Ed Balls and Hilton Dawson lock horns at national conference

Social workers are “barking up the wrong tree” when they blame child protection failures on too much bureaucracy, children’s secretary Ed Balls said today.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Harrogate, Balls said social workers should not use record-keeping as an excuse for spending time away from the frontline.

Balls was responding to a member of the audience, who asked whether he was going to stand back and stop imposing “heavy-handed, bureaucratic responses” on social workers, which stopped them spending time on the frontline.

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, responded angrily to Balls’ comments.

He said: “This is not an issue about good case work recording; this is about social workers having to spend 80% of their time serving the bureaucratic machine.

“What we need the government to do is to trust the social workers, trust the profession, and produce good child protection on the basis of good social workers,” he added.

Balls agreed that the government needs to be more flexible in the way it asks for information to be recorded, citing how he has given local authorities more control over the Integrated Children’s System.

“I think, though, that the idea that you would simply blame some of the difficulties we have had in child protection on central targets and direction is missing some of the big challenges we face,” said Balls.

“The quality of social work training is simply not good enough and we put social workers into their first year of practice without sufficient support,” he added.

Balls also said social work managers need to do more to understand the realities of social work on the frontline.

And he said that social workers need to be “less passive, more engaged and work as part of an integrated team”.

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