Social work leaders’ fears over Blair plan to screen babies and children

A government plan for health and children’s workers to intervene in the lives of babies from “dysfunctional” families could be the “biggest disaster in social care for 20 years” if it leads to more children being taken into care, a social work leader has warned.

Andrew Webb (pictured left), co-chair of the children and families committee at the Association of Directors of Social Services, said this could be an “unintended consequence” of the plan for health visitors or children’s centre workers to visit babies in families with “multiple” problems, such as drug misuse or offending, from birth up to two years.

In a speech this week, Tony Blair said more than one in 10 newly born babies were at risk and needed early identification. The policy will be fleshed out in the government’s social exclusion action plan, due out next week, which Blair trailed in his speech.

Ray Jones, chair of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “We have to be very careful that this does not become a process where professionals judge very early on whether families should keep their children or not.”

Jones criticised Blair’s failure to mention social workers and said they needed to be involved. He also called for suitable training for health visitors and children’s centre staff.

It emerged that the plan had first been mooted then dropped during the government’s early drafts of the 2004 National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services, according to a source close to government.

“The Department of Health panicked over the financial implications,” the source said.

This week, health professionals questioned whether there were sufficient resources to carry out the plan.

Amicus, which represents health visitors, said many of its members were losing jobs because of recruitment freezes in “debt-laden” primary care trusts.

Obi Amada, lead health sector professional officer for Amicus, said: “We want to know where the extra health visitors – who are at their lowest number for 12 years – are coming from to provide the interventions that the prime minister is now calling for.”

Other new exclusion policies

  • An extension of budget-holding lead professionals for children in care.
  • Intensive fostering and home-based care for children with mental health problems.

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