Year of confusion

dominant theme of 2001 for social services has been uncertainty,
following the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act.
Meanwhile, the Victoria Climbie inquiry has further coloured the
public’s perception of social workers. Rachel Downey takes a look
back over the year’s major news events.

year saw the initiation of the most radical shake-up to social
services for three decades. The Health and Social Care Act 2001,
which introduces care trusts, dominated the social care political
agenda for the year. Ministers appeared to grant concessions making
the formation of trusts voluntary, but health secretary Alan
Milburn’s address to the national social services conference in
October implied they would be compulsory. By the end of the year,
local government leaders were admitting the dominance of health in
the new world order.

uncertainty continued after the passage of the act, as doubt
emerged over whether some of the first pilot trusts were in fact
supposed to be the testing ground for the new bodies. The initial
nine were called to a meeting to be told they were going to form
care trusts. Meanwhile, some areas began doing everything but
forming care trusts, including making the social services director
the chief executive of the primary care trust, as in Barking and
Dagenham, east London.

success of Community Care‘s No Fear campaign in 1999 to
protect social workers from violence in the workplace bore fruit in
January, when every one of its aims were reflected in the
government’s national action plan, backed by £2m and a target
to reduce violence and abuse by at least 25 per cent by 2005.

three-year vocational degree programme replacing the Diploma in
Social Work, to start in 2003, won support in March as a
much-needed method to boost the professional status of social work.
Carers won the right to an assessment with the implementation of
the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000 in April.

Labour achieved its second term in June and increased the pressure
on public services to “deliver, deliver, deliver”. The Department
of Health was restructured, enabling the further integration of
health and social care.

government intensified its strategy for tackling social exclusion,
with the arrival of the neighbourhood renewal strategy action plan.
This insisted that health should play a significant part in the
proposed local strategic partnerships. Later in the summer, the
government acknowledged that community groups could be key tools in
its social inclusion strategy, publishing a specific compact for
community groups, which flowed from the original compact of
November 1998 between government and the voluntary sector.

flowed forth, in particular for those bodies involving the
voluntary and community sectors. A neighbourhood renewal “tsar” was
appointed and shortly afterwards the bed and breakfast unit, under
another “tsar”, was set up to end the plight of those living in
temporary accommodation.

Victoria Climbie inquiry provided the most visible portrayal of
social workers for the public. A Community Care survey
conducted in the middle of the first stage of the inquiry found
that 41 per cent felt the public perception of social workers had
worsened because of the scapegoating of social worker Lisa
Arthurworrey at the criminal trial of Victoria’s murderers, her
great aunt and her partner. The first stage of the inquiry heard
how social services and other professions failed to protect the
eight-year-old girl.

At the
beginning of the year the government announced there would be a
social care recruitment campaign but it wasn’t launched until the
national social services conference in October. This was
overshadowed by Alan Milburn’s attack on social services
departments for failing to reform fast enough.

work recruitment difficulties deepened during the year, leading
some employers to recruit from overseas. This raised the question
of whether countries could afford to lose their own social workers
to the UK. At Community Care Live in May, Zola Skweyiya,
the South African minister for social development, urged local
authorities to stop using his country as a recruitment pool for
social workers.

services clients saw some promised improvements. The white paper
Valuing People outlined a massive improvement to the lives
of people with learning difficulties. However, the white paper on
mental health diluted the role of approved social workers,
particularly in compulsory treatment.

And for
older people, the publication of the National Service Framework
promised more consistent standards of health care and a challenge
to ageism in the NHS. For people needing long-term care, the news
was mixed. The government had already announced that nursing care
in care homes would be free to residents, but then it capped the
amount at £110 a week. Meanwhile, in Scotland the executive
went the whole hog and said personal and nursing care would be paid
for by the state.

In June,
local authorities and the independent social housing sector warned
that local authority budgets for Supporting People were in danger
of falling short. From April 2003, the government initiative will
transfer responsibility for funding support services linked to
housing from the social security budget to local authorities.

Commons select committee on public administration moved in to
investigate whether private involvement in public services was
threatening the public sector’s traditional ethos and principles.
This followed a controversial report from the Institute for Public
Policy Research warning against using public-private partnerships
and private finance initiatives as a response to the underfunding
of public services.

secretary David Blunkett announced a revamp of the controversial
asylum dispersal scheme, introducing new centres and ID cards, and
dumping the hated voucher scheme.

The idea
of unqualified “support, time, recovery workers” to work with
mental health service users was touted in the final report of the
workforce action team on the mental health National Service

Adoption and Children Bill, which aims to make adoption easier, was
re-entered for the parliamentary race later in the year. The new
national adoption register was launched, and went to Norwood
Ravenswood, a voluntary adoption agency.

continued throughout the year over the new children and family
court advisory support service, a merging of existing services
including children’s guardians. The self-employed guardians opposed
reduced salaries and eventually won a court victory against the
move to remove their independence.

home owners protested bitterly over their financial plight as the
sector saw significant shrinkage. The government stepped in with
new money for local authorities – referred to as “cash for change”
and dependent on new agreements with independent providers, health
and housing organisations.

finally saw the home care charging guidance, but it clarified
nothing, leaving it up to the “discretion” of local authorities,
thus ensuring the continuation of the postcode lottery. However,
there was one important concession at the end of the year when
disabled people were exempted from charges. Months after the
charging guidance came the new standards for home care, which were
welcomed without the antagonism that greeted those for residential
and nursing home care.

antagonism continued, fuelled by the chairperson of the National
Care Standards Commission, Anne Parker, who was accused of sending
out conflicting signals at each conference she addressed. She also
signalled that survival was the main aim of the NCSC in its first
year. The British Medical Association later suggested merging the
new organisation with the health inspectorate, the Commission for
Health Improvement.

old standards were still causing rows, new ones on adoption and
foster care were issued but without opposition. Also unopposed was
the new Children (Leaving Care) Act, which ensures that local
authorities continue to support care leavers until the age of 21
and in some cases beyond.

We lost
Maureen Oswin, the social researcher who opened our eyes to the
appalling conditions facing children with learning difficulties,
and Anne Van Meeuwen, principal officer at Barnardo’s, who will be
remembered for her work on adoption.

This was
the year of the acronym, with one list of confusing names being
replaced by another set, as Topps, the GSCC, the NCSC and Scie all
came into being. Both CCETSW and NISW were consigned to

It was a
year of confusing signals about the future of social services and a
difficult one for almost all agencies as they struggled to remain
within budget while staffing shortages grew. There were success
stories – new research revealed that social workers had implemented
the ambitions of the Children Act 1989 and the judge in the
internet twins case praised the Flintshire social workers involved
– but the dominant theme was of uncertainty about an unclear

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