Too much babbling

    Idon’t sleep very well, so when I first wake up, I put on my
    earphones and switch on my radio. It is my equivalent of a comfort
    blanket and works well for me. I just heard the results of one of
    those annoying little surveys that fill radio space and newspapers.
    Sometimes I don’t remember the interesting things I have learned
    early in the morning until days later, then I find myself wanting
    to tell everyone. This time, though, (5.45am) I heard the words
    social work and made a note as soon as I got up: “New survey shows
    that the happiest workers are hairdressers.”

    Then we heard from a hairdresser in Liverpool who didn’t sound
    very happy – being up so early in the morning. Among the least
    happy workers are architects, civil servants and social
    workers!

    At this point, the woman co-presenter made an interesting
    observation: “I think I’d be happiest working with children.” Of
    course, she didn’t make the connection, but we can. A lot of social
    workers work with children – so how come they aren’t happier?
    What’s gone wrong?

    This is the issue that the government’s Children’s Workforce
    Development Group is meant to resolve. It is shortly publishing its
    first strategy document, which will raise some big
    expectations.

    Following from the shortcomings highlighted by the death of
    Victoria Climbie, how do we recruit and keep a positive, capable,
    committed workforce linked across different services and policies?
    I can only wish the Children’s Workforce Strategy well, hope that
    its report achieves all that is hoped for it and that the energy
    and efforts of its proponents are rewarded. It is difficult,
    however, to feel reassured. When any policy development like this
    is signalled, there is a tendency for people to generate their own
    wish lists. In this case, it might be more realistic to take a step
    back and consider some of the worry lists we may have
    accumulated.

    Mine starts with size. Children are small. They look up at the
    world. It, in turn, often seems to look down at them. If ever there
    was an issue where “small is beautiful”, then surely it is children
    and their childhoods. Yet policymakers seem to be stuck in a world
    of one size fits all. That size is measuring all things, including
    children, child care policy and the children’s workforce in terms
    of top-down managerialism. There were many worrying indications
    from Lord Laming’s inquiry about the political processes of
    policy-making, that too much reliance has again been placed on
    management solutions. The introduction of new structures, bodies,
    roles and relationships, has so far dominated the discussion. Why
    is so much hope still invested in them? I hope the Children’s
    Workforce Development Group will be able resist this pressure.

    We have to hope that it will start small as it seeks to grapple
    with big issues of recruitment, retention, competence,
    communication and co-ordination. This means beginning with
    practitioners and service users and the importance of facilitating
    supportive relationships between them and building competent and
    responsive agencies with adequate resources. It must start with the
    relatively small (but real) world most of us live and work in.

    Experience suggests there aren’t any shortcuts to good practice
    and good practice environments. The fear is that discussion will
    start from a managerial perspective. I’ve just read such an
    example, one metropolitan area’s children’s workforce strategy. It
    isn’t short on mission statements and “visioning”. I am sure it is
    based on the best intentions. There’s lot about “enhanced”,
    “delivering capacity”, “benchmarks”, “scenarios”,
    “action-planning”, “new ways of working”, “demand drivers”,
    “outflows”, “inputs”, “partnership” and so on. The “goal is to
    create additionality and alternatives” through “an underpinning
    strategy” committed to an “agile and adaptable workforce”. Quite,
    but why is this not reassuring? Where are the service users and
    workers in all of it?

    The hope has to be that Children’s Workforce Development Group’s
    report is in sharp contrast to such babble. It must start where the
    problems have been. It must make sure that service users and
    practitioners are centre stage in all its proposals.

    Peter Beresford is professor of social policy, Brunel
    University, and is involved with the psychiatric system survivor
    movement.

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