Front line sags in backroom battles

    In the past 40 years we have placed considerable faith in the
    ability of new laws and procedures to do a better job of protecting
    children. Yet inquiries still continue into the serious abuse and
    death of children whose circumstances were already known to public
    authorities.

    If implemented with a real commitment to change, the present
    package of legislative and policy proposals could protect children
    better. But realising the promise of Every Child Matters
    depends on avoiding the pitfalls.

    Most important will be the ability to put the views and needs of
    children and young people before organisational issues. There must
    be a commitment to whole system change, with the highest priority
    given to front-line services.

    But the twin developments of enabling structural change in the
    creation of children’s trusts and creating the new post of director
    of children’s services will result in considerable upheaval and
    cost. I fear that too much time, energy and resources will be spent
    on reorganisation, diverting attention from where Lord Laming
    identified the greatest effort was needed: improving effectiveness
    at the front line.

    In her evidence to Lord Laming, one social worker talked about
    “conveyor belt social work”, which emphasised getting cases through
    the system and meeting targets. How often do organisations make
    demands on front-line staff without asking how relevant these are
    to their key purposes? When social workers at Barnardo’s were asked
    what single action would make them feel better supported, they said
    it was having their manager’s skills more readily available.

    As well as supporting staff, we have to improve retention and
    transferability between the different disciplines within the
    children’s workforce. Diverse patterns of training must be
    explored, and the pay and rewards structure reviewed.

    Culture change is a great thing to talk about, but tangible action
    must accompany it if the necessary shift is to happen. We must
    organise services primarily to support and enable competent and
    quality work at the front-line. Only then can we dare to hope that
    we will never need another Laming Inquiry.

    Roger Singleton is chief executive of Barnardo’s.

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