Children and Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Dr Anna Gupta, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Royal Holloway University of London (CSWB 64)

This submission refers to new clauses 2-9 (testing new ways of working) and Part 2, Social work regulation (and including new clause 10- ‘Improvement Standards’)

· I hold a social work qualification, an MA in Child Protection studies, and a PhD in Social Work. I am a registered social worker with the HCPC and a member of BASW. I have for the past thirty years been involved in social work practice, education and research.

· Since 1999 I have worked as a lecturer and then senior lecturer in social work at Royal Holloway, University of London. In this role I have taught on both qualifying and post-qualifying social work programmes, and undertaken research with professionals and families involved in the child protection system. In addition to my academic work I have continued to undertake independent social work/ expert witness work in the family courts.

· I welcome the clauses in the Bill that further clarify and strengthen the rights to services of vulnerable children and their families and carers.

My specific comments and reservations about the Bill are as follows:

New clauses 2-9 (testing new ways of working)

1. I am a member of the Together for Children network and am entirely in agreement with the submission made by Article 39. This submission was developed as the result of wide consultation amongst the social work profession, care leavers, academics, children’s rights advocates and charities working with children and young people. I have not seen any research evidence to support the need for exemptions of this nature and am not aware of comparable experiments in other countries. The case in support of the exemptions cites the need to encourage innovation; however The Localism Act 2011 already gives wide scope for innovation by local authorities. It is not clear how innovation is currently being stifled, and the DfE has continued to invest heavily in its Innovation Programme

2. The new clauses 2‐9 pose a severe and unprecedented threat to the protections granted by right to vulnerable children and young people living in England. The concept of testing different ways of working through deregulation in particular localities has not been subject to any Green or White paper consultation. I do not consider that the revisions address the objections to the original clauses raised by a very wide range of organisations and the concerns raised in the debate in the House of Lords. The exemptions clauses, if introduced, would mean that different statute applied from one local authority to another. Children and families living close by but across a local council boundary would have different rights and the councils would have differing statutory responsibilities. Courts would cover local authority areas where the law, as amended by the Secretary of State, was not uniform and consistent. It will generate a confusing lottery of rights for children and their families, with questionable value in relation to being able to generalise the findings across different organisational contexts after the trials.

3. Importantly the exemption clauses offer nothing to resolve the entrenched problems in children’s social care provision in the context of cuts to welfare benefits, family support services and local authority budgets at a time when child protection referrals and care proceedings are continuing to rise. Social workers are struggling with too high caseloads within a risk averse, blame culture fostered by the ever present fear of Ofsted inspections, and media and political condemnation. I, like Article 39, fear local deregulation is part of a wider agenda of moving Children’s Social Care services from local authority control, and in the process lessening democratic accountability for the protection and promotion of the rights of our society’s most vulnerable children.

I ask the Public Bill Committee to preserve the universal basis of children’s social care law and reject the ‘exemption’ clauses 2-9 (testing new ways of working)

Part 2, Social work regulation (and including new clause 10- ‘Improvement Standards’)

4. The changes made to these clauses during the Bill’s passage through the Lords are to be welcomed - specifically the move from setting up the Regulator as an Executive Agency of Government to it becoming a NDPB. However greater clarity is required to ensure the profession’s confidence in the Regulator. The wording in Clause 35 refers only to the ‘Regulator’ and to ‘advisors’ who may be appointed by the regulator. It is important that it is made clear in the wording of the Bill that the Regulator will be supported by a Council, and that the Council is comprised of members of the social work profession, social work educators, service users and lay people. This needs to be specified in a Schedule setting up the new body and this should be available in draft during the passage of the Bill.

5. It is not clear why the new Clause 10 is a necessary part of the Bill and why it has been introduced after the Bill has been scrutinised by the Lords, and when a consultation on the Assessment and Accreditation has just been initiated. No clear case has been made for its inclusion in this Bill. There is no indication how this clause will support the objective of the profession setting and owning its own standards, as argued for by the House of Commons Education Committee on social work reform. It would seem that the Government no longer considers it necessary that social work has an independent professional body that owns, sets and embeds quality standards for the whole profession across all areas of practice.

6. Improved partnership working between government departments and professional bodies was a major recommendation of the Education Select Committee. I believe this clause is premature and ask that it be withdrawn and for further consultation to be undertaken across the sector on the arrangements for, and monitoring of, quality standards for post-qualifying practice across all areas of social work.

January 2017

 

Prepared 9th January 2017