Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Louise O’Sullivan an Independent Reviewing Officer/Independent Chairperson based at Staffordshire Families First (CSWB 32)

Children and Social Work Bill Consultation Jan 2017

1) I have been a qualified social worker for 17 years and an IRO for 11 years.

2) I urge the Committee to not allow the exemption clauses to be reinstated on the basis that Children’s Services like many departments are under constant pressure to reduce spending and services are already stretched. Allowing more ‘creative use to test different ways of working’ will only result in more children and young adults being put at risk. I am all for creative use of resources but there still needs to be basic statutory requirements and guidance to work to. Statutory guidance does not stop children dying or being abused but it reduces the risk of children becoming invisible and marginalised.

3) A common theme of serious case reviews is poor communication and failures of agencies to act; demonstrating that guidance and policy doesn’t save lives. But it does provide a framework for professionals and agencies to work with and uniformity for children and families in terms of expectations across England and Wales. Another theme of serious case reviews is the importance of preventative services, the introduction of Children’s Centre and Sure Start Centres brought with them a wealth of resources that were accessible to all. But in the last three years these services have all steadily declined and the threshold for accessing services has raised and there is more emphasis now on working only with targeted families.

4) The reference to the ‘the BIG Community’ is in my opinion naïve as services are increasingly stretched and charities that were once relied upon are struggling to survive.

5) Care Leavers have access to support but the services available to them are reducing. Over 25% of the homeless are care leavers and increasingly looked after children are getting to 18 and still haven’t been offered housing, resulting in them having to register as homeless. If statutory duties are removed then these young people will be even more vulnerable.

6) I work for a ‘good authority’ but like many it has had to be creative and we have seen amalgamation of services, cuts in health visiting and school nursing service all of which impact on services to vulnerable children. Child protection conferences are multi agency conferences but increasingly we are having less and less agencies in attendance as they don’t have staff to attend unless actively involved. Health visitor’s visits to children have been reduced and families can opt out of some visits. Health Visitors are key professionals in children’s lives and often picked up the issues early. If risky resistant families ‘opt out’ then these children will fall through the net. Particularly as Children’s centres and Preventative services are not there to identify them.

7) Social work teams are over stretched and struggling to cope, some are reliant on agency staff in order to meet statutory requirements. If those requirements reduce children may be lost in the system and placed at risk without checks and balances in place.

8) Children on child protection plans are considered the most at risk children and are usually prioritised. But children in care are vulnerable, often have a high level of need and require permanency. The statutory requirements and guidance is what helps drives forward plans, reduces drift and delay for children and ensures some equity across the country in terms of services. Without it local authorities would not be so easily challenged and held accountable.

January 2017

 

Prepared 5th January 2017