Ed Balls and Alan Johnson announce Social Work Taskforce

Children’s secretary Ed Balls and health secretary Alan Johnson have announced the creation of a Social Work Taskforce to help improve the profession’s quality and status and boost recruitment and retention.

The group, chaired by former Association of Directors of Social Services president Moira Gibb, will examine the profession’s long-term future, beginning work in the New Year and reporting by next summer.

In a letter to Gibb, published yesterday, Balls and Johnson said the taskforce should focus on:-

  • How professional social workers are deploying their time now.
  • Why they prioritise their time in the way they do.
  • What support and supervision they receive and whether it is effective and fit for purpose.
  • What actions and behaviours by professional social workers make the most difference to vulnerable children and adults.
  • How to ensure there are the right number of social workers on the frontline to secure high quality services and support.
  • What changes are needed to drive improvements in frontline practice.

Baby P

The announcement is certain to be seen in the context of the Baby P case and the recent joint area review of safeguarding in Haringey, which found systemic problems with frontline practice and the support given to social workers in the north London borough.

However, Johnson and Balls said the taskforce was borne out of the conclusions of an expert group on the children’s workforce, chaired by Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Maggie Atkinson.

The two ministers said: “Their view is that significant change is needed to drive further improvements in the quality of professional social work practice and training, the status of the profession as a whole and its ability to attract and retain excellent and well-motivated people.”

Support for children’s directors

Besides the taskforce, the National College of School Leadership, ADCS and the Children’s Workforce Development Council will develop a programme to support and strengthen the leadership of directors of children’s services.

This programme and the taskforce will inform the forthcoming strategies on the children’s and adult social care workforces.

In their letter to Gibb, who is now chief executive of Camden Council, Johnson and Balls said the strategies’ objectives would be to:-

  • Reform initial social work training.
  • Drive improvements in the quality of professional practice.
  • Attract and retain the brightest and best people to work in social work.
  • Strengthen the delivery system which supports and challenges social workers.

Children’s Plan: one year on

The announcement of the taskforce has been brought forward from later in the week, when it was due to be unveiled as part of a report updating progress on the Children’s Plan, a year after its publication.

Balls and Johnson said that the taskforce would be established as a joint unit across the Department of Health and Department for Children, Schools and Families, which would take forward reforms to social work over the longer-term. Balls and Johnson said it would be staffed by professional practitioners and external experts, as well as policy officials.

Its vice-chairs will be Andrew Webb, director of children’s services at Stockport Council, and Children’s Society chief executive Bob Reitemeier.

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