Some social workers have a jaundiced view of the NSPCC. On Community Care’s online forum CareSpace the charity has recently been accused of “wasting its money on campaigns”, being “a self-promoting organisation whose own existence is more important to itself than its stated function”, and even “conning the government and general public out of huge sums of money”.
Understandably, NSPCC chief executive Andrew Flanagan is a tad defensive when challenged on this. He says social workers need to understand the charity’s limitations.
“One of the issues you tend to have with stronger brands like the NSPCC is that people get a disproportionate idea of how big you actually are,” he said. “The amount of money we have available to spend in any year makes us about the size of one small local authority’s children’s services department, but the brand gives the impression that we’re much bigger.
“In terms of money available to spend on services, we’ve got a little over £100m. In charity terms, that’s big, but in terms of children’s services departments, that’s not much at all.”
Another common complaint from social workers is the increased pressure it often places on local authority frontline workers with referrals coming from its helpline. Flanagan is unapologetic. Last year, the NSPCC referred 11,000 helpline cases to local authorities. Eighty per cent of those referrals, he says, resulted in action being taken and one-third of those cases were about families unknown to social services.
“We’ll do what we can to support the frontline, but I won’t say I’m embarrassed about finding cases nobody knows about and referring them to the appropriate agencies. The fact that it puts pressure into the system is difficult for the frontline, I understand that, but the answer is that more needs be done to help these children – we can’t just ignore them.
“Sometimes, I think when social workers look at us – and this is reflected in some of the CareSpace comments – there is a sense that we don’t have the caseloads that they have, that we should do more services and less campaigning, and that we’re not as supportive of social workers as we might be. On that point I would say social workers are wrong – we are very supportive and will stand up and defend them.”
The NSPCC takes care with the referrals it makes, Flanagan points out, with qualified social workers taking calls to the helpline and using their training and experience to make initial assessments.
As for the charity’s relative lack of frontline presence, Flanagan says funds are better used elsewhere.
He claims the NSPCC’s campaigning is about raising awareness around frontline pressures and to call on the government for more resources, ultimately supporting the frontline.
Flanagan’s role now is to lead the NSPCC through what promises to be tough times with council contracts likely to be slashed and public donations drying up. He has already announced the closure of some regional centres and a reduction in expensive public campaigns. However, he denies this will place even more pressure on frontline social workers. He points out that the NSPCC’s independent status means it can be more innovative than council children’s services departments.
“It’d be great to say we had a service in every town in the country and could take on every problem,” he says. “That’s a great idea, but it would require us to be 10 times the size we are at the moment.
“Instead, it’s our goal to support social workers by making broader changes. I think, with the kind of pressures that are around today, new things aren’t being tried on the frontline. Because of the NSPCC’s flexibility, we have the freedom to look at different ways of doing things and share that innovation with practitioners. That is where our role lies, rather than just trying to plug gaps in services up and down the country, which will never get us very far.”
Andrew Flanagan joined the NSPCC in January 2009. The father of three spent 10 years as the chief executive of the Scottish Media Group and previously held senior positions at PA Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers.