The children and young people’s overview and scrutiny committee at Durham council will undertake a piece of work until April 2018 which reviews the role of the social worker from the perspective of a child.
An inspection report in 2016, which rated children’s services ‘requires improvement to be good’ influenced the council to act to improve the political oversight of children’s services in line with Ofsted’s recommendations.
The review will involve council members “tracing a line” through children’s services, in a similar way to how a child and family might progress through the system, principal social worker and strategic manager for child protection and disability Mark Gurney explains.
The process will include looking at where referrals go to, how cases are received and allocated, viewing children in care teams, assessing the challenges social workers face when making decisions and, most importantly, merging the views of staff with the experiences of children and young people.
Another element of the council’s inquiry will be to look at how the children’s service nurtures and sustains Newly Qualified Social Workers, which it will do by specifically reviewing the social work academy and talking to new and longer-term social workers in Durham.
Flesh and bones
The job of scrutiny committees, especially in children’s services, can often mean budget sheets, practitioner performance data, thematic reports and numbers of children in care or on child protection plans. But Durham council took the step last month to “put some flesh on the bones” of its understanding of social workers.
“It’s very easy for me and my colleagues to go along [to a council meeting] and say: ‘This is what we do, this is how it works, and this is what we’re particularly proud of’,” Gurney says.
But an important part of the work, as well as giving political leaders in the council a better understanding of social work, is understanding the views of children about the social worker role.
“How it is all triangulated and the recommendations that come out of the project will be very interesting to hear; we will then of course have to make some decisions about how we respond to it.”
Gurney sees opportunity with local politicians having more oversight and understanding of social work, which the review will gain through conversations with frontline social workers.
Case studies of frontline practice have been a part of presentations to committees in the past and have helped drive the interest in the committee’s desire to see this work in action.
“It’s about a dialogue, discussion and reflection, and its about giving people who have an intellectual understanding of what a social worker is about – because of the role they are in – but don’t necessarily know the detail of what it involves day-to-day. It goes beyond the performance data to put the human factor in it.”
The council has a list of expected outcomes from the work, one of which is to be able to suggest improvements to the implementation of national policy and local practice, if the need for them arises as part of the review: “It is to give a very, very significant political analysis of the services we provide to children and young people and to challenge us,” Gurney says.
This is the first time a review of this scope has happened in Durham council, which Gurney calls a “big step” and an opportunity for the service.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase what social work is about. It’s an opportunity to experience some reflection from people to whom we are accountable to and it’s certainly about the transparency of the profession within a local government context,” Gurney says.
He adds: “It does put some flesh on the bones. It gives [councillors] an insight into the reality of the role. They are very keen to go beyond the statistics and data and have some narrative about what the work entails, what people come to work to do every day that can be exceptionally demanding and challenging.”