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As the House knows, following the Haringey review, my right honourable friend the Children’s Secretary set up the Social Work Task Force with the Health Secretary to undertake a root-and-branch review of how the social work profession should be developed. As I said, we are asking the task force to accelerate its work—for example, looking at the day-to-day work of social workers and at the amount of time that they spend on the computer or out working with families,

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and looking in detail at their use of the ICS and at how the procurement for that system can be improved and made more effective. We have asked for that work to be accelerated so that we can take action and ensure that social workers have the tools that they need to do their job to the best of their professional ability. That means that we have to ensure that the IT facilities are there for them to make those all-important records of their engagement with families and children. Record-keeping is key. We have to ensure, as both noble Baronesses suggested, that the IT system can step up to the plate. We know that some local authorities have made a success of the ICS, but others have found it less easy. There have been concerns about flexibility, as the noble Baroness was right to point out.

To pick up on the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the practicality of the initiatives that we are proposing for social workers, if you are having an intensive induction year then of course you need to have protected time off for that induction, which will mean a lower case load. With regard to advanced social work professionals, we are learning from the success of the work that we have done in teaching. When we talk about creating a masters-level profession, that is something we have to do with great care and in consultation with the professionals, the GSCC and the Children’s Workforce Development Council. When we talk about graduate recruitment and getting returners back into the profession, it is vital that we do that properly and get results. We are convinced and concerned about the need to work hard.

I resent the idea that, in accepting the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we enhance national leadership of child protection and create a national child safety unit, we are in some way creating another quango. We are talking about making sure that there is cross-government leadership to deliver, that the recommendations of the serious case reviews, about which Members opposite are so concerned, are taken up and that the unit makes sure that those recommendations are acted on. Yes, there will be a report to Parliament, which will greatly enhance the transparency and the opportunity for those fresh eyes that noble Lords are concerned to see.

The Health Secretary has today announced that there will be a new health visitor programme which will look at the role of health visitors to ensure that it is properly defined. It will also look at numbers, career opportunities and how the Department of Health should be supporting health visitors in their vital work. The Chief Nursing Officer will lead the programme of action on health visiting. That is a very important announcement.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, was very clear about the confidentiality of the comprehensive serious case review document. To ensure that the comprehensive serious case review is fully able to take account of the experience of all the professionals involved and that all the sensitive information is collected, it is important that the document remains confidential. However, the noble Lord also recommended that the executive summary should be a comprehensive and clear

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reflection of the serious case review. Sir Roger Singleton, in his new role, will be able to ensure that that is happening.

We have made it clear that we are accepting, in full, the noble Lord’s recommendations. We have had the right platform to go forward with Every Child Matters, but there is no complacency about the amount of work that yet needs to be done. That is very much focused on making sure that those at the front line have the support, training, backing and numbers to get the work done. We are right behind the development of the social work profession to make that happen.

4.48 pm

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I congratulate the Government and my noble friend Lord Laming on an incisive report. However, I should like to ask the Minister about three areas of real concern that I have. My noble friend Lord Laming quite rightly describes—as I have on the Floor of this Chamber on a number of occasions—the stress and the strain experienced by social workers and the devaluation and the scapegoating that has happened over the years. We have lost experienced workers over many different Administrations and for many different reasons. I believe that the Every Child Matters framework provides a package in which social workers can regain their confidence, particularly regarding children, and see themselves once more as equal professionals with their colleagues in the police, teaching and the legal profession.

It is a real problem when the report talks about the balance between challenge and support. There is no doubt that we need to challenge; we need a zero tolerance approach to anything that does not protect a child. Zero tolerance is all that will do. The problem is that social workers and other professionals such as health visitors work in an extraordinarily complex matrix. How that working-together and the way in which we are able to develop it reflect the way in which government departments work together will be the key to their being able to move forward. That is the challenge. However, unless we also give support, social workers in particular will remain demoralised and continue to feel that all that matters is ticking the right boxes for Ofsted and meeting a particular target, when what they want to do is to work closely and dynamically with children and families.

I therefore have three questions for the Minister. How does she see this balance between challenge and support? How does she see social work practice moving forward in terms of reflective supervision when we have only a limited workforce, which was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and who will carry the cases while we give people the space? How, when we are focusing on children, do we ensure that there is understanding of adults? I ask that because child development was not the only issue in the Baby P case; there was also the fact that the social workers had not necessarily been trained in understanding the dynamics of adults.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Baroness asks wise questions. We have to be clear that there needs to be a balance between support and

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challenge. Where does service improvement come from if it is not from challenge? It is important that professionals feel free to contribute to serious case reviews, so that their issues and experience can be fed back into service improvement and we have the right mechanism for it. However, support must come at every level in the system. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has highlighted the need for social workers to have much better leadership in their local practice through better supervision and better management. That means a systematic improvement in the quality of social work training, whether it is initial training in the higher education sector or ongoing professional development. It is also about supporting social workers with experience and expertise to stay in practice, which we are very committed to doing.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for all the effort that has gone into the report. I am pleased that it is about not just an emphasis on new structures but those key people, the front-line professionals. Early intervention is the key to success in child protection. Health visitors have been reinforced, but not reinstated, in the system. We also have already in the system family nurse practitioners; we have the family intervention projects; and we have Sure Start. There are also people working in substance misuse—the report Hidden Harm has shown how serious the impact of that can be on families. How can we develop programmes whereby professionals are trained not just in silos but together in the same room and with the same trainer so that each gets a sense of what the other is about? I remember working years ago with school nurses and teachers together. It was brilliant. I am saying not that my training was brilliant but that the whole system was brilliant, in that each saw the other’s perspective. We should look towards all professionals in the early intervention systems being trained together so that they gain from the very beginning a sense of what each other is about.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. This is something that Sir Roger Singleton will need to think carefully about, although I do not want to pre-empt his advice. It is clear from the report that the safety of children is the responsibility of us all; it is the responsibility of every professional who comes into contact with children. That means that there must be a shared understanding and high-quality working relationships between professionals with regard to information sharing, having a shared language so that people can communicate, and looking at commissioning. That is why the Every Child Matters agenda is so important, because it is through that agenda that the language and terrain for everyone can be set out in a way that can be understood. That is a foundation that we must build on.

Lord Elton: My Lords, following on from that point, is it not now time to start thinking out of the box a bit and to take a leaf out of artists’ education? Artists start with a foundation year in which many of them have not decided what medium they will finish up in; many who have decided on their medium still dabble in others before they specialise. Is it not time that we started having a college for socially engaged

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professionals—although it would have to be called something a bit more glamorous than that—with policemen, social workers, possibly clergy but certainly teachers spending their first year together? I put that idea into the pot.

The second question is more specific. The organisation in most difficulty is the social work profession. It would be helpful to know the percentage of vacancies across the country and the length of service of the workforce in each authority. If you have an underrecruited authority, the workload of each individual will be too great and, if you have an inexperienced workforce across the country, the leadership and supervision will not be there. As we have learnt in education, the first year under close supervision and with great personal help is crucial to a successful and long career in the profession.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I can be specific in answer to the second point that the noble Lord made. Vacancies for children and social workers stood at 9.5 per cent in 2006 and turnover rates were also high, at 9.6 per cent, in the same year. I do not think that we are looking at particularly better figures now. I have a figure for 2007, which puts vacancy rates for some local authorities in London as high as 20 per cent. Those are very worrying figures, which is why some time ago we set up the Social Work Task Force. We are expecting a lot of that body, which has already started work. One theme from that work is the importance of creating a confident profession that can work closely with other confident professions. The noble Lord talked about the teaching profession; we have a lot to learn from that. We want to ensure that social workers feel valued, which is why the Secretary of State for Health and the Children’s Secretary have today written to all social workers in the country to ensure that they understand how much the contribution that they make is valued.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister stressed the importance of record-keeping, but for many social workers the burden of record-keeping is regarded as considerable. Is there anything to be learnt from the police or teaching services about the use of lay people in such roles? There is the use of teaching assistants, for example, to take over some of the more mundane tasks. Could such support workers be used also within the social services to take some of the burden of record-keeping away from the front-line practitioners?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I understand that some local authorities provide administrative support for social workers with their record-keeping. However, one of the core professional attributes of a successful social worker is the ability to analyse and record their interaction with the family. You cannot get away from that as a key part of understanding the dynamics.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I draw attention to recommendation 26 in the Laming report, which states:

“The General Social Care Council ... should ... strengthen their curriculums to provide high quality practical skills in children’s social work”.

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A social worker just completing her MA made this point:

“We are not being trained. We are being taught but we are not being trained to do the things we need to do”.

One of the social workers I most respect made exactly the same point; that they need to be trained to do the things. It is not just academic stuff; they need to be trained in the field.

The Minister may be aware of my second point, and I think it came up in the Statement. It is becoming clearer that many more children are being harmed than are being identified as being harmed. Is she thinking about how she will protect social workers from being overwhelmed by the demand, as we recognise more and more that children are being harmed?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we are thinking very carefully about the point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, about how to get the balance right between support and challenge. We know that we need to ensure that local frontline social workers have a much stronger management engagement, and that that goes right to the DCS and to the chief executive of local authorities, so it is not the newest and least experienced social worker who is out there dealing with the most difficult and most challenging cases; that they feel supported. The noble Earl makes a very important point about training and how appropriate it is for social workers going out into the field. We know that one-third of newly qualified social workers thought that their social work course had prepared them fully. That is only one-third. That compares with 85 per cent of newly qualified teachers. Therefore, we know we can do it. We just have to get it right for social workers.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I join those who so warmly congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on his report, and, indeed, the Government on the promptitude and enthusiasm with which they have accepted all 58 recommendations, and, perhaps even more than that, the speed with which they have commenced the implementation of those plans.

One wishes to see all the statutory duties of care authorities in relation to children in care and looked-after children carried out with the utmost competence and commitment. Nevertheless, one matter I would wish to touch upon, which is referred to in the report, is the fact that a vast number of children, completely unknown to social services and unknown, it seems, to any other governmental or local governmental agency, suffer the most dreadful abuse and neglect.

Will the Minister therefore see to it that the maximum exhortation is given from central government to all local government services to try to smell out as many of these cases as is humanly possible, ruthlessly using the agencies available, in particular those in health and education?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I can absolutely reassure the noble Lord that that is exactly the Government’s intention. That is why in response to the very important recommendation of the noble

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Lord, Lord Laming, on national leadership, we have introduced the new position that we are today appointing Sir Roger Singleton—the former head of Barnado’s, with many years’ experience—to advise us on the establishment of this cross-government national safeguarding delivery unit. It is not about creating more policy; it is about making sure that the change happens absolutely on the front line. That is cross-government, so all the different government departments are lined up and delivering. That will also be about providing the support and challenge to every local authority and children’s trust in the country, so that they can carry out their responsibilities and keep children safe.

Lord Mawson: My Lords, I welcome this report. I found my conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on this matter very helpful indeed. As part of this process, I ask the Minister whether the Government are going to look carefully at maximising the opportunities for collocating health and social care services in the same buildings as a first step towards creating a more integrated service and encouraging culture change.

Secondly, my experience across the country suggests that the present new investment in primary care buildings has far more potential, and that major opportunities for culture change are being missed because of how these new buildings are being commissioned. Are the Government going to look at this matter as part of the process?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those two observations, and I shall certainly think carefully about his suggestion. Of course, we are producing a White Paper on 21st-century schools. There will be a lot of interesting policy around those questions, but I will look into his point on the building of new health facilities.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, first, I am astonished by the churlishness of the Conservative Opposition in their response to the report. We in Wales remember that the worst case of serious assault on children was under the previous Conservative Government, as Bryn Estyn in Wrexham. That was of course before the education service was devolved to Wales.

Secondly, how is this excellent report to be accepted by the Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? What co-operation will there be to implement these proposals in our own nations?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we have worked closely with the devolved Administrations, particularly, for example, on cross-border matters such as our work with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. We work closely with the devolved Administrations on safeguarding. Of course, all those concerned with child protection, whether in England or Wales, will be looking at the Laming report to see where the learning can come.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that there is often a very dangerous man involved, who can be violent? Would it

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not be a good idea for the young social or health worker to have a minder to go in with them? They could be called a “monitor”.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we are obviously concerned to ensure that social workers feel confident and safe in their job. That is why it is so important that social workers can work closely with the police and the health services, so that they do not work in isolation. This is why I come back, time and time again, to the importance of promoting confidence in the social work profession. We are doing everything we can. We are working with the social work taskforce that has been recently set up. We eagerly await the outcome of its deliberations so that we can act and ensure that we do the best that we can to protect children in our country.

House of Lords (Members’ Taxation Status) Bill [HL]

Copy of the Bill


5.08 pm


Moved by Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I do not intend to delay your Lordships for more than a short time on this Motion which the House will no doubt agree in a few moments. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, understands that many of us face the prospect of going through this Committee stage with considerable regret.

The fact is that the Bill has now been before your Lordships, I think, three times in identical terms. The noble Lord has not apparently been moved by anything that has been said on the various occasions upon which the Bill has been considered. The result, therefore, is that we receive the identical Bill yet again. Would it not have been helpful for the noble Lord to have taken into account some of the views expressed on the previous occasions the Bill was before your Lordships, and reflected them in the drafting of the Bill now before us, thereby perhaps reducing the need for such an extensive Committee stage as we are now facing?

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