Letters to 27 November 2008 edition of Community Care

Dropping the ball on child protection

Thank you for your timely editorial reminder (“Boards: refocus needed”) that this post-Laming world where every child matters has been created in response to the death of Victoria Climbié. It is a world in which social services have been replaced by children’s services and trusts, early intervention rules, and we have an unbroken solid chain of accountability from the front line to Ed Balls.

Ironic then that observing the reshaping of children’s services in this country over the past few years has reminded me of nothing so much as watching my son, aged eight, playing football in the park. The Department for Children, Schools and Families hoofs the ball up the wing towards “earlier intervention”, our overpaid striker, and everyone chases after it. No one’s left in goal, the other team break away and before you know it we are one-nil down. In short we have completely lost our shape.

No need for the spring stocktake of local safeguarding children’s boards to answer the DCSF’s question – “Does the focus on universal safeguarding jeopardise LSCB’s core work on child protection?” The answer has been glaringly obvious for well over a year. “Yes it does”.

Don’t get me wrong – universal and targeted services are equally important. It’s just that the management styles, mind sets, skills and cultures appropriate to each are quite distinct. Add to that the fact that locally there are votes in education but none in child protection or corporate parenting, in most local authorities the leadership teams of children’s services are dominated by educationalists and services for adults are drifting further away and we shouldn’t be too surprised that things are getting out of balance.

Don’t you just hate it when someone looks at you with that smug smile and says: “Well, prevention is better than cure you know”? “Not if you’re sick it’s not,” I want to shout back.

To add insult to injury the Audit Commission tells us that children’s trusts are not even delivering better outcomes.

Of course every child matters but there is also truth in the old management adage that when everything becomes a priority then nothing is.

Paul Fallon, retired director, children’s services consultant, Independent LSCB Chair

‘Reclaiming social work’ in Hackney

There has been a lot of debate about Hackney’s “reclaiming social work” model (“Why the Hackney model is doomed”).

One of the key debates about the Hackney model has been the level of responsibility versus the level of support for consultant social workers (CSWs). The running of the unit and decision-making is the responsibility of the CSW, with tasks allocated to unit members based on their skills and experience. The multi-disciplinary aspect of the unit enables staff to provide direct work, practical support, and statutory social work services from their individual disciplines. The collaborative aspect means staff rely on and support each other.

Management support in Hackney is consistent and frequent across the units. Our decision-making as CSWs is monitored and supported very strongly. Within the units, assessments and decisions are made by a consensus of workers, and subject to constant challenging and adjustment. We find the unit decision-making model is rigorous and flexible, and results in better outcomes for families.

It has been a remarkable first year for the Reclaiming Social Work project. It will be successful because it is inspiring, because it acknowledges that what the profession has been doing for the past decade has not been good enough.

Martin Purbrick, CSW Children In Need Unit 11 Fiona Brew, CSW Rapid Response Unit 4 Stephen Rice, CSW Rapid Response Unit 2 Debbie Kerr, CSW Rapid Response Unit 1 Hackney

Lending money to those in need

I enjoyed your article on using our own money to help clients (“Picking up the tab for service users” ). But I would like to clarify my own position. As a staff member of a voluntary group in Easterhouse, we had access to a hardship fund from which grants or loans could be made quickly to users. But I was also a resident in the area and sometimes lent money to friends and neighbours out of my own pocket. Usually it was repaid.

Bob Holman, Glasgow

The Baby P case and why I want to leave social work

What really depressed me about the Panorama programme last week about Baby P was neither the horrific way this baby was treated, nor the speculation over who was most to blame, but the comments from present and past workers about working in Haringey.

I work in adult care as a social worker in a Midlands local authority and have never worked in children’s services.

I was totally shocked to hear workers talk about the issues they face daily and how identical they are to those in adult care. They include lack of workers, hence overly high caseloads, workers’ recommendations being overruled (mostly due to lack of resources), a feeling of being under-valued and not listened to by managers, and poor communication between agencies. It seems there is increasingly a blame culture within the authority and with partner agencies. What seems to be forgotten by management is the person we are meant to protect or support. I cannot imagine these issues are restricted to only a few local authorities.

Watching the programme merely reinforced my need to leave social work. Ironically, like most other social workers I entered the profession to make a difference to the individuals we serve and society. But this case has echoed the problems in the system which were highlighted in the last child death and the one before that.

I have come to a point where I feel this will never truly change and I do not feel able to continue in such a flawed system. I can only hope that the inquiry into Baby P’s death will not become yet another witch hunt and mean yet more paperwork and boxes for us to tick.

Name and address supplied

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