As 2006 draws to a close, Community Care revisits the sector’s most memorable slip-ups, scandals and revelations of the year. Lauren Revans counts down the top 10
● Fathers 4 Justice: The fathers’ rights campaign group was forced to hang up their superhero capes for the last time in January after the media reported an alleged plot to kidnap the prime minister’s youngest son.
● Al Aynsley-Green: The children’s commissioner finally admitted in October what many in the sector had predicted from the outset: being accountable to the education secretary affects independence.
● Network Rail: Staff at the rail operator were left rueing the cold January day they told a wheelchair user they were too busy to help him on to a train. The stranded passenger happened to be Bert Massie, chair of the Disability Rights Commission. An official inquiry ensued.
● Lord Kamlesh Patel: The national director of the Department of Health’s black and minority ethnic mental health programme resigned in November – to pursue an inquiry into the experience of mental health patients from ethnic minorities.
Competition for the worst head-in-hand moments of 2006 was tough. But kicking off the top 10 is the Department of Health.
The moment in question takes us back to August, when the DH wrote to strategic health authorities complaining that primary care trusts were likely to miss key targets on child and adolescent mental health services.
A week later, Community Care revealed that the DH had failed to pay PCTs a major children’s mental health service grant due four months earlier and had not even told them how much to expect.
As Young Minds’ consultancy and training manager, Lee Miller, politely put it, PCTs were being asked to deliver targets with one hand tied behind their back.
The number 9 slot goes to a couple of organisations, known (or not known, as the case is more likely to be) as CSIP and IDeA.
A survey of more than 1,600 social care practitioners by Community Care in October found that, after seven years, the Improvement and Development Agency – or IDeA to the few in the know – had made an impression on only 31 per cent of practitioners, of whom just half knew what it actually did. Only one in five practitioners, meanwhile, were aware of the existence of the Care Services Improvement Partnership – or CSIP to the few in the know – 18 months after its inauguration.
It was inevitable that antisocial behaviour orders would make an appearance somewhere in our list of incredulous stories, so here they are at number 8.
In May, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published research revealing a spectacular own goal on the part of authorities that were routinely issuing sex workers with Asbos.
The study reveals that this action was in effect criminalising vulnerable women, preventing them accessing vital support services and putting their safety at risk by forcing them to move to unfamiliar streets and surroundings.
The JRF helpfully pointed out that perhaps Asbos were not the ideal approach for dealing with this group of people.
In at number 7 is the newfangled, cuddly Conservative Party.
Not only did we learn in the summer that David Cameron advocates the hugging of hoodies, but in October shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton told us that he was teaming up with Lord Laming to work on a plan to “transform the status and respect” of social workers by creating a level playing field between them and other public sector workers and increasing their salaries.
However, Loughton did quickly add that he wasn’t actually in a position to make any lasting financial pledges.
The Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate is at number 6 for offering asylum seekers legal support that they can’t access in time.
The story unfolded in August, when the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees published evidence suggesting that asylum seekers fast-tracked at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre were being set up to fail because the system was too fast to give them a fair chance.
The directorate says fast-tracking asylum claims has resulted in significant savings in processing times and asylum seeker support costs. This probably has something to do with the fact that only 1 per cent of fasttrack claimants (who have just a matter of days to prepare and often have no legal representation at their appeal) get a positive initial decision compared with 22 per cent in the non-detained system.
Halfway through our top 10 and we have our only Scottish entrant in the shape of the depressing truth about the country’s free personal care policy.
In June, the Scottish parliament’s health committee confirmed what many had long-suspected: demand is outstripping resources in many of the country’s 32 local authorities. More than half admitted operating waiting lists for free care as a result of a lack of funds. Some were also delaying assessments, taking advantage of the fact that free care could not be backdated from the time of eligibility.
However, this could all be a thing of the past thanks to a ruling by the Scottish services ombudsman last week which suggests that councils will now have to fund free care regardless of whether money is available.
Anyone got a spare £79m? At number 4 is Surrey Council’s announcement in January of its plans to re-integrate its adults’ and children’s social services – just as everyone else was being encouraged to do the opposite.
Defending the four-star authority’s decision, chief executive Richard Shaw said that a merged department would prevent duplication and enable best practice to be shared more easily between services as well as making more sense in relation to issues such as transition.
The Department of Health is back in at number 3.
Proving that there is no such thing as third time lucky, the Mental Health Bill published last month retains many of the unpopular parts of the second draft which was scrapped in March.
These include the plans to subject people to compulsory treatment without any therapeutic benefit.
However, in the interest of brevity, the department has abandoned all popular sections of the draft bill, including an advocacy right and a pledge to improve the mental health review tribunal system.
For number 2, we stay with the Department of Health for its third and final entry in our top 10.
In the middle of a social work recruitment campaign in March, the DH announced that anyone starting a social work degree in England in September 2006 would face variable tuition fees, likely to be £3,000 a year.
The rule change, although partly offset by larger bursaries, has ensured social work degrees are now more financially draining than courses in nursing, midwifery or teaching.
Add to this the impact of the decision by the General Social Care Council to cap travel expenses during practice placements and the government’s proclaimed commitment to the social work profession all starts to look just a little shaky.
Stealing the Christmas number 1 spot is the generous cross-departmental offer of “help” for parents for the coming years.
In January, the Respect Action Plan revived previously scrapped plans to fine or cut the benefits of families evicted because of antisocial behaviour.
Another of the plan’s proposals – to allow for the prosecution of parents who do not supervise children excluded from school for the first five days of their exclusion – was promptly taken up by the Department for Education and Skills and pushed through as part of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
Now that is what you call tough love. Merry Christmas everyone.
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This article appeared in the 14 December issue, under the headline “The Imperfect 10”
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