Minister: ‘national scandal that social workers are overlooked for doing jobs so well’

Incoming minister Brendan Clarke-Smith says public is blind to practitoners' role 'behind the scenes' in keeping children safe and empowering families

Brendan Clarke-Smith
Children's minister

It is a “national scandal” that social workers are “overlooked” because they “do their jobs so well” in keeping children safe and empowering families to improve their lives, the new children’s minister has said.

Brendan Clarke-Smith made the comments in a parliamentary debate yesterday on the children’s social care workforce, less than two weeks after replacing Will Quince in the role at the Department for Education (DfE) following Boris Johnson’s resignation.

Clarke-Smith was responding to comments from Labour MP Marie Rimmer, who initiated the debate, that social workers were “not receiving the respect they deserve for the value they add to our country”, against a backdrop of resources being “stretched thin”, caseloads becoming “increasingly unmanageable” and acute recruitment and retention difficulties for councils.

The minister defended the government’s record on social work, citing the latest DfE workforce figures, which showed record numbers of children’s social workers in statutory practice in England, and investment of £50m a year in recruiting and developing practitioners in children’s services.

However, he also raised significant concerns about public perceptions of social work, while hailing the profession’s impact on children and families.

Social work ‘stigmatised’

“It is not right that social workers feel their work is undervalued and overlooked,” he said. “It saddens me to think that those working to protect our most vulnerable children are stigmatised in such a way. Unfortunately, the public only hear about social workers when something goes terribly wrong. They do not hear about the hundreds of thousands of cases where children and parents are empowered and supported to create a better life. Those are the stories that we should hear continually, to remind us of the crucial role that social workers play in protecting the lives of vulnerable children.

“Importantly, it is because most social workers do their jobs so well that we are able to overlook them in such a way. That is a national scandal, because dedicated social workers are essential to keeping children safe. It is impossible to quantify the number of children’s lives that social workers have saved, the number of families that they have helped or the harm that they have prevented.”

His comments follow concerns about the safety and wellbeing of professionals in the wake of public concern surrounding the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, in Solihull and Bradford, respectively.

The chief executive of Solihull Council, Nick Page, said that some social workers were forced to leave their homes because of the abuse they faced following the conviction of Arthur’s stepmother and father for killing him.

No further commitments on care review

Much of the debate focused on government’s response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s final report and the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s report into the murders of Arthur and Star, both of which were published in May. The response is due later this year, alongside an implementation plan for reforming children’s social care.

Clarke-Smith did not make any fresh commitments on the DfE’s response beyond those already made, reiterating its support in principle for the care review’s proposal for a five-year early career framework for social workers, completion of which would result in the acquisition of “expert practitioner” status.

However, in response to concerns about high levels of agency staff use, raised by Rimmer and fellow Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, Clarke-Smith said ministers were considering the care review’s recommendations to reduce use of locums.

“Some of the ideas we are considering in the review include regional staff banks, national pay scales and memorandums of understanding to help to reduce the cost of agency social work, which I agree is a problem and something that needs to be addressed,” he added.

His comments follow calls from Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Steve Crocker for social work agencies to be regulated or, preferably, banned, to save money and tackle profiteering.

Trowler, Children’s Commissioner and Ofsted chief on implementation board

The debate came ahead of the announcement today of the membership of the national implementation board, set up to oversee the delivery of children’s social care reform.

The board, which also held an interim meeting today, is chaired by Clarke-Smith and also includes:

  • Crocker;
  • Chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler;
  • Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman;
  • Children’s Commissioner for England Rachel de Souza;
  • Sunderland director of children’s services Jill Colbert, who is also chief executive of Together for Children, the trust that runs services in the city;
  • Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan, and
  • Anthony Finkelstein, who was chief scientific adviser for national security from 2015-21 and is a computer science expert.

Three further members, all with direct experience of the care system, will be appointed before the board’s first full meeting, in the autumn.

Care review lead Josh MacAlister is not a member but will attend meetings where relevant, as well as providing advice to ministers on turning his recommendations into an action plan.

The board’s terms of reference will be published shortly, but the DfE said that its role would not be to develop policy proposals but to focus on the delivery of the government’s implementation plan.

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16 Responses to Minister: ‘national scandal that social workers are overlooked for doing jobs so well’

  1. Mark July 21, 2022 at 5:17 pm #

    Always have been, always we be, new minister or not. No one cares, we are just robots doing a job. Although we care they dont. Managers manage ‘performance’ go home sip their gin an tonics while we are still out and about looking for or after children.

    I feel sorry for future generations of social workers and those they work for and with….

    Change what change? I’m not that hopeful.

    • Angela August 3, 2022 at 6:21 pm #

      I am concerned about the vilification of managers. I have been a manager for many years and can assure you that I can count on one hand the days I ever left work on time. My working day would continue till 12am and sometimes beyond die to all of the last minute tasks and authorisations required, the massive caseloads, senior management requirements, joint visiting with staff to aggressive parents and ensuring I am in the office or on the phone to give ongoing management direction. My social workers knew I would call and ensure they got home safely. I am not saying there are no poor managers. There are good and poor managers as well as poor social workers too whose work keeps their managers in a constant state of anxiety. Please put the focus where it needs to be on the various political parties, dogma and media degradation of social workers.

  2. Rory July 22, 2022 at 7:56 am #

    Mark, I strongly agree! In December 2021 following the deaths of Arthur and Star I experienced high levels of bullying and threats from a father of children I was working with.

    The level of support I received from social work managers was zero. I was practising when Victoria Climbie died and as you said nothing has changed, sadly.

  3. Phil Spencer July 22, 2022 at 9:08 am #

    I worked with a colleague who everyone outside her immediate family thought she was a receptionist at a dentist surgery because of the response she got when she first starting telling people she was a social worker. So for more than a decade she would tell people she was a receptionist instead. This came up because she went on holiday to Canada, felt like she could tell people then she could see the difference of how they valued and respected social workers compared to in the UK.

  4. Tahin July 22, 2022 at 11:28 am #

    I doubt very much that most managers go home to sip their gin and tonics or that every single social worker is out and about looking for children unstintingly. Only last week my manager was with me on a visit to potentially aggressive parents. I hold no great love for seniors or self defined leaders but blanket condemnation of them is not on. You don’t get the praise you deserve not because your manager is a put my feet up with nibbles waster but because both Labour and Tory governments and local councillors vilify you. You are easy game to them in the populist point scoring bingo which is why they underpay you and think you are bit too entitled for your lowly status. Blame those wielding real political and economic power over you not some probably overpromoted lackey who is out of their depth and equally bewildered as you.

    • dk July 22, 2022 at 2:27 pm #

      Thanks, Tahin. I do always wonder what level of manager the people on here have in mind when they make these comments. I’m a deputy manager in a CP team, and I very much do not have my feet up come 5pm. No manager, even at several levels about mine, whose work is visible to me does … They are all working hard to do too much with too little, just as social workers are.

      • julia July 24, 2022 at 1:13 pm #

        My manager has my back and I trust her manager and know how hard they work as well. But I wonder who of those listed in the article, who have power over our service have ever worked on the front line.
        I was out and about late last week ensuring that a child was able to move foster placements with the maximum support whilst also trying to fire fight another case. This meant I was not able to file my court report for this same child and his siblings on time and I am now writing it in my own time to make sure it gets to court this week. I know I will get slated in court, but frankly, the actual subject of the paperwork takes precedence in my book. I don’t think I can continue to sustain this level of stress and anxiety any more. To think that we are not valued by the government as we are not due for an increase in our salaries, as well as the public, makes me want to give up as well.

    • Steph July 27, 2022 at 9:51 am #

      Agreed. I’m a team manager and I’m definitely not sipping G&Ts while staff are out and about and I am confident my manager isn’t either. Slagging off social work managers does nothing to support the profession and ignores the real massive issues around under funding etc.

  5. Alice July 22, 2022 at 7:22 pm #

    The Minister might want to have a word with his friends at the Daily Mail and The Sun if he really is worried about the “scandal” of “overlooked” social workers. Perhaps he should also ponder what “we are all in this together” austerity his governments presides over actually means for his boast of the £50m “investment”.

  6. The voice July 23, 2022 at 5:50 am #

    Some of the best social workers leave because they have never experienced a work environment, funding and resource level not only to keep kids safe but help them achieve and flourish…back to basics and real early intervention

  7. Claire July 23, 2022 at 9:20 am #

    Social Work England ‘regulate’ you by asking you to ‘evidence’ your “performance”. The CQC will soon inspect your “performance”. Think about your current and soon to be compliance with that before you brick-bat your manager. As for BASW it’s for professionalising social work through CPD isn’t it?

  8. Patrick July 23, 2022 at 11:35 am #

    “Put my feet up with nibbles waster” ! Ouch SWE….

  9. Chris July 24, 2022 at 10:09 am #

    I appreciate that children’s social workers do a hard job, but so do Adults, why is it always the focus on children’s work force and not both?

    • Alice July 24, 2022 at 9:02 pm #

      Because “children are our future” brings on the tears and “when I’m 64” doesn’t. Because social workers are just as sentimental as everyone else.

    • Craig July 25, 2022 at 10:32 am #

      Because “key-workers” got clapped every Thursday so they’ve had their recognition. So there we are. Or there is a hierarchy of what constitutes ‘real social work’, hello BASW, and we should know our place.

  10. Hannah Hope July 25, 2022 at 6:37 am #

    Why don’t we stop pretending that social workers ‘help families’ – or is this referring to adoptive families? I am sure people who are unable to have children are very grateful for the help of social workers.

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