How devolution is affecting social care: Andrew Christie, director, England

Andrew Christie, director of children’s services at the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, talks about his experiences.

“It’s pretty obvious that the death of Baby P has had an enormous impact on the profession and practice in England. It’s certainly our experience – and I know a number of other authorities are finding the same – that what was already a difficult recruitment area has become much more difficult as a result. Fellow directors talk about having suddenly lost people from their child protection teams.
“That’s the downside. Interestingly, there’s an upside too. For a start, I think the government has really finally got the message that something needs to be done about social work recruitment and retention. And some of Laming’s recommendations are to be welcomed, particularly those where he focused on practice and what makes it possible to do child protection. That was a difference from his last report, into the death of Victoria Climbie. We finally may be getting some action that’s desperately needed to make sure social work as a profession is rehabilitated.
“As for the care system in England, there are a lot of very false assumptions made about it. You have got to understand that there are very different children in the system, with very different needs, and good work is done to protect these children, often with permanent substitute families. With all the children, the reality is that many have already had traumatic experiences before they entered the care system. We are trying to play catch-up, trying to remedy what’s already been done. I don’t think we do enough to be clear about what succeeds, and where we do well in the care system.
“Obviously one of the main things that sets England apart from the other countries in terms of the delivery of social services is the separation of our children’s and adults’ services. What we have gained from this separation outweighs what we have lost, and it is absurd to suggest the system is any less safe now – child deaths still occurred when social services departments existed; combined departments are not immune from difficulties. I would say it’s more difficult to bring together the range of services that vulnerable children and children with complex needs require under the old system. Now it is relatively easy for me to put in place arrangements for a virtual school place for a child in care, for example.”

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