Social care must “fundamentally rethink” the way children are protected, says minister

Edward Timpson MP announces children's services innovation programme to drive up standards in social care

Social care must “raise its game” to improve services for vulnerable children, children’s minister Edward Timpson has said.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Harrogate, Timpson announced an innovation programme to help drive up standards. “The programme will act as a catalyst for developing more effective ways of supporting vulnerable children,” he said.

Clive Cowdery, an entrepreneur who made a personal fortune from the insurance industry and founder of the Resolution Foundation, will work with Timpson “to identify the sharpest, most inspirational thinking in the field”.

“I want all your most ingenious and dynamic ventures,” Timpson said. “Whether in social work practice or social pedadogy or be it in better approaches to supporting returns home or alternatives to residential care for adolescents. From next year, we’ll develop, test and share those with the most potential.”

While Timpson recognised some of the excellent work done by councils, he said the terrible cases of Daniel Pelka, Hamzah Khan and Keanu Williams showed, “we must do better by children so badly in need of our protection and support”.

He called for a “fundamental rethink” in how children are protected. “I want to support and liberate you to improve faster, get better value for money, do the job you came into the profession to do. But to do this, I need you to demonstrate to me what you have to offer. And looking at the sparks of innovation in children’s services, I believe there are real reasons to be hopeful,” he said.

Examples of innovation the minister cited included the partnership between Kent and the children’s charity Coram, which has boosted adoption rates by 110%.

Timpson did not announce any new money for the improvement programme, but said: “Instead of letting cost pressures blunt our ambitions, we need to dig deep creatively to make the money we do have work harder than ever for those who most need it.”

He called on the sector to “confront head on any systems and structures that are getting in the way of innovation and better outcomes”.

“Ask yourself the question and then tell me: what stops me from doing things differently and better? We need a fundamental change in approach – or rather, approaches – if we’re to really raise our game,” he added.

At his keynote speech to the conference earlier in the week, Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, warned that the children’s social care system is “unsustainable” and obsessed with targets.

Webb told Community Care: “We can’t do more with less, that much we know. We need to do things differently and re-focus all our attention on need and finding creative ways to identify and meet need. It’s a challenge to our imaginations and our practical abilities.”

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One Response to Social care must “fundamentally rethink” the way children are protected, says minister

  1. Elaine Ellis October 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    It is about time that new initiatives were developed to tackle this deeply important and significant issue. We need to demonstrate that we have finally begun to learn from such experiences as the devastating and heartbreaking cases listed in the article, as well as the now notorious deaths of Baby P, Climbie, and the like.

    Social Work is supposed to be about REFLECTIVE PRACTICE – literally, the ability of workers to look back over what they have done, learn from it, and see ways in which they could have done it better. No human being is infallible, so there are ALWAYS ways in which workers can do things better, and learn from past errors. If we refuse to do this, or cannot see a need for it, we stagnate. Stagnation is bad – for practice, for morale, for care outcomes – it is anathema to the good, reflective practitioner.

    I completely agree with the notion that we must look to forward-thinking Local Authorities, and individual practitioners, for good models of practice which can then be replicated. However, improved protection of vulnerable children is not just about faster adoption processes. That is merely one avenue of approach.

    It is also about looking objectively at, and confronting honestly, what causes children to be “at risk” in the first place. It is as much about preventative measures, as it is about “crisis intervention”. Once a child needs to be taken into care, fostered, or adopted out, it is possibly already too late.

    What we need to be looking at are ways of better supporting the families of children who are “at risk”. Where parents have mental health problems, drug, or alcohol problems, it is about addressing these issues, and their negative impact upon parenting. Where there may be suspected domestic violence; or where a parent is known or suspected to have a predilection for dangerous partners, or simply follows a pattern of behaviour where they move from one unstable relationship to another; the impact of this upon the lives of the whole family must be recognised, and addressed. Perhaps this might involve Family Therapy based interventions, that look to educate said parent about the need to develop self-confidence, and take care of themself. Perhaps interventions could focus upon relationships, looking at why the parent always seems to fall for unreliable or unsafe partners, and what can be done to change this. Whatever the reasons behind the child(ren)’s being “at risk”, these need to be addressed. If the requirement is that the whole family should be better supported, then this is what MUST happen.

    We need, as a society, and as professionals, to look at encouraging and supporting more research initiatives that seek to identify and address those very factors which place children “at risk”. Once we are more “clued up” as to what is actually going on, we can begin to apply this knowledge – and this may mean working with families on a very individualised basis, as no two families are alike, so no two families’ dynamics are alike. It is time we started moving forward in a positive way, and learning from past errors. People keep repeating mistakes for a REASON – it is because life is affording them multiple opportunities to learn. However, they have to be aware of that fact. Now that we are, let’s hope we can make good use of the opportunity.