Letters to Community Care 11 December 2008

Baby P: we mustn’t lose sight of root causes of failings

Like everyone else I know in the field, I was heartened by the critically reflective debate begun in Community Care on 20 November on the issues raised by Baby P’s death.

I thought it echoed what I and others have felt for some time about our core skills and the need for an overhaul of education, training and supervision.

However, I was also concerned the real lessons may be swallowed up by yet another central government initiative, based on form-filling and number crunching.

While forms and systems are important, safeguarding often centres on what is done by individual social workers, often alone, in their direct encounters with families.

If you have seen or heard nothing, then you have nothing to enter on a form or share with someone else. Considerable change is needed in our training and development.

I was therefore a little saddened to see that much of the coverage in Community Care the following week again centred on inspections and systems. I was also concerned by what I felt was the self congratulatory tone of our four Hackney colleagues (“Reclaiming Social Work in Hackney”). This is no time to be bigging ourselves up.

Unless this latest local transformation additionally includes systematic skills-based training and support for frontline staff, as well as extra hours in the day, one wonders if all of the frontline social workers genuinely feel more confident and able to enter someone’s home and protect a child.

We need to train people who can see, hear and smell things, make professional judgments, sometimes on the spot, and have the skills to firmly confront service users where necessary with the confidence that they can avoid any possible aggression.

This has massive implications for universities, who should review their course content, and for employers, who need to fulfil their duty of care to frontline workers by delivering ongoing direct work training, more manageable caseloads and constructively critical support.

Debbie Donovan, Suffolk

Payment by results is no retention cure

Belief in performance related pay’s value is just as touchingly innocent as a belief in the existence of elves and fairies (“What a performance”). In jobs that depend on teamwork individual performance related pay is divisive and damaging to morale.

I have seen PRP in different organisations. Only where it is so subverted that it acts as an automatic pay boost does it help retain staff. PRP has one advantage human resources departments like it because it creates more jobs – for them as it does for consultants.

Care organisations should look at the factors that do motivate staff. Frederick Herzberg knew these 20 years ago. Being given a good job to do was one. But how many care organisations are daring enough to look at what really motivates staff?

Roger Backhouse, Ilford, Essex

Baby P case puts focus on care code

Everyone recognises that the responsibility for the death of Baby P lies with those who abused him (“GSCC needs powers to tackle employers”, letters). However, it is important that the public is also made aware that those who work in social work and who deal with these types of cases can be held accountable for their actions.

Where in the course of our work we discover information that suggests there are issues about the quality and safety of a service we pass on that information to the relevant inspectorate, either Ofsted or the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

We consider that the responsibility of employers to support their staff to deliver high standards would be strengthened by making adherence to the General Social Care Council’s code of practice for social care employers mandatory with inspection based on them carried out by the new Care Quality Commission and Ofsted.

We believe this would lead to greater protection for people who use services but would also improve the support that social workers and other social care workers receive from their employers.

Mike Wardle, chief executive, General Social Care Council

Let’s be realistic about smoking bans

I agree with the project lessons identified from demonstration projects supporting mental health in-patients to give up smoking (“No butts, no problem”). But the article presents an unrealistically positive interpretation of the smoking ban and is unrepresentative of the lived experience of many mental health in-patients.

It mentions outside areas where those who are not ready to give up can smoke, and where diversions such as arts and crafts, walking and swimming detract from boredom.

These may be possibilities for in-patients where the demonstration projects took place but not for patients within trusts that choose to also ban smoking in their grounds. Lack of activities is a major issue cited by our members heightened by factors around gender inequality.

Due to higher numbers of men within the system, women are often disadvantaged in terms of less access to activities. The reality is that many people are being forcibly stopped from smoking and without access to diversionary activities.

If the well-being of the in-patients was the primary motivation behind the ban, activities and cessation support would have been put comprehensively in place as a first step.

It is a pity that the project lessons were not applied to the ban itself: working in partnership, led by service users and specialist staff and allowing people to make incremental improvements, rather than having to give up smoking all at once, have been conspicuous by their absence in the wider application of the legislation.

Ellen Clifford, trustee, WISH: a voice for women’s mental health

Children inevitably less safe

Following the sad death of Baby P, the general condemnation of social workers by the media and politicians will have a number of completely predictable outcomes. A bureaucratic and reactive response by the government, a major exodus of the most talented workers and managers from the social work profession (including potential new entrants),and a significant increase in the numbers of children removed from the care of potentially sound and viable parents. The overall result will be that children are more rather than less vulnerable.

Peter Jones, Blackburn

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