Letters to Community Care 4 December 2008

Child protection beset by systems and unrealistic expectations

Following heavy pressure from the leader of the opposition, the media and general public, Ed Balls was quick to announce new legislation with every local authority in England being required to have a multi-agency children’s trust board who will have to come up with a children and young people’s plan to protect children.

Buzz words in his various speeches included early intervention, prevention and greater accountability as opposed to organisational barriers and competing priorities.

The rhetoric is sounding all too familiar and rather hollow. Surely, it would be better not to go for quick fixes but take a more ­considered approach to appraising child protection services?

We now have an Ofsted report that tells us that vulnerable children in England are not being sufficiently protected because some pro­fessionals in children’s services struggle to spot abuse and that almost half of the serious case reviews interrogated were inadequate.

In addition, research produced by the University of York suggests that the Integrated Children’s System rather than helping social workers to protect more children is more akin to a banana skin making the job even more hazardous.

Ominously, the new Public Law Outline means that there are even greater costs to local authorities seeking care proceedings.

The inspectorates themselves have been found wanting in this case yet they have been given a two-week timescale to unearth what really went wrong in children’s services in Haringey – and even early indications from the Laming Review suggest the government is looking for a very quick turnaround.

Why? Isn’t this all symptomatic of what is currently wrong with the system – unrealistic expectations, lack of time and space for proper analysis and reflection and of course, a shortfall in the resources required to do the job?

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer (England), BASW

You can’t protect from behind a desk

In response to Sally Gillen’s article (“Who’s making the decisions?”, p20, 20 November), I have found it is the inexperienced social workers who refer issues back to their managers.

We know they should not be working on complex cases but the reality is if they “co-work” with more experienced people, they may come across child protection issues they don’t know how to deal with on their own.

The biggest issue for all social workers is the amount of repetitive and irrelevant paperwork which keeps us in the office 80% of our working week to meet performance indicators that are meaningless when it comes to protecting children. We need and want to be out there doing what we have been trained to do not working as overpaid typists. How can you protect children from behind a desk?

Name and address withheld

Doing our best in difficult conditions

As a student social worker in my final year, Baby P’s death in such horrendous circumstances and through such a series of failures upset me deeply. For many of us determined to go into children and families post-qualification this has been a wake-up call.

However, I am disturbed by the constant hounding and generalisation of social workers as “inadequate”, “failures” or “unassertive” by the media. I would like to ask some of the journalists keen on giving lectures on morals to adhere to the principles of journalism too: that of demonstrating integrity in their practice through portraying a balanced account rather than relentlessly sensationalising the scandal to sell their papers.

Why not give a balanced picture by at least mentioning that social workers work with some of the most vulnerable members of society in the most pressurised circumstances and get it right most of the time. And that all legal decisions take place not in isolation but through collective work between different relevant professionals and agencies, not to mention legal teams.

Many of us enter this profession not as a career move but more as a vocation. Yet is there anyone in this world who does not like a pat on the back when they give their utmost effort and get positive results? Compare the recognition head-teachers and police officers get compared with that given to social workers.

Nina Gurung, Brompton, Kent

GSCC needs powers to tackle employers

There are questions about the General Social Care Council’s own conduct in the case of Baby P. Baby P died in August 2007. Why did it take until 13 November 2008, the day after the case generated a heated exchange in parliament, for the GSCC to announce its preliminary inquires into social workers’ conduct? (“GSCC to probe conduct of Baby P social workers”).

The GSCC claims it will be treating these inquiries as all others, yet chief executive Mike Wardle’s comments on Radio 4 (Today Programme, 14 November) suggest otherwise. When John Humphrys put it to Wardle that it was “absolutely blindingly obvious that someone was culpablebecause a child died” did Wardle make the point that the three individuals who were culpable for Baby P’s death had been convicted in court two days before? No, he said the GSCC would be investigating social workers’ conduct in the case.

Wardle was also keen to emphasise that, even had the GSCC been aware of whistleblower Nevres Kemal’s concerns, it would have had no power to act on them. This makes a mockery of the GSCC’s promotion of a code of conduct for employers as well as employees, and of Wardell’s claim in 2002, that the codes could provide a route for employees to raise concerns about unsafe employer practice.

Most agree there’s need for a regulatory body for the social work profession but it needs to be one that responds to facts rather than political and media pressure, and one that supports social workers to raise legitimate concerns about employers’ practice, rather than restricting itself to sitting in judgement on individual workers.

Robin Sen, associate lecturer, Glasgow School of Social Work

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