Round-up of social care events in 2002
by Lauren Revans and Amy Taylor.
The year started with the government hailing the first part of
its recruitment campaign to attract more people into social work a
success, with almost 14,000 calls to the information line in its
first six weeks.
January also saw NSPCC social worker John Power suspended for
e-mailing Community Care extracts from the charity’s
intranet chat page showing staff’s disappointment at plans to
scrap 18 projects. Power, who was a representative of the British
Union of Social Work Employees, was later sacked and is currently
awaiting the outcome of an employment tribunal.
In February, phase one of the Victoria Climbie inquiry came to
an end – although was not officially closed due to certain
parties failing to submit all their evidence on time. Summing up
the first phase, counsel to the inquiry Neil Garnham cited “12
missed opportunities” to protect the eight-year-old, who died in
February 2000 less than a year after arriving in England from the
Ivory Coast. Communication failure between and within the different
agencies that came into contact with Victoria was a central theme
running through Garnham’s observations, as were poor
performance management systems and failure to follow practice
With the phase two seminars now complete, inquiry chairperson
Lord Herbert Laming is expected to hand his final report and
recommendations about the future of child protection to the
government later this month. However, it will not be published
until the New Year and has already been pre-empted several times
over by other agencies and organisations putting forward their own
versions of what should happen.
February also saw the publication of a survey by the Association
of Directors of Social Services and the Local Government
Association which revealed that councils had been forced to find an
extra £200 million to keep services afloat in 2001-2, and the
aversion of a threat of a Scotland-wide ban on all local authority
referrals to independent care homes after the Scottish executive
and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities eventually agreed
to higher fee levels.
The government’s one-stop shop for criminal records
checks, the Criminal Records Bureau, went live in March, already
eight months behind schedule. It spectacularly failed to make up
for lost time and caused delays in the recruitment of staff across
the board, from schools and charities to care homes and hospitals.
Eventually the government was forced to extend the March 2003
deadline for existing care home staff to “during the course of
2004″, and indefinitely extend it for existing staff supplied by
domiciliary care and nursing agencies.
March also saw Cardiff Unison members voting in favour of strike
action over the sacking of a senior social worker who was suspended
in October 2001, hours after appearing on a BBC Wales current
affairs programme where he warned that a child would die if
pressure on frontline staff wasn’t eased. Charles Faber was
later sacked, and in December lost a claim for unfair dismissal,
with Cardiff council claiming throughout that he was sacked for
Only four of the 16 potential care trust “demonstrator sites”
flagged up by the department of health earlier in the year were
actually ready to take the plunge in April. Manchester, Bradford,
and Camden and Islington – the only site to cover two local
authorities – all established mental health care trust
pilots, while Northumberland created a care trust responsible for
providing or commissioning most NHS services and all social
services for adults. The pros and cons of the new NHS bodies were
debated throughout the year and, in October, Braintree in Essex
signed up to become the fifth pilot site and the government
launched a support network to encourage and support further
Although the sector welcomed the Chancellor’s budget-day
promise of an annual 6 per cent increase for social services for
the next three years, they were far from keen on his idea of
penalties for delayed discharges from hospital. But despite
widespread condemnation of the idea, the plans appeared intact in
the Queen’s speech in November and then in a bill.
Health secretary Alan Milburn also announced the end of the then
three-week-old National Care Standards Commission and its
replacement with a new Commission for Social Care Inspection
combining the role of the NCSC and the Social Services
Amid much debate over their worth and how they are calculated,
star ratings for social services departments were published for the
first time in May, based on 2000-1 performance indicators, recent
inspections and annual review meetings with the SSI. Ten
departments received zero stars, 76 received one, 50 received two
and eight received three. These ratings were refreshed in October
2002 when the 2001-2 performance indicators were published (leaving
12 departments with an extra star and six with one less) and then
fed into the Comprehensive Performance Assessment results,
published for all top-tier local authorities in December.
May also saw London members of public sector union Unison
holding the first of many one-day strikes to campaign for higher
London weighting payments. The union wants a flat London weighting
rate of £4,000, compared with the current level of between
£1,400 and £2,000.
At the end of the month, new requirements for social worker
training were announced by health minister Jacqui Smith at
Community Care Live 2002.
In June, Community Care launched its Care in the
Capital campaign to highlight the deepening recruitment crisis in
social work in London.
At the end of the month, the government published the
controversial draft mental health bill, with its plans to do away
with the role of the approved social worker and introduce a new
legal framework for the compulsory treatment of people with mental
disorders. The initial relief at the absence of a mental health
bill in the Queen’s speech later in the year was shortlived
when Milburn announced just a few hours later that a bill in this
session was still very much on the cards.
The July spending review saw the Chancellor unveil a new
£1.5 billion combined budget for childcare, early years and
Sure Start by 2005-6 to be managed by a new inter-departmental
unit. It also saw the first mention of ‘children’s trusts’,
which will be piloted in 2003 to link together the various agencies
involved in providing services for children.
Milburn followed the spending review announcements with news of
a £1billion injection for older people’s services from
the 6 per cent annual increase in social services funding,
including more money for care home fees and an obligation on every
council to offer older people access to direct payments.
July also saw a government u-turn on requirements for care homes
opened before 1 April 2002 to meet certain physical and
environmental standards, and the introduction of free personal care
Community Care launched its ‘Changing Minds’ campaign
for better mental health services for children and young people in
August. In October, health select committee chairperson David
Hinchliffe tabled an early day motion supporting the
campaign’s goals, and Milburn announced an extra £140
million over three years for child and adolescent mental
August also saw local government unions call off a national
strike after a breakthough in pay talks between employers and the
unions, and minister for children and young people John Denham
outlined how £600 million would be made available to fund new
‘identification, tracking and referral’ systems for children at
In September, the government announced a three-year plan to
reform the way it works with the voluntary and community sectors,
after a major cross-departmental review found that many
organisations were being hindered by barriers in the system.
September also saw the publication of the codes of practice for
all social care employers and employees. Workers will have to abide
by the codes or face being struck off or suspended from the new
register, due to start next year.
In October, health minister Jacqui Smith announced a new
non-means tested bursary for social work students to be introduced
from September 2003 and worth £3,000 a year in living and
travel expenses and £1,075 a year in tuition fees.
At the national social services conference in Cardiff, Milburn
outlined plans to “dramatically reshape the old monolithic, single
social services departments”, promising to replace them with local
partnerships – such as care trusts and children’s
trusts. He also upset the British Association of Social Workers and
others by calling for the replacement of the traditional social
worker with new social care professionals combining a wider range
Controversial bills on asylum and adoption finally made it onto
the statute book in November. The National
Immigration and Asylum Bill went through after MPs overturned a
vote in the House of Lords against government plans to house asylum
seekers in large scale centres in rural areas and to teach asylum
seeker children in these centres instead of mainstream schools.
Meanwhile, the Adoption and Children Bill went through with the
amendment allowing unmarried couples – including same-sex
couples – to adopt.
More legislation came in the Queen’s speech, with the
focus falling largely on crime and, as expected, a bill to tackle
anti-social behaviour and a sexual offences bill.
The Community Care Awards 2002 to celebrate excellence
in the sector also took place in November, with internet shopping
project IT 2 EAT, run by Age Concern in Rotherham, scooping the
The High Court ruling in December that young offenders in the
prison system, are entitled to the same welfare rights opened a
whole can of worms, as social services departments tried to
establish how they could ensure the Children Act 1989 was adhered
to in prisons when there remains no “functions, powers, duties,
responsibilities or obligations” on the prison service to ensure
the act’s protections are in place.
The local government financial settlement for 2002-3 promised an
annual above-inflation increase in local authority social services
and education budgets for the next three years of between 3.5 and 8
per cent. The figures, calculated using the new formula grant
distribution system (which replaces the standard spending
assessment system), revealed a funding shift away from London and
the south-east towards the Midlands and North West.
Meanwhile, the government’s drugs strategy was given a
drastic make-over and the Audit Commission and others criticised
the slow progress made on implementing the Special Educational
Needs and Disability Act 2001 and accepting children with special
needs into mainstream schools.
An independent review into the death of Ainlee Labonte (also known
as ‘Ainlee Walker’) concluded that social workers did not visit her
east London home for fear of being attacked by the two-year-old’s
parents. The girl died with injuries all over her body and weighing
just 21 lbs.