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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, on the extension of good practice, we very much want to work closely with the devolved administrations and will wish to keep them informed on any decisions that we make. It will then be up to them to consider what action, if any, they wish to take. If I remember correctly, we certainly took on board lessons throughout the rest of the United Kingdom from the tragic North Wales inquiry in relation to children's homes a couple of years ago.
I cannot say that we have any particular plans to extend the length of time that other professions undertake training. However, it will clearly be necessary to ensure that the training programmes, whether they relate to the police, nurses, doctors or social workers, cover the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Laming.
We need to think about social workers in particular. They have to undertake probably one of the most stressful jobs in the public sector, and are often subjected to a great deal of criticism. The headlines today inevitably focus around the failures of social workers, but the failures were not only theirs. The NHS failed. Those concerned with housing failed. The police failed. The NSPCC failed. We recognise that social workers need to be more professional, to come under the discipline procedures of the General Social Care Council, and need a three-year degree course to raise the stakes and their professional competence. At the same time, it is important to say to the country that the great majority of social workers do a very tough job, and I believe that they do it very well.
The noble Lord is right to pinpoint the great problem that so much guidance has been produced, has not been kept up to date and is inconsistent. Our aim will be to produce consistent guidance in a form that people can readily follow and understand. The aim is consistency, not only between different local authority social service departments. However, I
I understand where the noble Lord is coming from on children's trusts. There is no doubt that wherever one draws the boundaryone can cut the cake in any number of waysthere will always be a boundary issue. Although some people think that we should have a national child protection agency, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, decided against that, for the reasons stated by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. Those are relevant reasons when it comes to the local organisation of services as well.
The advantage of children's trusts is that they will bring in a different range of services, provided by different statutory and voluntary agencies, and will lead to a more integrated approach. However, whatever way the cake is cut, boundary issues will still need to be developed. We will have to ensure that children's trusts work together with the other agencies as well.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I want to ask the Minister two brief questions. As a professional social worker, I can say that most social workers across the country are appalled by the case. We have to recognise that social workers are distressed, and would be as distressed as I am to read the report.
Will the Minister reinforce with all his powers the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we do not go into major structural change? That is the request of social workers across the country. I have spoken to social workers who have talked about turbulence in their work, the inability to get consistency, and being overwhelmed by documentation. I therefore express gratitude about the fact that information is going to be made consistent.
As someone who has spent all their life against the background of childcare and children's services, I welcome children's trusts if they have the continuity to ensure that workers stay with their caseloads. Every time we have restructuring, social workers are moved from the people whom they are helping to another lot of people. Those children then have to make new relationships, and social work is all about relationships. We must have consistency and continuity as we go into any new boundaries. We must not spend a lot of time simply moving desks, but must move practice, training and professionalism.
My second question is about ensuring that quality of service is delivered. I too am shocked about the basic issues on professional need. As we go into yet another change under the commission for social care inspection, will the Minister ensure that inspections look at quality, and that the whole inspection, working with the inspection by the Commission for Health Improvement, looks at those issues in a solid and reliable way?
I agree with the noble Baroness about the impact of major structural change. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, makes some significant proposals in terms of accountability at local level, to try to get over the problems that he identified with some area protection committees. Obviously, we will study them with great care. I fully understand the noble Baroness's point about turbulence.
The commission for social care inspection has a major role to play. Often it will need to act in concert with the health inspectorate and the police inspectorate. We will encourage that in relation to child protection procedures. I have indicated that we will carry out spot checks, which will be jointly undertaken to make sure that the basics are done right.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I want to ask the Minister a question about recommendations 6, 7 and 9, which are directed towards the responsibilities of local authorities and social services. All three recommendations are, according to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, feasible within three years.
The point is that counsellors from various departments of the authorities should work together as a committee. The board to serve that committee should be chaired by the chief executive, and a budget should be identified for the work of the committee. That appears to be an admirable and simple way of improving co-ordination. How does that tie in with the much slower process of establishing children's trusts? If a children's trust is an alternative to those committees, will it have the advantages of those committees? Those advantages are that the chief executive is the responsible reporting officer for that local authority; he is responsible to the government and to his members and he is responsible in the eyes of the Audit Commission.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an interesting question. I draw a distinction between the recommendations that the noble Lord makes in relation to the appointment of a local member committee for children and families, a management board for services to children and families and the director of children's and families services. In essence, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is making those recommendations to ensure proper accountability when different agencies are involved. I distinguish between those recommendations and the children's trusts, which essentially involve providing those services. Clearly, we will need to discuss the matter further with the noble Lord. We shall address such issues in the Green Paper, which we hope to publish later in the spring.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for the sterling work that she undertook in getting the General Social Care Council up and running. There is no doubting the fact that it has a very important role to play not only in upholding public safety and public standards but also in raising the status of the profession, which is vitally important. I agree with her that where one has different professionswhether they are doctors, nurses, social workers or the policeworking alongside each other, within a consistent framework in relation to child protection, one needs a consistent approach towards regulation. I very much agree with her. We should encourage the GSCC to work with the other regulated bodies to ensure that that happens.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, I have two quick questions for the Minister. Does he know why Brent council's spending was half what had been allocated? Is he in a position to give the House some reassurance that those members of staff who have since been dismissed will never, ever be re-employed in any way in any child-oriented agency?
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