The 10 biggest stories of 2013 in children’s social care

From adoption reform rows to the takeover of Doncaster - Community Care looks back at the big children's social work stories of 2013

Picture credit: Gary Brigden/Community Care

1. Council social workers to be removed from the adoption screening process
Directors of children’s services and council leaders reacted furiously when the government announced that local authority social workers could be removed from the adoption recruitment process. It followed the government’s many controversial adoption reforms. Nearly a year later, ministers’ abandoned the unpopular proposal to the sector’s relief.

2. The Munro Report two years on: Social workers find little has changed
On the two-year anniversary of Professor Eileen Munro’s much-praised review of child protection, Community Care investigated how much had actually changed since. The answer? Not enough. Social workers spoke of their desire to implement her recommendations, but the resource shortages and local challenges that are hampering their efforts. Although there was optimism that change was still on the cards, it was clear that progress has been slow and something of a postcode lottery.

3. Doncaster children’s services outsourced for five years after damning review
Education Secretary Michael Gove’s announcement that Doncaster’s children’s services would be outsourced to an independent trust for at least five years – to tackle a ‘culture of failure’ at the authority – was met with concern and scepticism in the sector. Many worried it was a clear sign the government will look to privatise services for children. In September, Doncaster reached a compromise with Gove, who agreed the council can help design and commission the independent trust that takes over.

4. Four social care assessments missed risks to Daniel Pelka, finds serious case review
The death of four-year-old Coventry schoolboy Daniel Pelka shocked the nation and generated much controversy after it was discovered his mother and stepfather had subjected him to a campaign of secret abuse, which included starvation. The government criticised the council’s serious case review and the city’s director of children’s services Colin Green was forced to resign, despite widespread support from experts who pointed out how unusual and complex the case was. The most high-profile supporter was Professor Eileen Munro who told the BBC: “I can’t claim I would have done better.”

5. Quarter of councils inadequate under new Ofsted inspection regime
Ofsted’s ‘tougher’ inspection framework for children’s services has proved pretty unpopular with councils since it was introduced last year. The watchdog was clear that inspection criteria would be tougher, and authorities would have to work harder to be rated outstanding. In June, Community Care reported a quarter of the 79 councils inspected under the new regime had failed.

6. High workloads meant opportunities to help Hamzah Khan were missed
Four-year-old Hamzah Khan died in December 2009, but his body wasn’t found until two years later when police made a visit to his mother’s Bradford home. The tragic case led to an immediate serious case review, which found high workloads may have meant opportunities to intervene were missed. Bradford’s local safeguarding children board was forced to defend its review after government criticism.

7. Community Care survey exposes rising thresholds are leaving children in danger
A survey of 600 children’s social workers by Community Care found that nearly three quarters do not have the time or resources to protect children at risk in their area from coming to serious harm. The research also found that 80% believe child protection thresholds have risen in their area in the past year. The government’s dismissive response to social workers’ concerns caused anger among Community Care readers.

8. Two-year study shows ‘grim’ reality of gang-related child sexual exploitation
The Office of the Children Commissioner published the results of its two-year inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children in gangs and groups. It found local authorities are in denial about the extent of gang-related child sexual abuse and presented a new framework for those who commission and provide protective services for children at risk.

9. Government announces review of Birmingham’s troubled children’s services
News that the Doncaster review team will also investigate progress at Birmingham’s troubled children’s services seemed to many a signal that outsourcing was a possibility there too. Children’s minister Edward Timpson stressed that the government had not made any decisions yet, but the sector will be watching developments in the city with interest in 2014. In October, Ofsted rated child protection services in Birmingham ‘inadequate’ and in November the authority admitted its children’s services are underfunded compared to other similar UK cities.

10. Foster care extended to 21 after ‘significant’ legal reform
Campaigners celebrated the ‘most significant reform for children in care in a generation’ when the government announced that foster care would be extended until 21. The change, included in the Children and Families Bill, which is still going through Parliament, will mean young people will not be forced to leave foster care at 18, as is so often the case. A petition to also raise the leaving care age for those in residential care is now gathering momentum.

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One Response to The 10 biggest stories of 2013 in children’s social care

  1. Andrew S Hatton December 30, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Probation being privatised and wages in the escape occupation likely to drop with worse terms and conditions and continuity limited to 7 years.

    Previously we missed the issue that until 1998ish probation work was a branch of social work, like social work with mentally ill criminals, family court welfare work, and work with young criminals!