“Yes, I think it’s a bold recruitment campaign and yes, I think it will be divisive, both amongst social workers and those who will casually come across it.”
Martin Reeves, chief executive of Coventry City Council, makes no apology for the controversial new social worker recruitment campaign the council has launched. It focuses on the death of Daniel Pelka, the four-year-old boy who died in March 2012 after being starved and beaten by his mother and stepfather.
“We’ve done a lot of soul searching about this and put a lot of thought into it and we’ve committed to it with our eyes open,” Reeves says.
The “Do it for Daniel” campaign admits the boy should not have died but highlights the fact it has been a trigger for massive changes in the council to improve children’s services and frontline social work.
A serious case review criticised the council’s children’s services for four social work assessments that missed the harm the boy was suffering and the future risk. It also heavily criticised other agencies, such as health and education, for failing to act on warning signs.
Reeves says Pelka’s death had a profound effect on the entire council, from himself and elected members down to frontline social workers.
“But it also had a profound impact on the city itself. This city was almost paralysed by the desperate nature of the death, particularly because something of that nature had never happened here before.
“It changed people’s attitudes. They are now prepared to talk about things they weren’t prepared to talk about before. As a result we are dealing with a significant increase in demand on our referral and assessment teams.”
Reeves says he himself now spends a lot of time with frontline social workers, talking about the issues they face and the complexity of the referrals they are dealing with.
“There were obviously clear issues in our service and there were serious and fundamental challenges around sharing information and the need for professionals to challenge each other.
“But I suppose what really hit me was that these issues were very characteristic of other serious case reviews across the country. It showed to me the importance of getting the right systems in place.
“We have increased the amount of resource going into children’s services to try and cope with that increased demand. The second challenge is to now build a sustainable platform to ensure we have the right people, the right practice and the right models in place. We want to improve prevention; deal with concerns earlier and involve universal services better.”
He says Coventry’s recruitment partner, TMP, has done a lot of research indicating social workers appreciate honesty when it comes to recruitment.
“I want this campaign to indicate our determination to not brush our failings under the carpet and deny them, but to be ruthlessly clear about the challenges and our plan to overcome them.”
He says a bold campaign is needed because Coventry has to recruit so many staff including 55 experienced social workers, two principal social workers, 10 senior practitioners, six team managers, eight independent reviewing officers as well as a quality assurance manager.
He points out the council approached Daniel’s family, including his father in Poland, before committing to the campaign. Approval was given with the hope it would help improve services.
“The truth is we need this campaign to increase both the volume and quality of social workers who are discussing Coventry and its needs and applying for jobs because they feel they can bring something that will help us.
“If we can achieve that then I think the influx of experienced and talented social workers with new ideas will in turn give a massive boost to our existing team.”
He agrees there is a risk of the campaign backfiring, with social workers denouncing the campaign as distasteful and put off from applying for jobs.
“If that happens then obviously we will reflect on that. I’m personally happy to have a conversation with any social worker who feels they have been put off from applying.
“However, we have run this campaign past a large number of people, including our own frontline social workers and, by and large, most have been incredibly supportive of it – while also understanding there will be some criticism of it,” he adds.