Compete or co-operate?

Council’s decision to pay children and families social workers more than staff
in adult services is a sign of the severity of the social care recruitment
crisis in London.

That Haringey has taken such a step along
with a raft of new retention initiatives is unsurprising. It is a pre-emptive
strike from the borough which will face a barrage of negative headlines when
the Victoria Climbie inquiry reports. Last week, Community Care‘s Care
in the Capital Week symposium heard how the inquiry report will have a negative
impact on the recruitment of social workers in the capital and will place
further pressures on London councils. It may affect the morale of black workers
in particular, and councils should look at retention initiatives now.

The north London borough has also
reintroduced the senior practitioner grade for children and families workers.
This is a clever move which should be followed by all local authorities. As the
symposium heard, if councils want to retain social workers, they must allow
them to practise social work. Staff should not have to move into management in
order to receive a significant pay rise or even recognition of their loyalty.

But Haringey’s move could backfire. Staff in
adult services may well feel resentful about their colleagues’ enhanced pay.
They could argue that the move diminishes the status of work with adults.
However, staff who work in children and families services are under the
greatest pressure, they burn out faster, and they are the hardest to recruit
and retain.

The borough’s move may also provoke
resentment among neighbouring councils if their social workers are tempted by
the enhanced pay nearby. Other boroughs will come under severe pressure to
increase their children and families workers’ salaries to the same level.

That is why Haringey’s action demonstrates
the urgent need for a London-wide strategy on social care recruitment and
retention. Collaboration is key. Councils who launch solo attempts to entice
the shrinking pool of social care workers in the capital are not contributing
to a solution to the general crisis. All employers must work together and they
must start now.  

Foster care is in crisis

must not become the poor relation of adoption, either nationally or in
individual social services departments.

The national debate about adoption could
hardly be more high profile or more misinformed. Campaigners and interested journalists
abound – although sadly they rarely work to the advantage of the children
concerned. Even the Prime Minister is involved.

Of course, improvements in adoption services
are needed, and are being achieved, thanks to the adoption and permanence task
force, and the work done by the Department of Health and BAAF Adoption and
Fostering to keep the feet of legislation on the ground. The consultation on
adoption support, issued this week, is an important move in improving the
reality – rather than some rhetorical ideal – of adoption.

However, fostering affects far more children.
It provides long-term, stable placements. It can also support vulnerable
families who need respite, and young offenders and young people who either
cannot expect or do not want to be adopted.

The shortage of foster carers, revealed by
Fostering Network this week, is a national crisis. It requires a strong lead
from government and an injection of resources. Foster care is not second best.

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