When it comes to the future of the children’s workforce there is
one thing that National Children’s Bureau head Paul Ennals is
pretty clear about: that different children’s professionals are not
going to be abandoned in favour of generic workers.
“It emphatically does not mean making everyone into a generic
children’s worker. I know some people are afraid of that and I
really think that is a misunderstanding of the agenda,” he says. “I
don’t think anyone wants a generic children’s worker but what is
wanted is for the existing professions to work better together and
that should involve working in different ways.”
To explain what he means, he gives the example of teachers and
social workers. “Often, deep frustration and mutual
misunderstanding build up. Schools think social workers spend time
finding reasons not to take on a caseload, while social workers
think teachers spend time dumping all their problems on someone
But in the future, as a consequence of the extended schools
programme, teachers and social workers will have to work more
closely together – and will, inevitably, have to adapt their
“Teachers shouldn’t become social workers but can become better
at understanding and responding to child protection concerns.
Social workers shouldn’t become teachers but can come to understand
how schools can play a strong part in keeping children safe,” he
says. Yet he is adamant that, if anything, the “solid professional
skills” of teachers and social workers will become even more
important than is currently the case.
To achieve improved joint working across the whole children’s
sector, Ennals is convinced that training schemes for practitioners
should be re-examined to make sure children’s workers have a common
grounding and an understanding of how the different roles can
Such is his support for more complementary training among
children’s professionals Ennals is chair of two new, influential,
bodies – the Children’s Workforce Development Council and an
offshoot, the Children’s Workforce Network.
The CWDC was set up following the government’s commitment to
reforming the workforce in the green paper Every Child Matters. It
covers early years, social care, educational welfare and foster
care, and its job is to come up with a training and qualifications
framework. Although funded by the government, the CWDC is
independent and employer-led – officially it doesn’t get up and
running until April, but the shadow board, which includes
representatives from the National Day Nurseries Association and the
Independent Children’s Homes Association, has been running since
June last year.
The CWDC co-ordinates the Children’s Workforce Network, which is
designed to bring together the key players across the whole of the
children’s profession, not just those who fall within the narrower
remit of the CWDC. It is made up of senior level representatives
from organisations including those that represent school staff,
child health specialists and play workers, and is to work towards a
combined programme of workforce development. The network has so far
met twice, to talk about ways of bringing together the various
training and qualifications frameworks.
Ennals says: “It is wrong that the world of children’s social
care feels like an entirely different world from the world of
teaching or child health. It is wrong that someone coming into that
work finds it so hard to transfer their skills and training across
to working with children in another setting.”
The ultimate aim, he says, is for training programmes to be
developed that will allow people in one children’s profession to
“translate their training into something that carries credibility”
But beyond staff training, the Children’s Workforce Network is
also a forum where the different organisations can discuss common
problems, such as recruitment and retention. Ennals thinks there is
huge potential for sharing recruitment campaigns – and channelling
interested applicants into the right area of the children’s
profession rather than losing them altogether just because they are
unsuitable for a specific role being advertised.
This could prove a useful tactic, should new professional roles
spring up in the future in the way that Ennals predicts. “In the
past when new integrated services have developed, new professional
roles have sprung up. We’ll see loads of other new roles emerging
as local services find creative ways of meeting needs,” he
Indeed, it is his belief that unless the government goes further
than merely joining up structures such as children’s trusts, and
actually promotes the joining up of roles, then “in 10 years we
won’t know anything has happened”. But he adds: “When we do find
such roles we will have to train people to undertake them. We have
to support them and supervise them.”
It is only with the right, adapted training that he feels
sustainable change can be achieved. In the past, pioneers’ attempts
to introduce innovative, joined-up ways of working have often faded
away. Ennals attributes this dismal pattern to the fact that
training for the different workers involved has always remained
separate. But, given the government’s more systematic approach this
time, he is hopeful that lasting change can be achieved.
“If we can develop workforce infrastructure to support joined-up
working then changes might become embedded and real,” he says. But
he warns: “We have to develop a common infrastructure otherwise the
tide will come in and go out and there will be no footprints left
in the sand and the new experiment in integrated working will be as
if it never happened.”
So what are the challenges that lie ahead? In the first
instance, the “conservatism” of the existing professional groups
who, having fought hard for pride and identity, are now concerned
that they could lose it all too quickly.
“The risk is that people will defend the past rather than be open
to further changes,” says Ennals. “There’s an innate defensiveness
among people who have worked in the old silos. Even if in principle
they want to work in a new way their instincts might start to drag
But he is keen to point out that uniting around the needs of the
child doesn’t mean that workers can’t unite in other ways. “By
saying there is something that unites all those working with
children doesn’t mean there isn’t still something that unites
nurses or social workers.
“Most of us live in several worlds. I’ve worked with children
but I’m now a manager and see some commonality with managers. All
of us have several different images. I don’t have to constrain
myself to just one construct.”
Of course it’s not just the workers themselves who are limited by
the silo mentality. The trade unions, professional associations and
regulatory bodies are equally separate – for the time being
“We’ll know if we have really moved on with the creation of a
children’s profession when we start to see some of those types of
infrastructures cutting across.”
Given that no single professional association covers the needs
of the whole children’s workforce, the Children’s Workforce
Development Council has offered a place to the British Association
of Social Workers, even though its membership covers less than 2
per cent of the children’s workforce. It is hoped that over time,
the different professional associations will come to an agreement
about which of them can represent the interests of them all on the
None of the ambitious plans for the children’s workforce can be
achieved overnight. As Ennals points out, changing workforce
practice through training is “a long game”.
“Even if we were to change all the training for all the new
people coming into social work, teaching and health visiting, it
would still be 40 years before the last person trained under the
old system worked their way through.”
This is of particular concern given that those at the top of the
professions are themselves from the old divided professions.
“In the coming years the risk is that new people coming in will
be motivated by a new joined up way of working that rejects the old
organisational silos and barriers but that the leaders, the
grey-haired figures in suits and power jackets will have been
trained in the old way.”
Ennals believes that the days of “idle rhetoric” about the
joining up of the children’s workforce are over and is optimistic
that real steps are now being taken.
“In 10 to 15 years, when the workforce is working in a different
way, some of the things that seem challenging now will be hard to
understand,” he promises.
That may well be the case, but for many at the moment, the road
ahead still seems long and potentially hazardous.
Behind the council
The Children’s Workforce Development Council was established
following the green paper Every Child Matters. It is one of five
bodies which will form the UK Skills for Care and Development
Sector Skills Council. A shadow board is in operation but a
permanent chair and chief executive are expected to be appointed in
April. It is funded by the government but is employer-led.
What is its mission?
- To improve outcomes for children by enhancing the role of the
- To strengthen the workforce by ensuring all workers have the
appropriate skills and qualifications.
- To encourage integration while continuing to value the
distinctiveness of each profession.
- To promote a vision of the children’s workforce as “integrated,
satisfying and valuable”.
Which sector does it represent?
- Early years including childminders, day care workers and
- Educational welfare staff, learning mentors and Connexions
- Foster care.
- Social care including Cafcass.
What is the Children’s Workforce Network?
- The CWN brings together those involved in workforce development
across the wider children’s sector.
- Includes organisations representing those who employ teachers
and other school staff, youth workers, youth justice workers, play
workers, social care practitioners and child health
- Will co-ordinate a combined programme for workforce development