Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
29 MARCH 2010
Q20 Mr Timpson: What is the sub-group
Moira Gibb: It is called the Education
Sub-Groupvery dull, I am afraid.
Q21 Mr Timpson: Is it affiliated
to the Department?
Moira Gibb: No, it is a sub-group
of the Reform Board. The Reform Board is supported by the Joint
Social Work Unit, which supported the Task Force, so there is
continuity there. Many organisations are contributing to the work.
We have met three times already. The Reform Board commissioned
this work through sub-groups, so more people are getting involved
than simply those 20 people. For example, we have another chief
executive chairing the employers sub-group. We are bringing together
lots of people. If everybody is talking about it and doing something
in their own authority, we will have more change happening than
if we wait for another recommendation from the Reform Board.
Q22 Mr Timpson: Who is deciding who
is involved in the sub-groups, and who are they reporting to?
How can we find out what they are doing and what difference they
Moira Gibb: The Reform Board has
the overall responsibility to oversee the implementation. We are
dependent on the support of the joint unit, which is in the gift
of the two Departmentsthe Department of Health and the
Department for Children, Schools and Families. We hope that that
will continue because it is very hard for a bunch of people who
have other jobs to do that work without support. We are publishing
our minutes online, and the reports from the sub-groups are online
as well. We have a website.
Q23 Mr Timpson: Go for it, give it
to us. What is the address?
Moira Gibb: I will send it to
Mr Timpson: The reason why I am interested
is that I don't want what happened after the first stage of the
report to happen again. Essentially, very little progress was
made. We want to see some discernible progress and that the report
is being properly monitored and implemented by those who have
a vested interest in doing so.
Q24 Chair: Some of the time lines
are a bit worrying, aren't they?
Moira Gibb: Some of them are long.
We recognise that it is very important that some things begin
to happen soon. On the other hand, some reforms need to be well
developed and understood. Various parts of the partnership that
need to make them happen must be involved in making the reforms
sensible and doable. We cannot change the assessed year in practice
at the end of the degree; we cannot introduce that suddenly, when
students are in the middle of their degree. It has to be clear
when they start their degree that that is what they will have
to do. We also need to know how it will work and how the assessment
will work, so some of that will have to be piloted. The Reform
Board is not an entity, so it will have to work through the joint
unit. The resources to support this over a longer period are incredibly
Chair: Paul wanted to come in on something
Fiona said earlier.
Q25 Paul Holmes: It was the whole
motherhood and apple pie thing. Fiona was talking about the importance
of the mentoring role for the social worker. How did we ever lose
that? My wife was a social worker for a long time and a team leader.
Every time I went to a pub with her and her colleagues, it was
all they ever talked about. It was an automatic part of the job.
When I was in teaching, it was the same. We had a department leader
and everybody talked to each other. How have we moved away from
that so that we have to say we should be doing this? Of course
we should be doing it.
Moira Gibb: That is a good question
and I am not sure that I am able to answer it. Part of it was
relying on the information coming from the IT system and assuming
that you didn't have to spend all your time as a team manager
talking to your social workers to know what was going on. "What's
happening with the Joneses? Have you been to see them?" You
had it in front of you, therefore you perhaps had a false sense
of security. Then, of course, the demands on those managers got
greater in lots of different ways, so that the time that they
had available was reduced. I remember one person saying, "My
manager is committed to supervision and certainly wants to give
me supervision. It's in the diary, but then she's called away
to court, or to another meeting, or to something else." So,
I think that it's kind of a boiling frog problem, really, that
people didn't notice they'd lost it until it was too late. Therefore,
we have to go back and reinvent it.
Q26 Chair: When we were taking evidence
on this, it seemed to usit certainly seemed to methat
some of the evidence that we were given suggested a problem. Here
were people who were recruited to be social workers. We met some
wonderful social workers during this inquiry. Many social workers
do a wonderful job and do jobs that most of us would not want
to do in tough circumstances, for pay that we would not want to
earn. Set that to one side, however. There is another aspectthat
those social workers were not trained as managers. You just wonder.
You have these talented social workers. They were not trained
as managers, but it seemed to us that they had quite a management
role. Should there not be a core of much better management within
the centre of their department, which would relieve them of some
of the burden that they obviously feel they have?
Moira Gibb: I tend to think that
social workers do make good managers, actually, because you've
got to be pretty tough. On the other hand, that model operates
in the health service and people would speculate as to whether
it works well or not so well. When I have talked to people who
have been in difficulties in their children's services in particular,
when you ask them what went wrong, again it was often the absence
of a senior person. For example, the assistant director responsible
for social care didn't have a social work background. So there
is a challenge to make sure that they have the management development
that they need to manage at each stage, and to encourage more
of them to stay in practice. But I'm not sure that it is fundamentally
different from lots of other places. For example, head teachers
are fundamentally managers now, are they not? I also have to say,
with all due respect to your Committee, that lawyers manage other
lawyers, but again their talents don't lie in management. We all
have to learn these other skills.
Q27 Chair: For my sins, I happen
to be the chairman of the parliamentary management group. There
are skills about management that don't just happen. There are
skills that you learn and there are skills that you practise,
and they are skills that will atrophy if you don't replenish them
with continuous professional development. You are quite right;
there are other professions that are similar. But we listened
to people talk about their experience, especially when we met
the trainees who had not long been in the job. They couldn't look
behind. Management is a very complex thing. It involves prioritisation
of your work. What do you do when you're overloaded? How do you
cope with the balancing of those priorities? It just seemed to
us that that was a bit of a gap.
Moira Gibb: Although our focus
was expected to be on the front line, we made a particular recommendation
about managers. Often, the most important person in a social worker's
life is their first line manager. We said that there needed to
be a bit of development for those managers, and not just for the
first line managers. One of our very precious 15 recommendations
is just about that. Management is important, it isn't automatic
and some people are better at it than others. But that sense of
continuous professional development should happen whether you
stay in the line of continuing practice or in management. Otherwise
we are moving backwards, if we are not improving.
Q28 Fiona Mactaggart: On the issue
of management and the things that you talk about in terms of public
understanding, I was thinking about that in relation to a constituency
case. Actually, I had an e-mail from the constituent this morning.
I had dealt with him before, when his daughter made an allegation
of abuse against him and his wife to a teacher. They were arrested
and held by the police, and the case file was sent to the Crown
Prosecution Service. His e-mail today asked me whether the fact
that it took five months for there to be no prosecution was because
he was a Muslim. There is an issue about public understanding
for the people who are involved in this system that isn't really
addressed enough by your report. We need to fix it and empower
management in the social work service to ensure that other bits
of the systemthe school in this case, or the Crown Prosecution
Service and so ondon't let things progress slowly, because
the children were expensively in care for some weeks following
the allegations. It seems that there's a gap here, that we haven't
got a tough enough system to fix and the management skills that
can make other bits of the system work fast enough, which could
communicate to people who are caught up in the system, whether
they are guilty or innocent, so that they know what's going on
around them, and therefore perhaps achieve some prevention work
for families who might be at the edge of abuse, for example.
Moira Gibb: We worked hard to
try to ensure that we were hearing service users' and carers'
voices in the work that we did. One of the things that we produced
in trying to help that public understanding was a description
of social work, which we produced in an interim report, encouraging
people to explain what they did and how they did it. But I think
that what you're really touching on is influence, and a profession
that's undervalued is likely to have less influence. Social workers
certainly feel that their voices aren't loud enough in some of
those multi-disciplinary environments, and in other institutions.
It is a very important skillthat sense of an advocate on
behalf of a child or the wider family, to make the system work
better for people. It's often the service they most value. At
the event on Monday night that I was talking about, we heard the
story of a service user in a hospice. He was unwell and not able
to come, but the value of the social worker making things happenknocking
on doors and getting through themfor him in his vulnerable
state was incredibly important. Again, it isn't necessarily easy
to understand what that is. If you haven't got confidence in and
understanding of your own role, you're quite easily shut out,
so I think it's very important.
Q29 Mr Timpson: The Social Work Task
Force trying to gain more influence and get a better ear for what
it does often leads back to the area of leadership. You deal with
that in a chapter in your report, which predominantly deals with
the issue of the college. But within each local authority, you
have to have leadership in children's services where it involves
social care. Are you happy or confident with the current structure
in local authorities when it comes to social services, where we
have a more generic director of children's services normally?
We have the children's trust and the local children's safeguarding
board, and we have a portfolio holder in the cabinet for that
area. Sometimes it's difficult to know where the decisions are
being made and who is providing the leadership. Do you think there
is a better way of doing thisfor instance, having someone
in the local authority whose sole responsibility is for children's
social care rather than it being part of the overall structure
of children's services? Are children's trusts doing what we think
they're meant to do, although we're not always entirely sure?
Chair: That's a big double-barrelled
Mr Timpson: There are a lot of questions
there, but I should like to pick out children's trusts and the
director of children's serviceswhether it's the right sort
Moira Gibb: I think it is essential
that there is better leadership. The college is one form of leadership,
but the leadership needs to happen in different places. Certainly,
lots of the social workers we met who work in mental health trusts,
for example, were concerned that often they would be working in
a team and they didn't have anywhere to go. I think there is scope
for having a professional social work leader that supports social
workers working in different settings. The director of children's
services has an overarching responsibility for children's services,
which includes children's social work. We've encouraged directors
of children's services to work with their adult social work colleagues
on some of the work, because they won't have the capacity to do
it just for children's social workers or adult social workersbut
they could do it jointly. I think the CWDC, Skills for Care and
others should try to collaborate more around social work so there
is only one newly qualified social work programme, as it were,
rather than one for adults and one for children's services, and
seeing the unifying forces there. That will give leadership. But
it needs to be in different places. Universities themselves need
to give more leadership. We heard only last week that there is
only one school of social work on its own now in Englandthey're
all combined in other different settings, but again, the assumption
that it will thrive in that environment is a risky one. We need
to give attention to where social work is promoted, supported
Q30 Mr Timpson: Children's trusts.
What are they for? What are they doing? Are they helping in improving
Chair: We found it difficult. The Sure
Start Children's Centres report came out this morning, and we're
all very proud of it. One thing that Edward's rightly identified
and is trying to get out of you, I hope, is just how well children's
trusts are working.
Moira Gibb: I haven't got evidence
about that. We didn't take evidence about children's trusts.
Q31 Chair: Have you got one in your
Moira Gibb: Yes. I think it works
well, but there are many challenges to it, and making sure that
it isn't just the local authority, but that the other players
are as active and committed, is important. We didn't take any
evidence on that.
Q32 Chair: Do your health people
come to yours?
Moira Gibb: We've had a lot of
change in our primary care trust recently, and there is a lot
of change in London, but yes, they do. But continuity is always
Chair: It sounds as though they come
Q33 Mr Timpson: Do you think adult
social care and children's social care should be inspected by
the same inspectorate?
Moira Gibb: It is important, whoever
is doing the inspection, that there is support for the profession
of social work within that. Certainly, we are talking about the
inspectorates looking at the support that employers give to the
development of professional social workers in their work, rather
than assuming it's all the same. But in terms of the Task Force,
we didn't have a view about that.
Q34 Mr Timpson: I'm just looking
at your CV and the huge amount of experience that you have in
social work and social services generally. Do you have a view
about whether Ofsted should be inspecting children's services
or whether CSCI should be doing it?
Moira Gibb: I think we should
all be cautious about assuming that structural change is the answer.
Mr Timpson: We heard that in the last
Moira Gibb: You were talking about
management earlier and the skills in managing. Creating a new
organisation demands a huge amount of effort and energy, and it
takes some time for those organisations to be working effectively;
so I haven't studied that question really, and I started off,
when I was first asked to chair the Task Force, thinking I knew
what the answer was, but I changed my mind a number of times on
that journey, because of the evidence that we received. So it
would be a top-of-the-head response, which I don't think is valuable.
Chair: But you are director of a very
important London borough.
Moira Gibb: Very high-performing.
Can I get that on the record, please?
Q35 Chair: A very high-performing
London borough. You must look around in London, and your colleagues
in some parts of the countrythe Ofsted inspections sometimes
in the recent past don't seem as if they exactly knew what they
were doing. They were sitting there and gave evidence to this
Committee that they could do it all by desktop exercise. They
could evaluate. They could say, "Good in part; outstanding
in others"all done on the desktop. No visits, no face-to-face.
What kind of inspection is that? Were you comfortable with that;
that you could be evaluated as a directorate of children's services,
with an inspectorate that was told not to visit?
Moira Gibb: I think as a society
we'll have to decide what the things are that the public, in particular,
want assurance on, because obviously, with resources becoming
significantly tighter, we will have to apply that resource in
the right places. I think the public are obviously very concerned
about the quality of services to the most vulnerable, but I wouldn't
want to be drawn on commenting on Ofsted, because, again, it wasn't
something we had a lot of evidence about. We have, anecdotally,
of course; people express anxiety
Q36 Chair: Moira, I think you're
in the wrong profession; perhaps the diplomatic corps, or running
the Foreign Office. Your three musketeers behind you are grinning
at that. Could you tell us where your three musketeers are from?
Moira Gibb: The joint unit.
Q37 Chair: Are they seconded by the
Moira Gibb: Yes. We have secondees
from the Department of Health and from DCSF, but also from other
bodies that have an interest in thisSkills for Care, for
example, and othersand that's been very valuable. And I
have to say that, again, the Department of Health and the DCSF
have stuck together. Lots of things have been pulling them apart
in these times, but they have stuck together, I think, very well
on this support to the Task Force.
Chair: I'm glad we managed to get them
Q38 Mr Timpson: One last question,
if I may. The social worker I mentioned I spoke to last week is
a young man, two years newly qualified, working in a London borough,
and from his demeanour, his manner, his knowledge and his clear
ability when I met him, he's not someone the social work force
wants to lose, but he's thinking of quitting because of the pressure
he's under in his job. He's been given cases that are way beyond
his capability at the level he's at, although he aspires to that
level. One of the things he said to me was, "One of the things
we struggle with is that those in authority, who make decisions
about where we go and what we do, don't really understand what
we do. What they need to do is come out with us to a house and
stand there in a room when you have an irate parent, a drunk parent,
a potentially physically abusive parent, a very distressed parentwhatever
it may be in those circumstances. They don't really seem to understand
the pressures that we're under." Do you think it would be
worth consideringand I ask you to take this backin
a small way trying to bridge that gap that was described to me,
and getting all local councillors, and even, dare I say it, Members
of Parliament, to go out, like they do when they are offered to
go out on a fire engine or in a police car, and spend some time
with a social worker, out on the job, to see exactly what it involves?
Moira Gibb: I certainly think
that that front-line understanding is incredibly important. It
conveys to the social workers that people think that the job they
do is valuable. I haven't mentioned the health check the Task
Force included in its final report. At the first meeting of the
Reform Board, we said that we wanted to go ahead and encourage
all employers, but particularly local authorities as they have
the most challenge, to carry out this health check with their
front-line practitioners. I would hope that the young man you
are talking about would be encouraged by being involved in that
health check, and that the local authority would take very seriously
how it was going to make his life less difficult, and therefore
that it would be possible for him to continue in practice. The
health check letter will be going out any minute now to all employers.
We are trying to ensure that all employers of social workers do
it. It is not to say that a case load of 16 is the absolute for
a team; but in any team you should be able to say what is a reasonable
case load for it. So if you work with children with disabilities,
for example, and parents want to stay in touch with the social
worker and not have a different social worker each time, a case
load of 40 might be appropriate because you're not working with
them; but if you are in front-line child protection a case load
of 10 or 12 might be much more appropriate. We are asking, through
this health check, for people to be publicly saying, "We
think that this is the case load we would aim for, and these are
some of the practical steps we are going to put in place to try
to get closer to that case load limit."
Q39 Chair: How are we going to protect
social workers, or even prepare them for the ghastly media that
we have in this country? There is just appalling coverage of anything.
We saw it in Haringey and we've seen it Birmingham. It isn't that
dreadful incidents don't happendreadful child murders that
we all regretbut every bit of evidence given to this Committee
tells us that in this country and in other countries with that
level of mental ill health and of drug and alcohol addiction,
and so much else, no one will be able to eradicate this entirely.
We know that. We know it from international experience in Denmark
and other places. What I call "cheap-jack" politicians
say, "This must never happen again"we saw that
in recent months and we had it with Haringeybut we know
that that is deluding the public and damaging professional social
workers. What's your view? What can we do to protect social workers
from that kind of politician and that kind of journalism?
Moira Gibb: The thing that would
protect them best is the highest quality of practice. That is
what we are trying to achieve. Of course, the riposte to "Children
will die", or "Why are children known to you, social
services, dying?", is what the employer, the agency, needs
to be able to deal with. I recognise that the terrible stress
and anxiety that the media treatment of these cases causes everyone,
not just front-line practitioners, is very high. Going back to
our health check, I think it is an opportunity for agencies to
say, "We are very stretched. This is the ambition, and this
is where we are, and it's going to take us a number of years."
The media never like to hear that something is going to take five
years, but that's the truth. We cannot fix what we've got at the
moment overnight; it will take some considerable time. The advertising
campaign that the Children's Workforce Development Council has
conducted produced lots and lots of interest, but it will take
some considerable time for that to flow into qualified social
workers with the right kind of experience. Of course, the question
at that point will be whether people have money to employ more.
It is very wasteful to train more and more people and then let
them go after two years to do something less stressful. We need
to engage with the media and talk to them about it, and keep up
that openness, giving them access and an understanding of the
wide range of cases that people are working with. I think the
public see "that child there" as the only case the social
worker is working on, and we are not able to explain that they
have 15 other quite similar but equally difficult cases they are
struggling with and trying to balance. Of course, they also make
mistakes. They are not all as well trained as I would want them
to be, but there is an honesty about those mistakes when they
happen, rather than people trying not to recognise that things
have gone wrong. It is a terrible conundrum. Nurses can kill their
patients, but they are still highly regarded by the public. It
is that absence of understanding and knowledge of social workers
in their private, personal lives that means that the public take
one social worker's mistake as damning the whole profession.
3 Note by witness: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/swrb/ Back