Ed Balls: We must make social work a Masters level profession

Children’s secretary Ed Balls has declared that social work should become a Masters level profession to boost its quality and status.

In a speech to the first meeting of the Social Work Taskforce, Balls said the morale of the profession had been dented following the Baby P scandal and the government and practitioners had a “responsibility to turn this around”.

While he did not offer any details about how qualification requirements for social work could be extended beyond the current undergraduate degree, he signalled that this could be a key plank of raising the profession’s standing. The call follows a proposal from the General Social Care Council to make post-qualifying training compulsory

Real challenge following Baby P

Balls said he had faced a “real challenge” in balancing the need to take action following the Baby P case with the danger of damaging the morale of social workers through a “heavy-handed approach”.

But he denied that his decision to intervene in Haringey Council following a damning joint area review of safeguarding was “fuelled by the media”. His removal of Sharon Shoesmith from her post as director of children’s services followed a campaign by The Sun to get Shoesmith and social workers involved in the Baby P case sacked and barred from working with children.

Right thing

He said: “Faced with the catalogue of failings set out in their report, I believe I did the right thing. And I would do the same again if I were presented with the same evidence.”

However, he said it was now “only right that social workers get all the training, support and supervision they need”, along with the “confidence, trust and respect of the public”.

Key role for managers

Balls identified a key role for managers in supporting and supervising frontline practitioners, including by “regularly ‘going back to the floor'” to handle cases and spend time with children and families.

He said the taskforce, announced last December to raise the standing and quality of the profession, had an important role in “championing social workers”, saying it was essential they involved frontline practitioners in their work.

Laming to report

Balls also revealed that Lord Laming’s report on the current state of child protection in England, commissioned following the Baby P case, would be published next Thursday, and its recommendations implemented with “speed and determination”

Though Balls refused to pre-empt any of Laming’s findings, he stressed that Every Child Matters, introduced on the back of Laming’s 2003 report on the death of Victoria Climbié, would remain in place, as it was “the right framework to keep children safe”.

Opposition to publishing full SCRs

With Laming considering the future of serious case reviews and local safeguarding children boards, Balls reiterated his opposition to publishing serious case reviews in full, a position Laming has already backed.

In a submission to the Laming review, Community Care has called for the publication of anonymised SCRs in full to improve learning and promote transparency. Birmingham Council has agreed to do this following prompting from Conservative shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton.

Independent LSCB chairs

Another key issue for Laming is whether LSCB chairs should be independent of member agencies, ending the current situation in which most are chaired by directors of children’s services.

While Balls said that LSCB chairs should be “objective”, he recognised that “expert voices” – which include the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – were “concerned” that “immediately requiring independent chairs” could weaken boards’ effectiveness.

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