By Lee Pardy-McLaughlin, Chair of the Children and Families Principal Social Work Network
Innovation proposals that were contained in the Children and Social Work Bill have generated much debate. Last month the House of Lords voted to remove the measures from the bill but with the bill now moving to the House of Commons the government could look to re-insert them.
The Children and Families Principal Social Worker network has recently considered the bill’s proposals. If they become legal duties they will have far reaching consequences for the social work profession across both children and adult services.
Of the proposals in the bill, the innovation clauses have sparked most debate. Who wouldn’t want a job where innovation rules and creative thinking can cut through regulation and red tape? That’s the dream isn’t it?
At the same time many social workers on the ground would say that they are already encouraged to be innovative within existing frameworks.
Where some see stifling red tape, others see the necessary laws that safeguard children – and also at times protect us.
A survey of the Principal Social Worker Network members perfectly captures the many sides of the debate. While 45% said they agree with the proposals and 55% didn’t, it is the range of comments that are most interesting:
- “I am concerned that the powers to innovate are not that, but powers to deregulate.”
- “The powers will allow LAs to step away from the centralised restrictive measures which limit the capacity of SW services to develop innovative practice and services which are meaningful to children and families.”
- “Whilst it (the Bill) gives local authorities the power to deliver services in a different way, it also has the opportunity to weaken the responsibility of what is provided, creating a climate for cost/service cutting.”
You may think then that if we as a network are split almost down the middle, what chance has the government got?
But I don’t see us a split industry. One member commented “there isn’t a box for mixed feelings”, but if there was then it might have been ticked every time.
What is clear through this survey and the many conversations I have with practitioners up and down the country is that we are united in knowing we must constantly be evolving as a profession. Standing still and getting comfortable is not an option.
Social workers are hungry to innovate and try new things. The best are doing it already and the best managers are finding ways to let them. However what is equally clear is that no one wants a framework where the rights and safeguards for children are diluted.
Whatever the outcome of the bill, we must make sure we are heard and we are able to influence the direction our profession takes.
We must champion innovation while also being prepared to challenge strongly when our real-life experience with children gives us cause for concern. Practice leadership will be crucial over the coming months. We must engage with and promote debate and indeed ensure that we influence policy makers. Bringing policy decision making closer to practice is crucial, and a mantra that government needs to model.