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The merger has distracted the attention of both the social workers and the educationalists at all levels: government department, local authorities and in the inspectorate. I ask the Minister whether it is too late to put this right, and to concentrate on ways of ensuring good communications and collaboration while leaving the experts to work in their own field of expertise for the benefit of the children we all care so much about.

12.24 pm

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on securing this debate. Indeed, she has cajoled me and insisted that I should be here today and, out of my huge respect for her, I am. However, I say to her and to the House that my speech will be more from the heart than from my intellect. Having no time to restructure your speech gives you time to realise how you feel about something, rather than what you think about it. I thought that today the House might for once benefit from my feelings rather than my thoughts.

I declare my interests. Having been the deputy chair of CAFCASS for five years, I am now its chair. I have been a director of social services and consider myself a social worker of 40 years’ standing. I was an inspector in the National Care Standards Commission and am connected to a number of voluntary organisations.

Two professions now work together under one department, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, so clearly outlined. I wish to compare the roles of teachers in schools and social workers on the beat. Usually we do not expect teachers to have classroom sizes that are beyond their capacity to teach. We expect them to have a planned training programme to develop their skills and they usually work in a school environment with colleagues around them giving an element of security. With government initiatives, the teaching profession now has a highly skilled workforce with measurable levels built in. The latest initiative is to award £10,000 to teachers who are prepared to work

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in the most challenging schools. I commend the Government for taking those initiatives and for making sure that our children have the best possible teachers, but contrast that with social work. At 25 you can have a totally unmanageable workload. If you are lucky, you can fit in your own training to meet the General Social Care Council requirements. You will be out alone, knocking on the door of the dangerous and the vulnerable. When things go wrong, few people will support you and the media will eat you alive—all this with hardly a living wage. Do the Government seriously consider that any able, thoughtful, intelligent young person will want to become a social worker? No wonder there are problems with retention and there are vacancies in most of the social work services. If you talk to anyone involved in social care, they will tell you of the extreme difficulty of maintaining a consistent service when the one thing that you need in social work, working with people, is consistency.

When the departmental changes were first suggested—I saw through the Act, alongside my colleagues—I spoke against them, not because I am against change but because it was the wrong change at the wrong time. I said at the time that structural change is always disruptive, with more concentration on the place to sit or job security than on the relationship with those allocated for help or intervention in family life. What was needed was a programme of change in practice, driving through professional development and changing image. We can learn much from the education and police programmes in this regard. The departmental changes came at the wrong time and, I believe, for the wrong reasons.

As I often say, however, we are where we are, which is waiting for yet another Laming review. If I were the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I would ask what had happened to my previous report. Why did the Government initiate this change rather than dealing with some of the other issues that he raised concerning practice, bureaucracy and leadership, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard? There might be virtue in giving the new children’s directors more focus in the social care area. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned that some education leaders are social workers, but I have to tell your Lordships that almost 80 per cent of leaders are educationalists. Just think how that makes those involved in social care feel.

One of the things lost in the reorganisation and in the universal safeguarding approach of the Every Child Matters agenda, which on all other fronts I support and applaud, is child protection. The issue is in the language. I could not have put it better than the British Association of Social Workers, of which I am a founder member. It states:

“It is our contention that the current safeguarding agenda does not assist practitioners to identify individuals who pose a serious risk to children. The assessment framework is a clear example of this, given that it is based on identifying and assessing children in need, rather than children at risk. Even the recent updating of the Working Together guidance seems to have dispensed with terms such as child protection and risk assessment, which we think is detrimental to effective practice in this area”.

I might add that although one of the dimensions of the assessment framework is safety, it is not a domain in its own right. In Working Together, the differentiation between referrals for need and those for protection is

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blurred into one for referrals. While there is good theoretical justification for this approach, reports from around the country suggest that it has made the system less safe. Will the Government look again at this guidance?

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that there are many ways in which the situation facing vulnerable children has improved with the years. However, the problem is much more the lack of consistent implementation of sound practice and processes by some practitioners in some places. There is an increased focus on partnership working across services for children, although the health agenda continues to leave gaps and frustration. Increased focus on prevention, in the development of services such as Sure Start children’s centres, has benefited many children, as this is a universal service. But these services need to be sustained long term, as does the funding provision for third sector services, which are still bedevilled, despite many central and local government reassurances, by short-term funding arrangements. What are the Government doing to improve the continuity and consistency of support services, especially those provided by the voluntary sector for children?

I want to spend a few moments talking about complexity. As the chair of CAFCASS and previously as its deputy chair, I am acutely aware of just how difficult it is to move from the relatively simple concept of skilled practitioners, working at a high level in a demanding system with good supervision and leadership, to achieving that on the ground. The day-to-day work wears people down and all this has to be achieved in addition to heavy workloads and constant change.

Take the present situation that we face in CAFCASS in public law. The new Public Law Outline, which was not about cost, despite the rise in fees for pursuing care proceedings, but about good assessment and early intervention, had some impact on referrals and, I believe, on work with families. However, since the Baby P case, figures have shot up way beyond anything that we have known previously. The question for CAFCASS is how we manage this increased workload and the continued improvement programme. Extra funding from DCSF has been welcome, but it may well not cover both. It is a problem often faced by local authority children’s services, which also have fluctuating demand.

Time is running out, so I am not going to be able to say what I would like to have said about the complexity of the cases that I see day in, day out, which sometimes absolutely befuddle and bemuse one’s thinking in terms of behaviour and the family structures in which parents and children find themselves. Nor will I have time to speak of the problems of training, where we seem to have lost in our courses the capacity to teach people about emotional interaction. One of our workers who recently did a course talked about how she had a lot of tick boxes to finish her course, but the course never talked about her feelings and the feelings of those for whom she was responsible.

The temperature in which social work is carried out needs to be calm and measured, but the environment is becoming noisier and more threatening. Social workers are more fearful every time they leave their homes to

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visit another. It is clear that, if there were a health and safety test on social work, it would fail. However, this complex, emotionally draining and dangerous job has to be done. Child protection is everybody’s business, so whichever department the social worker ends up in we all have a responsibility to promote and support the best work possible. Even if we do not owe it to the social worker out there on the street on our behalf—and we do—we owe it to the children whom she or he is trying to help.

12.35 pm

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on this important topic. The two of us go back to the years when she was deputy director of social services in Lambeth and I used to sit as the juvenile court chairman—when I was not sitting with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who was part of yesterday’s debate. There are many in this Chamber whose experience and understanding go back many years. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about juvenile justice and taking the opportunity to reinforce a more enlightened approach to juvenile justice and the rehabilitation of children and young people who have usually faced appalling circumstances, are important for us all.

Above all, I commend my noble friend Lady Shephard for initiating this enlightened, thoughtful and timely debate. It is a critical subject. Her comments, like those of my noble friend Lady Perry—both of whom come essentially from an education background—chime so strongly with my own perspective, which is based very much on a social work background. I know what it is like to visit families on the North Peckham estate at 9 o’clock at night. I know what it is like to have some of the most difficult conversations with a family, where you have been trying to maintain a therapeutic optimism that that family can be a good parent but somehow those bruises do not go away. Once you have challenged that family about the reality of the bruises, you have broken a bridge of trust and confidence.

Teaching is a completely different skill. Teachers teach; social workers listen. Papers from the Children’s Society are urging again that children’s voices should be heard. This involves persuading children to articulate the most embarrassing, sensitive, taboo events that may have taken place in their family. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, could have spoken for another 10 minutes about her experiences as the director of Childline, an organisation which performed an extraordinary service by helping children to begin to say the words that they could not articulate. I remember visiting Childline and being told that they would often have a false call. In other words, a child would ring and put down the phone, then ring and put down the phone, but then, gradually, be able to articulate the words they knew would light an explosive device. Once whatever taboo and cruel behaviour had been taking place in the family became public, then—in their imagination, their thought, and maybe in reality—that would be the end of their family life as they knew it.

Teachers are quite different. No one will ever thank a social worker, because social workers come into people’s lives at a time of wretchedness and misery.

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Imagine being the social worker trying to assist Victoria Climbié’s family, Shannon Matthews’s family, or Baby P’s family, and initially not knowing whether this is a family that is so psychopathic, disturbed and sadistic that it would be completely inappropriate for those children to remain there. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, heard the case of the children where the view was taken that the social workers had removed them without remotely appropriate justification or evidence. Families had been broken up and the damage could hardly be restored, leaving them with a sense of shame, humiliation and distress.

I am concerned about the changes that have taken place. During my time as Secretary of State for Health—and I know there is a danger in this House that, in our anecdotage, we might crack on too much about our experiences—I spoke to the Chief Inspector of Social Services every week at my top of the office meeting. I spoke every week to the Chief Medial Officer, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Inspector of Social Services. Sir William Utting, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and Denise Platt all had privileged access to the Secretary of State. Can the Minister tell us how often the current Secretary of State speaks to the chief social services inspector? Indeed, who is that person now that the responsibilities have been so divided? Who says, “This is how it really is. This is what we need to do”?

It is not only that Secretaries of State, at the top of government departments, lack this informed advice, opinion and judgment; most MPs and politicians do not really understand the reality of being out there at 9 o’clock on the North Peckham estate. On one occasion my Mini was turned over and set on fire, and it is a lot worse now than it was in those days. At the same time, what does this issue mean for people in the profession? There are all sorts of grand doctors; some may even end up in the House of Lords. Psychology and teaching are certainly well-regarded professions. But who are the champions of the social work profession? How can we ensure that social workers are heard and respected?

In Haringey—Victoria Climbié’s local authority—a quarter of social work jobs were vacant. There are, as has been said, no £10,000 bonuses there. This is a hugely important subject. It was therefore to my great surprise that, thinking I should do my homework before speaking today and ask what the Conservatives have been saying on this subject recently, I turned up a paper by Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing, my noble friend Lady Morris, and Terry Butler, former social services director in Hampshire, on whom I used to rely a lot, which says that we need a chief social worker. I believe that we do need a chief social worker alongside a Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Medical Officer. I was delighted by this document, No More Blame Game, and its enlightened and thoughtful view on social workers and their views, reputation and leadership.

There is another professional group which, extraordinarily, has not yet been mentioned. The first Private Member’s Bill that I tried to introduce after coming to this House addressed the issue of who had the opportunity to see a child without their clothes on without a great deal of difficulty. Who is entitled to remove a child’s clothes? I do not think that a teacher

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or social worker is. However, the person who can just whip a child’s clothes off with no trouble at all is the health visitor.

I am again pleased to tell noble Lords that my enlightened, new Conservative Party colleagues—who are doing all the work now that people like me are doing other things—have written an absolutely brilliant paper about the importance of health visitors. More older and professional women are having children now and they need health visitors, too. It is a lonely business. They lose their flexibility and are isolated from their families. For the most deprived families, however, health visitors are the ones who can say, “I wonder if there is nappy rash?”, or give a wonderful medical reason why they want to see and weigh the child. In no case of a child who has died of child abuse would the abuse not have been absolutely obvious if they had had a preliminary medical inspection in the final three months.

For some reason health visitors have been lost by the wayside. The figures are appalling. It has been estimated that there should be no more than 300 children to each health visitor. I am delighted that in Hull—I can never speak in this place without mentioning Hull; I am chancellor of the university there, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth is in the Chamber—there is one health visitor for every 200 children. However, in Hackney, Camden and Newham, there is one health visitor for roughly 531, 551 and 565 children respectively. The noble Baroness spoke about Surrey, for which I was privileged to be an MP for quite a while. When I first became the MP I went out with a health visitor there and asked how many children were on the at-risk register. She said, “I think we used to have one in Chiddingfold, and there might be one in Godalming”. When I used to work with health visitors in Peckham they had 20 children on the at-risk register. We desperately need health visitors, and we must ensure that they are recognised.

The worry about the structural change is that it will affect the most vulnerable families. It was easier to create an integrated approach when mental health services, children’s health services and all the social work services were delivered alongside health services. But the change has happened and we must learn from it. A moment ago I saw the noble Lord, Lord Myners, who has been talking about banking and other financial institutions. Many think that when the Bank of England was made independent, the fault lay not in the announcement of the new initiative involving the Bank, Treasury and FSA but in the integration. In the commercial world—and many noble Lords here are from that world—what matters is not the acquisition but the integration. We have to look again at how these changes have been integrated.

I must pass on one brief further comment from my professional life in search. There is a real concern about who these directors of children’s services departments will be. As has been said, the evidence is that education is winning over social services. However, we are not training a cadre of directors with the competence and skill to manage these services. I urge the Government to look again at real management training programmes. If they are going to stick with

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the structure they have set in place, they must be sure that they are investing in the leadership of the future. I again congratulate my noble friend.

12.46 pm

Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I join other Members of the House in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on introducing this timely debate. From the comments that we have heard, there seems to be a range of views. Although the reorganisation of the departments and children’s services is three years old, the debate about how the reorganisation is going and the next stages should go on for a long time. I very much welcome the opportunity to speak.

I suppose that what we are discussing affects every person in the land. There is not one family who is not touched by the actions of people in these services, either through education, social services, health, the juvenile justice service or all of those. I was discussing this with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, in the Library; she informed me that departments of children’s services now account for 8 per cent of local authorities’ budgets. This is big-time stuff and the issues that come out of it are vital.

I will be honest: I am not sure whether I would have been persuaded about this structural change if I had still been a Minister. I was a Minister in DCMS at the time and did not get involved in the Bill, as others did. However, I would have asked some real questions and I do not know what my conclusion would have been. It is no good speculating, because I did not go through that process of discussion. However, I might have been persuaded. I am now wholeheartedly behind the change, because we have to be, and I am conscious of what the reasons for change would have been. I accept them and, despite my reservations, I shall go over them today.

People have talked about child safety, but two other issues have not been mentioned as much. If we are not careful, we talk as though the relationship between old education and old social services was good. It was not. There was huge fragmentation. There was huge failure to work together and to talk to others. There was a huge inability and unwillingness to create a shared agenda and a shared culture.

I remember an example from when I was a Member of Parliament. A junior school head in my constituency called me in because she had a child in care who was top and in front and with whom she had made much progress after much hard work. The foster place was about to be changed and the child was to be moved to the other side of the city. In Birmingham, that is a large move. When I looked into the case, I found that there was nothing on the social services agenda or the housing agenda that put the need for continuity of education in the same school anywhere near the top of the considerations. Each was doing his job. Those in housing looked at the housing needs of the child and those in social care looked at what was available and what would match the child’s fostering needs. She just wanted continuity but nothing brought that about. Therefore, we must not pretend that we had a system in which the needs of the child and the family were always at the centre of considerations, as they were not.



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Secondly—a point that has not been mentioned—we have to accept that, no matter how brilliant our schools or teachers or how good our pedagogy or education system, sometimes barriers outside education get in the way of a child’s learning. That could happen in early years learning or in care, or it could be down to parental aspirations or the breakdown of a family. It could be anything. We cannot ask schools to deal with those matters as well but we ask them to carry the consequences when those things are not right.

One pressing force in children’s services is that of removing the barriers to achievement in schools that are not the responsibility of schools. In that way, children’s services can be an agenda for closing the education gap between children from advantaged backgrounds and those from less advantaged backgrounds. To me, that is the case for this change, and it is a powerful case. The challenge that lies ahead is to achieve that aspiration and prove that it can work.

Perhaps I may set out what I see as the risks. Many of them have been mentioned but I shall quickly go over them again. One is the size of the organisation. There is a real risk that it will be so big that the best minds spend their time ensuring that it runs smoothly rather than ensuring that it delivers effectively. There is a difference between the two. Leadership in depth is needed but I do not think that we have taken that on board. Some of the team leaders and junior middle managers will now run organisations with budgets as large as those of directors of education in small and medium-sized local education authorities. We have not yet heard enough about leadership in depth.

Another risk is that in big organisations local knowledge gets lost. Professor Alan Middleton, formerly of the University of Central England, has done some good work on this. His analysis is that you get strategic decisions by the top management, local knowledge by the person on the front line, and someone in the middle who fails to bring the two together. Having, in my former roles, helped to put the focus on education, another point that I worry about continually is that that focus will vanish. If it did, that would be a great tragedy.

However, let us move on. There are cases for and against. Now that the decision is made, the challenge is to ask what we need to do to move on to the next stage of reform. There are five areas that I think the Government now need to address. They are looking at all of them but I take this opportunity to raise them.

The debate about the new shared agenda is happening here, and Ministers are having the debate, as are directors of children’s services, but I am not convinced that the debate is happening in depth. Is it taking place in staffrooms or in the equivalent of staffrooms for social workers? It is no good the leaders having a shared agenda and integration if those are not at the heart of the agenda of the people delivering the service. Therefore, my first point is that we should get the agenda to delivery level and move it on from strategic level.

The second area concerns training for leadership in depth. I particularly welcome the decision by the department to ask the National College for School Leadership, under the excellent leadership of its chief executive, Steve Munby, to prepare a series of training

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programmes for directors of children’s services. That needs to happen, but my message here is a need for leadership in depth.


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