Up close and personal

    When it comes to the future of the children’s workforce there is
    one thing that National Children’s Bureau head Paul Ennals is
    pretty clear about: that different children’s professionals are not
    going to be abandoned in favour of generic workers.

    “It emphatically does not mean making everyone into a generic
    children’s worker. I know some people are afraid of that and I
    really think that is a misunderstanding of the agenda,” he says. “I
    don’t think anyone wants a generic children’s worker but what is
    wanted is for the existing professions to work better together and
    that should involve working in different ways.”

    To explain what he means, he gives the example of teachers and
    social workers. “Often, deep frustration and mutual
    misunderstanding build up. Schools think social workers spend time
    finding reasons not to take on a caseload, while social workers
    think teachers spend time dumping all their problems on someone
    else.”
    But in the future, as a consequence of the extended schools
    programme, teachers and social workers will have to work more
    closely together – and will, inevitably, have to adapt their
    approach.

    “Teachers shouldn’t become social workers but can become better
    at understanding and responding to child protection concerns.
    Social workers shouldn’t become teachers but can come to understand
    how schools can play a strong part in keeping children safe,” he
    says. Yet he is adamant that, if anything, the “solid professional
    skills” of teachers and social workers will become even more
    important than is currently the case.

    To achieve improved joint working across the whole children’s
    sector, Ennals is convinced that training schemes for practitioners
    should be re-examined to make sure children’s workers have a common
    grounding and an understanding of how the different roles can
    interact.

    Such is his support for more complementary training among
    children’s professionals Ennals is chair of two new, influential,
    bodies – the Children’s Workforce Development Council and an
    offshoot, the Children’s Workforce Network.

    The CWDC  was set up following the government’s commitment to
    reforming the workforce in the green paper Every Child Matters. It
    covers early years, social care, educational welfare and foster
    care, and its job is to come up with a training and qualifications
    framework. Although funded by the government, the CWDC is
    independent and employer-led – officially it doesn’t get up and
    running until April, but the shadow board, which includes
    representatives from the National Day Nurseries Association and the
    Independent Children’s Homes Association, has been running since
    June last year.

    The CWDC co-ordinates the Children’s Workforce Network, which is
    designed to bring together the key players across the whole of the
    children’s profession, not just those who fall within the narrower
    remit of the CWDC. It is made up of senior level representatives
    from organisations including those that represent school staff,
    child health specialists and play workers, and is to work towards a
    combined programme of workforce development. The network has so far
    met twice, to talk about ways of bringing together the various
    training and qualifications frameworks.

    Ennals says: “It is wrong that the world of children’s social
    care feels like an entirely different world from the world of
    teaching or child health. It is wrong that someone coming into that
    work finds it so hard to transfer their skills and training across
    to working with children in another setting.”

    The ultimate aim, he says, is for training programmes to be
    developed that will allow people in one children’s profession to
    “translate their training into something that carries credibility”
    in another.

    But beyond staff training, the Children’s Workforce Network is
    also a forum where the different organisations can discuss common
    problems, such as recruitment and retention. Ennals thinks there is
    huge potential for sharing recruitment campaigns – and channelling
    interested applicants into the right area of the children’s
    profession rather than losing them altogether just because they are
    unsuitable for a specific role being advertised.

    This could prove a useful tactic, should new professional roles
    spring up in the future in the way that Ennals predicts. “In the
    past when new integrated services have developed, new professional
    roles have sprung up. We’ll see loads of other new roles emerging
    as local services find creative ways of meeting needs,” he
    says.
    Indeed, it is his belief that unless the government goes further
    than merely joining up structures such as children’s trusts, and
    actually promotes the joining up of roles, then “in 10 years we
    won’t know anything has happened”. But he adds: “When we do find
    such roles we will have to train people to undertake them. We have
    to support them and supervise them.”

    It is only with the right, adapted training that he feels
    sustainable change can be achieved. In the past, pioneers’ attempts
    to introduce innovative, joined-up ways of working have often faded
    away. Ennals attributes this dismal pattern to the fact that
    training for the different workers involved has always remained
    separate. But, given the government’s more systematic approach this
    time, he is hopeful that lasting change can be achieved.

    “If we can develop workforce infrastructure to support joined-up
    working then changes might become embedded and real,” he says. But
    he warns: “We have to develop a common infrastructure otherwise the
    tide will come in and go out and there will be no footprints left
    in the sand and the new experiment in integrated working will be as
    if it never happened.”

    So what are the challenges that lie ahead? In the first
    instance, the “conservatism” of the existing professional groups
    who, having fought hard for pride and identity, are now concerned
    that they could lose it all too quickly.
    “The risk is that people will defend the past rather than be open
    to further changes,” says Ennals. “There’s an innate defensiveness
    among people who have worked in the old silos. Even if in principle
    they want to work in a new way their instincts might start to drag
    them back.”

    But he is keen to point out that uniting around the needs of the
    child doesn’t mean that workers can’t unite in other ways. “By
    saying there is something that unites all those working with
    children doesn’t mean there isn’t still something that unites
    nurses or social workers.

    “Most of us live in several worlds. I’ve worked with children
    but I’m now a manager and see some commonality with managers. All
    of us have several different images. I don’t have to constrain
    myself to just one construct.”
    Of course it’s not just the workers themselves who are limited by
    the silo mentality. The trade unions, professional associations and
    regulatory bodies are equally separate – for the time being
    anyway.

    “We’ll know if we have really moved on with the creation of a
    children’s profession when we start to see some of those types of
    infrastructures cutting across.”

    Given that no single professional association covers the needs
    of the whole children’s workforce, the Children’s Workforce
    Development Council has offered a place to the British Association
    of Social Workers, even though its membership covers less than 2
    per cent of the children’s workforce. It is hoped that over time,
    the different professional associations will come to an agreement
    about which of them can represent the interests of them all on the
    CWDC.

    None of the ambitious plans for the children’s workforce can be
    achieved overnight. As Ennals points out, changing workforce
    practice through training is “a long game”.

    “Even if we were to change all the training for all the new
    people coming into social work, teaching and health visiting, it
    would still be 40 years before the last person trained under the
    old system worked their way through.”

    This is of particular concern given that those at the top of the
    professions are themselves from the old divided professions.

    “In the coming years the risk is that new people coming in will
    be motivated by a new joined up way of working that rejects the old
    organisational silos and barriers but that the leaders, the
    grey-haired figures in suits and power jackets will have been
    trained in the old way.”

    Ennals believes that the days of “idle rhetoric” about the
    joining up of the children’s workforce are over and is optimistic
    that real steps are now being taken.

    “In 10 to 15 years, when the workforce is working in a different
    way, some of the things that seem challenging now will be hard to
    understand,” he promises.

    That may well be the case, but for many at the moment, the road
    ahead still seems long and potentially hazardous.

    Behind the council

    The Children’s Workforce Development Council was established
    following the green paper Every Child Matters. It is one of five
    bodies which will form the UK Skills for Care and Development
    Sector Skills Council. A shadow board is in operation but a
    permanent chair and chief executive are expected to be appointed in
    April. It is funded by the government but is employer-led.

    What is its mission?

    • To improve outcomes for children by enhancing the role of the
      workforce.
    • To strengthen the workforce by ensuring all workers have the
      appropriate skills and qualifications.
    • To encourage integration while continuing to value the
      distinctiveness of each profession.
    • To promote a vision of the children’s workforce as “integrated,
      satisfying and valuable”.

    Which sector does it represent?

    • Early years including childminders, day care workers and
      nursery teachers.
    • Educational welfare staff, learning mentors and Connexions
      advisers.
    • Foster care.
    • Social care including Cafcass.

     What is the Children’s Workforce Network? 

    • The CWN brings together those involved in workforce development
      across the wider children’s sector.
    • Includes organisations representing those who employ teachers
      and other school staff, youth workers, youth justice workers, play
      workers, social care practitioners and child health
      specialists.
    • Will co-ordinate a combined programme for workforce development
      and reform.

     

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