Social work reform Contents

2The role of central government


The implementation of reforms

9.Reform in children and families social work is not new. The last decade has seen a large number of reports, reviews, and reforms of social work. Following the death of Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’) in 2007, the Department for Children, Schools and Families established the Social Work Task Force to improve the overall quality and status of the profession in England. The Task Force—chaired by Dame Moira Gibb, then Chief Executive of Camden Council—made 15 recommendations in its 2009 report, all of which were accepted by Government.12 It focused particularly on a national college for social work, a national career structure, professional supervision, continuing professional development (CPD) and social work education. Responsibility for the implementation of these reforms was given to the Social Work Reform Board.13 In 2010, Professor Eileen Munro was commissioned by the Government to undertake a review of the child protection system in England. Munro’s report, published in 2011, was critical of unnecessary form-filling and bureaucracy in social work and emphasised that relationships with children and families should be at its centre.14 The report also called for the introduction of a Chief Social Worker, Principal Social Workers in each local authority, and the creation of a national college for social work.15 The Government responded positively to the Munro report and accepted almost all its recommendations.16

10.Several pieces of evidence suggested these previous reforms should be given more time to ‘bed in.’ The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) told us these reforms have “variously not been effectively supported, implemented or allowed to mature due to a combination of a lack of will, time and resources” and called for evaluation of the effectiveness of recent reviews.17 Cornwall Council stated:

Many authorities have only recently begun to implement social work reforms and others only partially. Some have not appreciated the interconnectedness of the recommendations. For those that have implemented these reforms and can demonstrate their effectiveness, further reform, overlaid on top of these reforms, are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary.18

Dame Moira Gibb, formerly Chair of both the Social Work Task Force and the Social Work Reform Board, told us:

My recommendation would be not to introduce lots of new things but to support the broad programme that was set out [ … ] and to let things bed down and to evaluate them consistently and to support the outcome they anticipated, to be more objective.19

11.We heard in our private seminar that many representatives were aggrieved at the lack of consultation with the sector on the new reform agenda. Similarly, Samantha Baron, Chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee, asked the Government to “slow down” and work in co-operation with the sector.20 When questioned on this, Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, told us that “hundreds of people” were involved in the development of the current reforms, but agreed if representative bodies were feeling marginalised, there was a need for further consultation.21

12.NSPCC welcomed the proposed reforms, but expressed concerns about the perceived piecemeal emergence of each policy and questioned how each element of the reform agenda meshed together. It called for a roadmap of the current wave of reforms, with implementation criteria to measure the success of the proposals.22

13.We are concerned that the pace of the new reforms could compromise their effectiveness, especially without proper assessment of the degree to which previous reforms have embedded at a local level. Despite the publication of a more detailed policy paper on the new reforms, the implementation timelines are still unclear and there is no reference to previous reforms. The children’s social care sector has been in continuous transformation over recent years without the necessary time to reflect, assess and embed. The latest reforms need to be conducted in partnership with the sector. Local authorities and other employers require sufficient time to understand what is being asked of them and to put in place the necessary changes.

14.The Government should publish a single national reform implementation plan, with clear expectations for local authorities, employers and educators of what needs to be introduced along with achievable timescales. This plan should cover delivery of both previous and new reforms, and a clear mechanism should be put in place to assess the success of the reform agenda by the end of the Parliament.

Departmental co-ordination

15.Social work in England mainly comes under the purview of two Departments: the Department of Health (DH), responsible for adult social care, and the Department for Education (DfE), responsible for children and families social care. Social work is delivered via local government, which means the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) also has a significant role. Responsibility for child protection also covers a wider spectrum of Departments: the welfare policies of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) directly influence children and families, and the Home Office takes the lead on preventing child sexual exploitation and domestic violence. To co-ordinate the work of the Departments, the Child Protection Taskforce was created in June 2015 as a cross-Government unit consisting of twelve Ministers, and chaired by the Secretary of State for Education, with a remit to extend and accelerate reforms to the quality of children and families social work.23

16.We heard concerns in our evidence that the Government was focusing on child protection to the detriment of other aspects of children and families social work. BASW queried why the title of the Taskforce was so narrow, given it was implementing reform throughout children’s social work, and expressed concerns it did not take into account the full range of children and families social work.24 Sue Gerrard, an independent researcher, said that ‘child protection’ is in “principle a broad term referring to protection from all forms of harms, but in practice is generally used to refer to neglect and abuse rather than safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in need.”25 She told us that by adopting this narrow focus, the new reforms could marginalise a significant number of children who qualify as in need.26

Fragmentation: children and adults

17.Several pieces of evidence expressed concerns that DfE and DH were pursuing different agendas for social work. The Local Government Association (LGA) stated that DfE’s memorandum included “little reference to the work of other government departments.”27 In written evidence, the Association of Professors of Social Work (APSW) said they were “concerned that in the last three years there has been an increasing lack of clarity about the direction of government policy, with key departments (DfE and DH) appearing to diverge on a number of issues.”28

18.We were given a number of examples of how the future of children and adult social work appeared to diverge from each other. The proposed accreditation and assessment system, which we will discuss later in this Report, will only be for children and families social workers.29 The Department said “there are no plans to widen the assessment and accreditation process to adult social workers at this time.”30 Both Departments commissioned reviews on social work education in 2014, and they came to different conclusions about the degree of specialisation required.31 The Children and Social Work Bill proposes a new regulator for all social workers, yet its powers will be determined by regulations from the Secretary of State for Education, rather than Health.32 Subsequently, DfE and DH published in June 2016 a policy statement entitled Regulating Social Workers, which revealed Government proposals to establish an executive agency jointly supported by both DH and DfE, but accountable to the Secretary of State for Education.33 DfE has published a social work reform policy paper, but there is no comparable document by DH. The British Association of Social Workers told us this does not reflect the need for “all social workers to be able to provide a level of service to people of all ages.”34 Similarly, the University of Huddersfield said that that the social context in which children and adults live mean that “in order to achieve the best possible outcomes children’s social workers need to know about adults.”35

19.The Minister assured us “there is absolutely no intention of trying to split the profession.”36 Isabelle Trowler told us:

I do not know why it is that people think we are going off in different directions. Of course, there is a really great focus on child and family social work because we are part of children’s social care, but that is because that is a Government priority, as it should be.37

The Chief Social Workers

20.The Munro Review recommended the creation of a national Chief Social Worker to establish a permanent professional presence within Government, taking inspiration from the Chief Medical Officer in DH.38 Munro envisaged that this Chief Social Worker would make clear to Government the realities of social work practice on the front line and their daily challenges to ensure that policies and procedures were rooted in that reality. Munro concluded:

The review considers the scope of a Chief Social Worker spanning both children and adults to offer distinct benefits. These include recognising the interconnectedness of issues facing children and families as well as not unintentionally dividing the social work profession. It would make good sense for this role to report jointly to the Secretaries of State for Health and Education.39

21.The Government instead created two Chief Social Worker positions: one for children and families, reporting to the Secretary of State for Education, and the other for adults, reporting to the Secretary of State for Health. Mr Timpson explained that this decision was made after the initial recruitment to find a single Chief Social Worker was unsuccessful.40 In our private seminar with social work professionals we heard that having two Chief Social Workers led to confusion, and that there was a lack of joined-up working. Professor Ray Jones, a social work academic who oversees child protection improvement in different areas of England and is a former Director of Social Services, told us in oral evidence:

We now have a divide between a chief social worker in the Department for Education, who is very energetic and able and driving a very fast agenda but with no real match across what is intended and wanted within the Department of Health.41

22.Despite the confidence of the Minister and the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, we are concerned that the DfE and DH agendas are not coordinated, and the profession is being pulled in two different directions. There is a pressing need for greater coordination within Government on the future of social work in England. The splitting of the profession into two separate strands has been unhelpfully divisive. The appointment of two Chief Social Workers, apparently against the wishes of the profession, has exacerbated the problem. In addition, Government policy prioritises child protection as demonstrated in the title of the Taskforce, and while this is clearly important, it risks marginalising wider issues in children and families social work such as domestic violence, substance misuse, mental health and learning disabilities.

23.We recommend that there be one Chief Social Worker sitting outside departmental structures, as proposed by the Munro Review. One Chief Social Worker would unify the profession at a national level and encourage joined-up thinking within Government.

12 Social Work Task Force, Building a safe, confident future (November 2009)

13 Department for Education, ‘Social Work Reform Board,’ accessed 09 June 2016

15 Professor Eileen Munro, The Munro Review of Child Protection (May 2011) pp 10-13

16 Department for Education, A child-centred system: the government’s response to the Munro review of child protection, DFE-00064–2011, July 2011

17 British Association of Social Workers (SWR0029) para 2.3

18 Cornwall Council (SWR0028) para 5

19 Q82

20 Q83

21 Q125

22 NSPCC (SWR0037) para 1.3

23 Prime Minister’s Office, ‘PM announces new taskforce to transform child protection,’ 24 June 2015

24 British Association of Social Workers (SWR0029) para 5.4

25 Sue Gerrard (SWR0021) para 7

26 Sue Gerrard (SWR0021) para 8

27 Local Government Association (SWR0012) para 5.2

28 Association of Professors of Social Work (SWR0013) executive summary

29 See paras 48-56

30 Department for Education (SWR0045) para 6

33 Department for Education and Department of Health, Regulating Social Workers: Policy Statement, June 2016

34 British Association of Social Workers, (SWR0029) para 1.5

35 The University of Huddersfield evidence (SWR0031) para 6

36 Q190

37 Q130

38 Professor Eileen Munro, The Munro Review of Child Protection (May 2011) p 121

39 Professor Eileen Munro, The Munro Review of Child Protection (May 2011) para 7.43

40 Q192

41 Q12

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

12 July 2016