Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
29 MARCH 2010
Q1 Chair: May I welcome Moira Gibb to
our Committee? She is Chief Executive of Camden Council and Chair
of the Social Work Reform Board. We know her and her good work.
We apologise in advance; the good news is that this is the last
meeting of this Committee, but the bad news is that we are struggling
a little bit with the quorum. Let us get straight into some questions,
Moira. You will know why we wanted to see you. You have conducted
your inquiry into the Social Work Task Force and we conducted
our inquiry at about the same time. We were very jealous; you
had more publicity than us. And we have mentioned that. Briefly,
where do you think we are now? We have reported; you have reported.
Where are we in terms of transforming the nature of social work
in our country?
Moira Gibb: I think
that one has to be realistic. I met a number of front-line social
workers from across the country on Monday evening. I was feeling
very positive, of course, and they quickly reminded me that for
them, on the front line, the pressures are very real. So, in that
sense, I think we are still in a very difficult place. On the
other hand, I think that your report and the Task Force's report
together provide a platform for improvement that could happen
relatively quickly, if people commit to the implementation plan
and the employers, the higher education institutes and others
who are engaged in this area at the momentvery positively
in my viewcontinue to stay focused on driving improvements,
so that the front-line practice can improve, the lives of social
workers can change and more of them will stay in place, so that
service users can have a better service in the medium term and
not just in the longer term. Therefore I am hopeful and optimistic,
but I am also realistic that this is a report and that your report
is a report. However, I think that, between us, we have created
a more positive atmosphere, a recognition and a shared endeavour,
which all those people in that partnership must now deliver on.
But it is not distracting them from that and giving them an alternative
set of recommendations. I think that there is a very strong alignment
between the work that you did and the work of the Task Force.
So I don't feel that there is tension. I think that there is a
clear platform and a plan.
Chair: We will have some quick questions
from my colleagues. Karen.
Q2 Ms Buck: Moira, in the introduction
to the Task Force report you talked about the problems that negative
image has, in terms of recruitment, but you said, quite rightly
and understandably, that change would require much greater openness
with the media, and more effort and expertise in telling the positive
stories. But how realistic is that, because we all knowand
we know as politiciansthat the media do not cover positive
stories, and in fact the openness tends in itself to encourage
a more ruthless exploration of where they think there will be
failure and weakness? Isn't that just really nice words that it's
going to be impossible to deliver on?
Moira Gibb: I think it's hard;
we've got ourselves into a very difficult place in this country
in terms of the understanding of the area of children's services
that you've been concerned with. But on the other hand only a
few weeks ago I was at an LGA-organised event with ADCS and others,
putting some material in placeshared understanding among
senior managers and politicians in local government about the
necessity for them to be more open and to make it possible to
be more open. I think every time one of these cases hits the headlines
anxiety rises again, not surprisingly; but it is doing the positive
worknot when you've got a very difficult case or a situation
that's gone wrong. It's doing it in the good times when you haven't
got that, and being committed. I always sayI don't know
who told me, but somebody did, a long time agothat you
need 10 good news stories to balance one bad news story, so that's
the scale of the challenge.
Q3 Ms Buck: But who is ever going
to cover a good news story? Isn't the difficultyand this
is not anybody's faultthat in a sense social work intervention
is almost entirely, unlike, say, teaching or medicine, by definition
a bad news story, because most interventions are coming about
as a consequence of a problem: a family or neighbourhood problem?
Therefore, actually trying to create a positive is extremely difficult.
Moira Gibb: I think in terms of
news journalists and getting on the BBC news, we're not going
to get those stories there, but there's a fantastic interest from
journalists in being able to shadow social workers, to spend time
in social work teams understanding what they do. It is fantastically
interesting work and actually the complexity of the stories interests
journalists who want to write slightly more serious pieces. I
think we want to encouragesome interest was caused by the
discussions we were havingTV and radio programmes that
allow the situations that social workers work in to be displayed
to the public; and I think the public are interested in them as
well, but they need to be told in a different way. It is not going
to be newsworthy that "Social worker saves child", but
the sorts of family situations that people work within and endeavour
to help are of themselves very interesting and incredibly complicatedparticularly
the stories in London, I thinkbut that interest is there.
But it takes trust and hard work and it takes encouraging staff
to be more open. I think there has been a sense of, "This
is confidential work; therefore nothing can be revealed,"
and I think it has built up an antagonism in the press about "There
is something to hide"and I don't think there is something
to hide. I think it is important to be open and straightforward
with the public about just what the difficulties are in the system,
but that doesn't mean saying everything's bad or that there aren't
things for them to be interested in.
Q4 Ms Buck: Do you thinkI'm
just following that same pointthat there is something structural
about the whole serious case review process that makes that more
difficult to do? I'm just thinking, without talking about the
specific case, we had a case in Westminster last weeka
tragic baby death; then a spate of media coverage; and a serious
case review process that won't report until probably after several
months. That itself, almost structurally, leads to a sense that
a story can't be reported. It's going to take a very long time,
and that feeds people's suspicion.
Moira Gibb: Certainly; obviously,
again we didn't look at serious case reviews, because we were
looking again at social work across the piece, but it's certainly
a common picture that you paint. The journalists that we talked
towe talked to quite a numbersaid that there is
that sense of "You don't want people to know; you are in
defensive mode" and, at the worst, "You are hiding something
from us". I think there is a challenge to employersto
local authorities in particularto find ways of being open
in the first place while abiding by their responsibilities in
respect of conducting good serious case reviews.
Q5 Ms Buck: What do you think the
profession is going to look like in 10 years? You talk about it
being a 10-year process. Do you think there will be anything that
mirrors some of the different models of practice that we have
in other European countries, for example, with a much more professional
therapeutic element, rather than some of the slightly more generic
approaches to children's social work that we have in this country?
Moira Gibb: I would hope that
there is an understanding of what social work can do, that people
are confident that social workers are well trained and have a
significant contribution to make, and that there will be different
models. Given the decentralised nature of its organisation at
present, there will be different models and people will be working
in slightly different settings. I hope that the tide will have
turned away from turning people into deliverers of a rigid system
to their being practitioners in a wider multidisciplinary model,
supporting families and protecting childrenand in adult
services as well. I think we won't have one simple model. I hope
that the value of social work will be recognised. I would not
necessarily claim, for example, that we'll have lots more of them.
I don't think we should have many fewer of them. We will deploy
them in different ways.
Q6 Ms Buck: Given that we see intense
public spending pressure over the next few years, the difficulties
that social work has had with its image and media profile will
make it more difficult to achieve the positive redefinition that
would come out of these proposals at a time when police officers,
nurses and teachers will be seen as the kind of front-line workers
the public want to defend.
Moira Gibb: Again, we were saying
in our report that social work finds it difficult to fight its
corner. On the one hand, there aren't many institutions with "social
work" in their title and there aren't many advocates and
people speaking up on behalf of social work. On the other hand,
that's why our work and your work is timely: it would be foolish
to ignore the contribution that they make, the protection they
provide and the difficulties that not having sufficient social
workers to deploy will create for families of whatever sort. Again,
I've always said that social workers themselves need to take their
responsibilities seriously. They cannot be in a profession and
not have responsibilities. Therefore the success of the college,
for example, in speaking up on their behalf will depend on the
contribution that social workers themselves make to it.
Q7 Mr Timpson: At the end of your
report you say that social work is at a watershed. I'm concerned
that, having had the Laming review in the wake of Victoria Climbié,
with a multitude of recommendations, we then find ourselves with
a second Laming review, where Lord Laming is, in many respects,
exasperated by the lack of progress and signs off by saying, "Now
it has to happen." In terms of your Task Force and the implementation
of your 15 recommendations, what do you believe will make the
difference this time to ensure that those become reality, rather
than finding ourselves seven or eight years down the lineor
10 years, as you say in your reporthaving the same conversations
that we're having today?
Moira Gibb: This is obviously
always a risk. I think that we've written a report that is practical
and straightforward. I regularly say when I go out and speak at
events that with 15 recommendations I could almost hold on to
all of them in my head, but not quitemaybe someone younger
than me could manage to do that. So it's a straightforward story
of what needs to be done, which doesn't mean that implementing
it is straightforward or easy. We are trying at the moment not
to give anyone any false hopes or expectations that throwing money
at this will be how it's solved. It will be about partnerships
and collaboration between different players in the field. I do
think it is really important that this is grasped now, or the
situation will be worse than when you or we started, rather than
an improvement. We will have raised expectations only to dash
them. It is in many people's hands, rather than just the Government's.
It is in employers' hands, in higher education's. It is not a
fancy report; it has not got lots of flowery, visionary language.
It is written to address the various audiences that we saw as
important in making it happen. I personally try to accept as many
invitations as I can to talk to as many audiences as I can, to
encourage people to see that it is up to them, rather than somebody
else. It would be very disappointing if, in 10 years' time, the
situation had deteriorated rather than improved. I would be more
disappointed than many. But that is not where I expect to be.
Q8 Mr Timpson: Can I pick you up
on the career structure that you set out in the report, two areas
specifically. You pick up in the report on practice placementsthat
sometimes they are poor quality and sometimes non-existent. We
also have the social work degree. Have you absolute confidence
in the quality of the social work degree, in making sure that
we have the standard and quality of social workersnewly
qualified and as they go through the systemthat we need
to make the changes you have rightly identified?
Moira Gibb: Not at the moment,
no. I think we were clear that there was considerable inconsistency
in the system. I did say when I came here before that we didn't
have to invent very much because the best of what we were looking
for did exist. Certainly, very good courses do exist, but some
courses are not training people as well as they need to be. Where
we have called for other levers to be pulled to drive that improvement,
I hope that universities will be thinking about whether their
courses were up to the standard they would expect if they were
trained as social workers, for example. Again, I have been very
pleased with the collaboration from the higher education sector.
We have a vice-chancellor on the Reform Board and two professors
of social work. Certainly, all the bodies that represent those
training social workers are highly engaged in this opportunity.
Q9 Chair: What about the British
Association of Social Workers? Can you really achieve all the
things that you and we want to achieve? Has BASW been upset about
much of what has been recommended?
Moira Gibb: We had a representative
from BASW on the Task Force, although people were invited in their
personal capacity rather than as representatives, so it would
be unfair to say it was BASW. She was a very active and positive
member of the Task Force. I think BASW's concerns are only about
the college; I don't think it is concerned about the other recommendations
we made. Its only concern is about the process of getting from
where we are to its being started. BASW is more optimistic, some
might say, about getting it started without some funding. It was
always intended to be an independent collegenot one run
by somebody else on behalf of social workers, but by social workers
on their own behalf, part of being a profession. BASW has been
concerned about the fact that Government money is going to support
those initial stagesI think unnecessarily so. Good progress
has been made on the college development. SCIE (Social Care Institute
for Excellence) was midwife, as it were, in the early stages,
but has now commissioned head-hunters to recruit the interim chair.
Progress will happen. The very challenging job that BASW and others
have is to sell belonging to a college to social workers. Whenever
I talk to them, they complain about the costs of belonging to
anything, really. They are concerned about that. That's the challenge:
asking them to pay for something that doesn't exist is nigh on
impossible, really. That's why I think they need government money.
I hope that this will be a temporary blip, and that BASW's going
slightly somewhere else but can come back on board fairly soon.
Chair: That's a very positive view. Edward,
do you want to come back on that?
Q10 Mr Timpson: Briefly, about the
National College, do you know how much it's cost so far with the
interim development of the college? Do you have any idea what
money's been spent?
Moira Gibb: Not very much, I would
say. Our officials can let you know.
It's more a question of people's time and effort. Is that what
you're asking us to calculate?
Q11 Mr Timpson: Yes. I want to know how
much has been spent on the development of the college to date.
Following that, if you could find that out, that would be wonderful.
We have the General Social Care Council. Did you consider using
that body to set up the college, bearing in mind that it already
exists, rather than creating another body for the college?
Moira Gibb: We did have a number
of discussions with GSCC about this issue. The chair of GSCC is
very clear that a regulatory body has to work on behalf of the
public, not on behalf of social workers and social work, as we
would be asking them to do. I know there are different models
in different parts of the United Kingdom where they manage some
of that challenge. Again, I think it's right to go the route we've
gone, which says that regulation is one thing acting on behalf
of the public. The professional body is acting on behalf of social
work and social workers, and it has a different remit. I think
it would be very difficult, given that one of the key things we
were asking the National College to do was to have a programme
around the public image of social work, for the regulator to take
that on and do it in the way I think it needs to be done.
Q12 Mr Timpson: While we're talking
about regulation, you've also proposed a new regulatory framework.
When looking at the current regulations, guidelines and paperwork
that social workers on the front line have to face on a day-to-day
basis, are there any of those guidelines or frameworksthe
red tapethat you feel are particularly unhelpful to social
workers in trying to carry out their job as it currently stands?
Which would you consider could be done away with or reformed to
make it easier for social workers to perform their role?
Moira Gibb: We live in a bureaucratic
age. One person's unnecessary bureaucracy is another person's
protection. I think the situation is that employers, probably,
rather than front-line practitioners, are less in tune with the
responsibilities of the GSCC in relation to social workers, and
that we're not getting the benefit of having that regulatory body
to full effect. Employers aren't using it well enough, because
of course the public don't understand how it works and don't have
confidence in it, I think. That is how it would appear to us.
Someone said to me, "Why did the health service get off so
lightly in Haringey compared to social workers, Moira?" The
answer is that people understand that health professionals are
regulated professionals, whereas they don't understand that in
relation to social work. It seems to me, again, that it's about
making bodies there work better and being clear that there is
a confidence issue to be dealt with as well. I think it's confidence
of employers, and then also the confidence of the public that
the GSCC needs to be clear it's got.
Q13 Mr Timpson: In terms of paperwork,
can I give you two examples of what social workers were complaining
to me about as recently as last week? One example is the time
they spend in front of their computer filling in what they have
to do for the integrated children's system. Another example was
the amount of time they spend on an initial assessment. They feel
that there are copious amounts of information which, on the face
of it, seem perfectly legitimate but have absolutely no bearing
on the decision that they're making on whether to intervene or
not at that stage. Have you considered in any more detail, other
than a prosaic look, the amount of paperwork with which social
workers have to contend? Have you gone into more detail about
some of the practices, such as those I have just described, that
social workers face and considered making recommendations either
now or in the future about whether those practices should be sustained
in their current form?
Moira Gibb: I think I probably
misunderstood your earlier question. I thought you were talking
about bureaucracy imposed by the GSCC. In relation to the bureaucracy
in the system, our earliest report coincided with the publication
of Lord Laming's second report, and at that point we also looked
particularly at the children's information system. We had, and
still get, lots of evidence that that system is felt to be a hugely
bureaucratic burden for front-line practitioners. I think that
DCSF has recognised that it pursued a wrong ambition in trying
to drive through a form of practice through the use of IT. She
has gone now, but Karen Buck asked about what I wanted to see
in 10 years'
Chair: Wonderfully replaced.
Moira Gibb: Indeed; seamlessly.
I think that DCSF has recognised that confidence that social workers
were professionals whose judgment was highly valuable, and that
you did not want to impair their judgment by directing them through
a bureaucratic system. DCSF has said that it wants to see improvements
and has withdrawn some of the requirements that it had around
that system. But it is taking local authorities some time to respond,
partly because it is so intimately tied up with their whole IT
platform and because they have learned, I think, to be directed
rather than to think for themselves. It is a bit like the top-down
having been removed, but people therefore needing to think for
themselves to fill that space, and it is, of course, expensive
changing IT systems. Certainly, what people have said to us is
that it would be unwise to throw it all out and try to start again,
but it has taken some time for front-line practitioners to feel
that the burden has been lifted in any way.
Q14 Chair: My director of children's
services, Alison O'Sullivan, who will be known to you, said very
strongly that the difficult balance in all this is that there
are a lot of data you collect that you don't know you're going
to use if you're going to be effective. It's easier to say, "Look,
wipe away all this form-filling", but if you don't have the
datasets, you can be inhibited in doing the job effectively, can't
Moira Gibb: Yes, I think so. I
think that we probably do not invest enough in thinking about
what information we need to look back on and reflect ontrends,
and what we learn about particular types of casesand feeding
that evidence in to practice development. But, as I say, the model
of requiring a particular form of practice through driving an
IT model has been demonstrated, and DCSF would acknowledge, I
think, that that was not the model that worked. People want to,
and have to, use their judgment in the complex environments in
which they work, and dictating through an IT system breeds dissatisfaction,
rather than good judgment.
Q15 Chair: A certain Government Minister
recently got into hot water, or some warm water anyway, because
he expressed the opinion that some police officers preferred staying
in the warm to being at the front end. I shall mention no names.
In our evidence, we found that if you have social workers who
are firstly not that well trained, on not the best of courses,
and then their placement is inappropriatewe met students
who were placed in GPs' surgeries for goodness' sakeand
once they get into a children's services department, they are
poorly supervised and managed. They lack confidence to go out
there at the very sharp end, which is not comfortable, dealing
with some of the most challenging families in our country. Rather
than being in the warm, putting the data into their computer,
they could be on the doorstep with some pretty rugged individuals.
Moira Gibb: I think you were very
robust about the importance of placements and being trained by
social workers, and that absolutely chimed with our experience
that social work had sold the pass in allowing social workers
to have placements with all kinds of people and with very limited
oversight from a trained social worker. Human nature would suggest
that both assertionsabout the place and social workersare
true, but people would say that this very rigid system dictates
that they can't finish something until they've entered all the
information. The poor design of some of the systems made things
worse, so that you couldn't cut and paste and follow things. I
don't know about you, but I think we've got to see that recordingsitting
in front of a computer, as I do, or sitting in front of a bit
of paper or a personis of value, as you say, and probably
of more value than we recognise. But at the time, the work is
more important than the recording of it, and we've got to get
those two things in balance, haven't we?
Q16 Fiona Mactaggart: On your point
about where you find yourself thinking bestthis is quite
an important issue, particularly for people at the beginning of
their careerthinking on your own is a little scary, whether
you're in front of a computer screen or a bit of paper. One thing
that makes you think is a mentor or an experienced colleague who
can ask you the right questions and whom you can have conversations
with. Are we confident that there are structures that guarantee
those conversations and mentoring relationshipsif not necessarily
a named mentorearly on in social work?
Moira Gibb: Not at the moment.
Again, there is inconsistency. That is why we put in a recommendation
about supervision. It is at the core of social work that time
in supervision is about helping you to think and rethink some
of the assumptions you might have made. Progress needs to be made
on assuring social workers of that time and space. The other thing
that people said to us was that the team was very important as
well. We should recognise that people get informal supervision,
support and help, and that they get challenge and mentoring from
colleagues, as well as their line manager. We are clear that managerial
supervision was one thing, but that supervision for reflection
time was incredibly important to help people learn from what they
were doing and to make the right judgments about the situations
Chair: Edward, did I cut across you?
Do you want to come in?
Q17 Mr Timpson: I'm sure you're aware
of this from all the work that you've done, but one problem that
you have at the moment is that social workers gain experience
and become valued members of the social work team, but then get
moved upthe aspiration is such that they get moved upinto
management. The team loses that person's social work experience,
which the newly qualifieds can't then learn from. How do you propose
that we go about trying to redefine that arrangement? In Hackney,
for instance, they have social work units where they try to keep
a senior social worker, although that might not be right everywhere.
How do we prevent people from going into management, from becoming
agency workers because it is less pressurised and they can move
around and make more independent decisions, or from going off
into independent social work because it is better paid and, again,
they have more freedom and less stress than social workers in
Moira Gibb: You're absolutely
right. Retention comes before recruitment. It's incredibly important
that we recognise that the most important thing we do is retain
the people we've got currently. We said there was a need for a
national career grade to reflect what teaching and nursing have
done. It's possible to have an alternative ladder to go up as
a nurse or a teacher, but that isn't possible in social work currently.
It may be possible in one or two places, but it needs to be possible
elsewhere, because you want that expertise available at the front
line. I have been very pleased, because this is counter-cultural
in local government, that the LGA and the employers in local government
have recognised that as an important step and something that they
need to work with the local authority to be able to implement.
It is absolutely essential. Obviously, you want social workers
to go into management as well, so they are that front-line supervisor,
but you also want the opportunity for people to stay and practice.
That is what most people come in to do, but people want that recognition
and that improved pay. We have to have that career grade. We had
a nice chart in our report that highlighted the difference between
teaching, nursing and social work. It is possible in those professions;
therefore, it ought to be perfectly possible for social work as
well. It goes back to that confidence and the valuing of the professional
social worker. If you don't value it, why would you bother creating
a career structure that kept it? We were very clear that we were
talking about whole-system reform. Nothing was quite right. Lots
of things were okay but lots of things needed considerable improvement.
You needed to improve the practice, the placement opportunities
and the training in the universities. You then needed to value
social workers, so that they stayed doing it and you had circular
as it were.
Q18 Mr Timpson: One of the other
things that newly qualified social workers were saying to me was
that, during their training period, there wasn't much practical
input into what actually, when you become a social worker, you
have to face. As we know, you have to face some pretty difficult
situations in highly charged atmospheres, often. They were saying,
"Well, we never actually sat down with a paediatrician and
they didn't explain to us what certain bruises or injuries may
indicate. We never sat down with a family lawyer"I
confess to being one"and shown how the court process
works, because we go and give evidence in court and we've never
even been inside a courtroom." Those are all the practical
measures that make you better prepared for what's in store for
you when you go on to the front line. Is that something that you
advocate in the work that you've done? We were talking about collaboration
in our earlier evidence session on something completely different.
Do you advocate collaboration, for all those other agencies involved
in child social care and child protection, to ensure that the
information is soaked up by newly qualified social workers by
the time that they hit the front line, rather than having to learn
as they are on the job, which they will do anyway, but from a
better starting point?
Moira Gibb: We haven't been very
clear about what a newly qualified social worker ought to be able
to do, and again, educators and employers need to be clear in
their understanding of each other and what they're going to do.
The contribution of the placement experience, which is considerable,
and the academic experience need to knit together, rather than
miss each other. What happens at the moment, it seems to me, is
that one assumes that the other is doing that kind of practical
training and, therefore, we're wholly dependent on the placement
that a student gets. We've talked about how difficult it is. We
just don't have the quality and quantity of placements that we
need at the moment. That is how I was trained; we had input from
paediatricians and family lawyers. Having talked to family lawyers,
the opportunities for them to contribute to the training and the
opportunities for universities to fund some of those external
opportunities mean that everybody's under a bit of pressure. It
seems to me to be essential to do that, and that is what students
want to do: reflect on how it ought to work in practice and how
it works on placementwhat's the difference and why are
they different? They need to have a good understanding of both
the academic part and the practical part.
Q19 Mr Timpson: So in the coming
months, as the development of the college moves forward, what
involvement is your Task Force going to have in ensuring that
that type of experience is the one that people wanting to go into
social work get?
Moira Gibb: The Task Force has
ended. I am the only one who has managed to get a continuing role,
as chair of the Reform Board. The Reform Board is different in
that it is a lot of organisations and institutionsabout
20that have come together to contribute to implementing
the recommendations of the Task Force. There is not an ongoing
role for the Task Force, other than for me. I feel personally
responsible to ensure that what we wanted to see happen actually
happens, rather than a different interpretation of it. There is
an education sub-group from the Reform Board that is jointly chaired
by a professor of social work and an assistant director from the
children's services, and they are ensuring that people are coming
together and sharing that understanding of what needs to change.
1 Note by witness: Herewith further details
on the funding so far committed to support the establishment of
the College of Social Work. This work is independent of the Social
Work Reform Board and is being guided by a development group that
draws representation from across the social work sector, with
logistical support provided by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
I understand that the group has agreed a process of consultation,
appointments and business planning to establish the college as
an independent legal entity by spring 2011. Officials inform me
that the Departments of Health and Children, Schools and Families
are each making available £2.5 million to support this process
and that they agreed up to £282,385 for activity in the 2009-10
financial year. Back
Witness correction: Rather than circular improvement I
intended to say "you had system improvement". Back