The Conservatives are urging the government to create the position of a chief social worker who would act as the “public face” of the profession.
Shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton yesterday said he wanted the proposal to be included in the Children and Young Persons Bill.
During the bill’s second reading yesterday, Loughton said the chief social worker would be directly responsible to the secretary of state and “advise on ways to promote the image and perceptions of social workers among the public”. The person would also advise on ways to improve social workers’ performance and hold them to account.
He will table an amendment to the bill proposing the post, which was mooted by the Tory’s social work commission last year. A similar role is already in existence in New Zealand, where it has “done a lot of good for the perception and standing of social workers”, Loughton told MPs.
Junior children’s minister Kevin Brennan said that needed changes across the children’s workforce could not be achieved by central government or “a single partner alone” but said he looked forward to hearing more on the proposal.
Loughton also waded into the long-running row over adoption targets by pledging to table further amendments to the bill “stipulating that incentive payments cannot be paid to local authorities to increase adoption numbers”. He called the alleged payments “a perverse incentive” and said they were not in the interests of children.
In response, Brennan said he was “surprised” that Loughton “got into the business of adoption targets” and said the only targets relating to children in care had ended in 2006. Brennan told MPs the targets – originating from the Adoption and Children Act 2002 – were “on the number of children already in care and waiting to be placed for adoption, and speeding up the process”.
But Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has repeatedly claimed that local authorities recieve financial rewards for taking children into care, claimed that such targets were scrapped only this year.
Brennan insisted there were “no financial targets” attached to the national adoption targets, adding: “Neither is there any evidence whatever that supports the contention that [Hemming] has made on a number of occasions, which is that young children becoming adopted is somehow linked to reward payments of some sort; there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever.”
Several MPs also backed campaigners calls to amend the bill so children could remain in foster care beyond the age of 18. Yesterday, Brennan announced schemes to pilot the measure would take place in 10 areas.
Children’s minister Beverley Hughes told MPs that it was “very reasonable” to expect children needed to stay in placements beyond the age of 18, adding: “How quickly we can go will depend on the pilots and on resources, but that is our direction of travel.”
The bill, which outlines reforms to looked-after children’s services, continues its passage through parliament.
Tory Social Workers’ Commission calls for workforce changes