Gove urges social workers to act earlier to protect children

Social workers are failing to intervene in the lives of troubled children because they fear intense criticism from the public and the media, education secretary Michael Gove (left) has claimed.

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Social workers are failing to intervene in the lives of troubled children because they fear intense criticism from the public and the media, education secretary Michael Gove has claimed.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services conference, the education secretary said the profession had to be honest about the fact that “sometimes social workers fail to act when they should because they fear media and public criticism”.

“I think there are certain circumstances when we don’t intervene when we should. I’ve been very influenced by reading serious case reviews and by [former Barnardo’s chief] Martin Narey’s work.

“As a result of the evidence I have seen, I am convinced that some children are being left in inappropriate homes for far too long….We all need to be honest about the nature of the problem.”.

However, Gove said he saw it as his role to ensure social workers felt “supported” and “empowered” to make the right decisions for children.

“We need to raise the esteem in which the social work profession is held and help social workers to put the welfare of the child above any understanding or sympathy they may have with parents. We should be more supportive of social workers who do intervene early and trust their judgement.”

The education secretary went on to say that he was convinced too many children were spending too long in care waiting to be placed for adoption and one of the biggest reasons was judges taking too long to make critical decisions.

“The family justice system mustn’t second guess the professional opinions of social workers who have seen what’s happening on the ground and who find their professional judgement undermined by judges who do not have anything like the grass roots frontline experience of social workers.”

However, he dismissed plans for a national adoption service, saying, “I don’t believe [we need a national adoption service]. I think best practice exists on the ground in local government.”

His comments follow children’s minister Tim Loughton’s announcement that the government is soon to publish an “adoption template”, highlighting best practice around the country.

Gove’s speech pleased the British Association of Social Work who had feared the education secretary would only focus on schools policy in his speech, but some delegates told Community Care they felt his speech had too narrow a focus on adoption.”

See more stories on the NCAS conference 2011

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