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Ed Balls/Hilton Dawson spat: the sector responds

Delegates at the National Children and Adult Services conference give their reaction to the public spat earlier today between children’s secretary Ed Balls and British Association of Social Workers chief executive Hilton Dawon over bureaucracy and record keeping:

Hilton Dawson said: “I’m not convinced the work that is being done on the Integrated Children’s System is going to be effective and I wasn’t convinced by his [Balls’] answer. I have never heard a social worker say ‘we should not do effective recording’ – what social workers are doing most of the time is ticking boxes, and providing the same information over and over again to the same people. They become local authority information checkers rather than social workers.”

A local authority councillor said: “Ed Balls seemed to be living up to his reputation as being a bit of a bully. It was ridiculous to suggest that social workers aren’t aware of the importance of keeping records. Social workers know how to keep their own records but this shouldn’t be driven by central government targets and regulation.”

She added: “Frankly, Ed Balls is out of touch with the problems faced by social workers in this country.”

A senior manager of a residential provider said: “We see a lot of inexperienced social workers working with some of the most complex young people in the care system that can be quite worrying for those of us managing these young people.”

Mike Lauerman, a trustee at the Social Care Institute for Excellence, said: “Balls didn’t engage with the central question, which is about what information is recorded and what is relevant to the child when they grow up and want to find out why they were put into the care system. Records need to be more child centred.” 

A former director of social services said: “I was looking for a greater recognition of the really hard stuff that is going on to secure improvement, especially on a day when Cornwall Council has fallen back into heavy intervention. I would have liked to see a bit of reflection on how hard this is and the practical ways we can improve.”

He also described Balls’ body language when challenged by Dawson as “quite uncomfortable”.

Councillor Jim Foreman, lead member for children and young people’s services at South Tyneside Council, said: “There was nothing in Balls’ speech to assist any of the children and young people’s directorates to move forward on this situation. I will be interested to hear what comes out of the final report of the Social Work Task Force to help us with this.”

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “It would be too easy to lay the problems on the increasing requirements of record keeping. It is essential that we have good records for all children in care and we know that they do not always exist. However, it is the quality of the relationship that social workers have with children that is what’s most important.”

Kim Bromley-Derry, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “We must not underestimate the importance of good record keeping as a key part of safe social work practice. As Hilton Dawson should be well aware, recording what a professional does and why protects the professional as well as the child, should their judgment and actions later be questioned. What’s more, at a time when there are vacancies on the front line and high staff turnover, and social workers are sometimes asked to take up cases that have already been worked on by someone else, suggesting detailed records are not necessary is completely irresponsible.

“Of course we must make sure that recording systems support professional decision making and practice and that the software that supports our systems does not distract from the task at hand. But we must distinguish between the need for record keeping and the way in which we complete and store those records.”  

A third-sector provider said: “Claiming back the social work profession as Hilton Dawson is calling for isn’t particularly helpful either, it is moving away from multi-agency working. We need to put the child at the centre and not paperwork.”

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