Social care leadership receives boost with initiatives to improve managers’ skills

    Does social care lack good leadership? Until Lord Laming’s
    inquiry last year the question had rarely been asked. But now the
    sector is scurrying to catch up with the various leadership
    initiatives already flourishing in health and education.

    Next month, the Social Care Institute for Excellence is due to
    announce a leadership in social care programme, trailing the NHS
    Leadership Centre set up in 2001 and the National College for
    School Leadership founded in 2000.

    Meanwhile, the training body Topss England has identified
    leadership, management, assessment and mentoring as skills gaps to
    be addressed in the proposed five-year workforce development
    strategy published last week.

    “There’s been very little attention and aid given to leadership
    in social care,” says Trish Kearney, director of practice
    development at Scie. “We haven’t had any career progression offered
    to staff. The sector has lacked guidance and resources for too long
    around developing the workforce.”

    This has changed since a series of inquiries into social care
    failings, culminating in Lord Laming’s report into the death of
    Victoria Climbie.

    Laming reserved his harshest criticisms for senior managers who,
    he said, had “not kept pace with the demands of the job”. Lisa
    Arthurworrey, Victoria’s social worker, blamed a lack of good
    supervision for her own failings.

    But upholding the appeal by Arthurworrey’s manager, Angella
    Mairs, against her inclusion on the Protection of Children Act
    List, a care standards tribunal acknowledged the impact of time
    pressures on the ability to supervise effectively. It said that,
    with only 90 minutes to look at 16 case files in a supervision
    session, Mairs’ meeting with Arthurworrey was “doomed to fail”.

    Much of the leadership work that is now being developed is
    targeted at team managers such as Mairs. Topss is working on a
    national occupational standard for supervision – something that has
    never existed before.

    Scie has also produced a leadership training pack for first-line
    managers. “Team managers are the keystones of the operation because
    they look both ways in the organisation,” Kearney says. “It’s about
    recognising team managers as arbiters of standards, with
    responsibility for the whole team’s activity.”

    Nigel Druce, strategic adviser for social services at the
    Improvement and Development Agency, blames the performance
    management culture for recent failures in people management.

    “The lesson we ought to learn is that we have overloaded our
    managers with process issues – feeding the beast of inspections,
    health and safety, things which are nothing about the services we
    can deliver to individuals,” he says.

    “Middle managers’ time has been squeezed and contact with
    front-line staff has reduced. We need to take away that burden of

    Druce argues that middle managers should be given the power to
    engage “natural community leaders”, then give them the resources to
    effect change.

    He cites his own experience as director of social services in
    Cornwall, where two health visitors were given the freedom and
    support to transform a deprived estate in Falmouth, in the process
    reducing the number of children on the town’s child protection
    register from 28 to eight.

    Most first-line managers would welcome more training in leading
    their teams. But care should be taken that it is not used an excuse
    for more time-consuming performance management, which may also give
    senior management new excuses to pass the buck.

    As Lord Laming said last year: “There must be no hiding place
    for managers.” 


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