at the evidence?". It is not just what section 31
states, but very much a case of, "What are you going to do
with that child, what is the care plan and what is the evidence
basis on which you are doing those things?"
Q655 Mr Chaytor: May I clarify something
that Judith said earlier about the proportion of children who
are taken into care in the first three months of life? What was
Professor Masson: In our study
of 682 children I think that that figure was around 19% or 20%,
and I think that it was in that age range.
Q656 Mr Chaytor: That is not because
the family or the mother suddenly became incapable just after
Professor Masson: No, a high proportion
of them are second children. The mothers of those who are not
second children are often substance abusers, so they are born
with drug or substance abuse problems.
Q657 Mr Chaytor: My next question
is for Rosalyn. Given that we have touched on the difficulties
of identifying families that are not engaging with the children's
centre services or SureStart centres, where is the role of antenatal
services in all that? There has been no discussion of that or
reference to it in the briefing, as far as I can see.
Dr Proops: There clearly is a
role, so you are right. I mentioned the presence of a named midwife
within a hospital trust, and it is the relationship between the
named midwife and the antenatal services in the community that
is so important.
Q658 Mr Chaytor: Does every woman
now have a named midwife?
Dr Proops: They should do.
Professor Masson: Some of these
mothers do not have any antenatal services, and if they have had
no antenatal appointments, that would be one high-risk factor
Q659 Mr Chaytor: How can you go through
nine months of pregnancy without any contact with antenatal services?
Dr Proops: A few people still
manage to do that.
Professor Masson: Some do not
even know that they are pregnant, actually, or say that they did
Dr Proops: It is about having
a network that functions between the local drug and alcohol abuse
services, primary care, antenatal services and health visiting
services. It is about that community-based network and about finding
a way of sharing what we in health would see as confidential information,
and a great deal of effort has gone into that, so there is a whole
range of things that can happen. The drug and alcohol problem
is a major one. There are some programmes to tackle it from one
end and some from the other, but it is an area where we need a
great deal more evidence and resource, because we know from the
United States that that is the seat and area for a large proportion
of the babies and pre-school children who are at very high risk
and for whom we need to do something.