LETTER SENT TO THE MANIFESTO TEAM
Dear Labour team and parliament colleagues with an interest in the future of social work and social care for children and adults
DETAILED POLICY PROPOSALS ON CHILD AND FAMILY POLICIES WRITTEN BY PROFESSOR RAY JONES
SOCIAL WORK AND SOCIAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS
Children’s social work and social care services have been damaged over the past 10-15 years, as a result of budget cuts especially to local government, but also through a series of unevidenced, and minimally debated government initiatives, mostly intending to open up policy formation and service provision to large private consultancies and private for profit service providers. Below are proposals from members of the Labour Social Work Group about detailed commitments which should be considered for inclusion in the Labour Party Manifesto and policy for children’s social work and social care services. There is considerable support for each across the policy, practice and research communities as can be seen from the following recent official reviews and inquiry reports:
- The Education Select Committee with its Conservative majority and chairs.
- The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on children needing support and care
- The APPG on social work.
- The National Audit Office inquiries on social work.
PUBLIC SERVICE PROVISION AND PRIVATISATION
- Labour will rescind the 2014 changes in statutory regulation introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Coalition Government which allows any organisation or company, including profit-making companies, to receive contracts and payments to undertake:
- Children in need assessments and the setting and managing of children in need plans.
- Section 47 child protection inquiries and the setting and managing of child protection plans.
- Decisions to initiate care proceedings and the management of orders emanating from care proceedings.
- Crucial decisions about the safety and welfare of children, and necessary involvement and intrusion into families, should not be undertaken outside of the direct accountability and transparency of local authorities. They are not functions and responsibilities to be managed by non-public for-profit or not-for-profit organisations where the contracting process creates complexity and opaqueness in accountability, where transparency is restricted by contracting out the services to non-public organisations, and where costs are increased by having to set, let and manage contracts.
- Labour will also give notice that local authorities over a three year period should reduce their use of profit-making private foster care agencies and privately owned and managed children’s residential care which is syphoning as profit significant amounts from children’s services budgets.
- The progress of local authorities to reduce their reliance on profit-making and profit-taking direct care services for children will be monitored through annual public reports submitted to the Department for Education, which will be renamed as the Department for Children and Education, and the Department for Children and Education will produce an annual overview report on the progress being made.
Within the annual public report from each local authority, and the annual overview report from the Department for Children and Education, there will also be an account of how local authorities are reducing over a three year period their use of social workers who are not directly employed by the local authority but recruited through private profit-making staffing agencies.The rationale and intentions of the commitments above are to:
- Tackle the considerable sums of money which are intended to fund children’s social services which are seeping out of children’s social services as profits taken by private companies and their owners.
- Increase the local authority immediate oversight of, and responsibility for, the safety and welfare of children and the care of children not living with their families.
- Reduce the complexity and fragmentation which is increasing in the arrangements for children’s social services with the result that children in care are now often placed in foster and residential homes largely unknown to local authorities and the children’s social workers.
PERFORMANCE BY LOCAL AUTHORITIES
- Labour will require the national children’s services inspectorate, OFSTED, to contribute to the continuing development and improvement of children’s social services rather than only to inspection and rating of services.
- Labour will require OFSTED to develop a plan and process where it has regular engagement with senior councillors and managers within local authorities to monitor and reflect with the local authority on its performance and progress, to advise on actions which might be necessary within the local authority, and where and when necessary to alert the Secretary of State for Children and Education to any significant concerns about how a local authority is fulfilling its children’s social services responsibilities.
- Where these concerns are of such a magnitude, and where the Secretary of State is not confident that they will be appropriately and positively addressed by the local authority, the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint through statutory regulation a person of sufficient seniority, experience and expertise to give direction and directives to the local authority on how it is to provide its children’s social services. In the first instance this will be for a period of three years, a period which might be extended.
- In exceptional circumstances where a local authority fails to follow the directives it is given the Secretary of State will have the power to remove the responsibility for the services from the local authority and to transfer the responsibilities for that area to another local authority.
- To assist local authorities, and especially local authorities of particular concern, to improve their performance, the Local Government Association will be funded through a Statutory Children’s Services Specific Improvement Grant to create a regional children’s services improvement service.
- Labour will cease the process of local authorities being required or choosing to contract their statutory children’s social work services outside of their management and control. Where local authorities have already taken this action, the local authority will be required to inform the Secretary of State for Children and Education how it will resume the direct management and control of these social work responsibilities at the end of the current contract with another body, or within three years, whichever is the shorter period.
- The manifesto commitments above in this section are to:
- Make explicit that statutory children’s social work functions are a direct responsibility to be delivered by local authorities.
- Make clear that where a local authority is not performing well enough in delivering these responsibilities the local authority cannot distance itself from the responsibilities by contracting them out to another body but must follow directives given on behalf of the Secretary of State to improve its performance.
- Labour recognises that the major issue for children’s and adults’ social services is not recruitment into the profession of social work but developing and retaining social workers post-qualification.
- Labour will continue with the generic university-based undergraduate and post-graduate degree-level integrated qualifying education for all social work students. This will aid retention as social workers with a generic first professional qualification will be able to remain in social work whilst, if they choose, changing career paths and service areas.
- Labour will introduce the regional oversight and planning of qualifying and post-qualifying social work education through regional social work education consortia to include as the statutory partners the local authorities providing personal social services in the region and the higher education degree providers.
- Each regional social work education consortia should review the pattern and sufficiency of social work education provision in its region and produce a plan as to how this is to changed or continued over the next five years. This should take into account the assessment by Social Work England of the quality of the current social work qualifying degree programmes within the region, and where these degree programme are a major resource in recruitment by neighbouring regions their consortia should be consulted.
- Other agencies employing social workers in each region should also be consulted about the plans for social work education in the region.
- Regional social work education consortia should also develop ‘practice education agencies’. These will be social worker employing services which provide a focus on social work education and will be the major resources within the region for the practice placements of qualifying social work students, and especially on their final qualifying placements. The ‘practice education agencies’ should be assessed and accredited by Social Work England.
- Labour will require Social Work England to produce national frameworks for post-qualifying education based on social work’s Professional Capabilities Framework and it is through post-qualifying education and qualifications, related to role responsibilities and career development, that specialisation will be recognised and promoted. This will assist career progression and retention.
- The development of post-qualifying education will receive funding through a budget managed jointly by the Department for Children and Education and the Department for Health (and Social Care) which will be created from the current funding being committed to the programmes providing specialist and restrictive initial social work qualifications for a relatively small number of social work students.
- Using this funding, Labour will also continue with payment of bursaries and course fees for social work students.
HELP FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
- Labour is very concerned that statutory social work and social services with children and families has become focussed on monitoring families and taking invasive and coercive action to intervene when there are significant child protection concerns.
- This intervention will remain necessary when children are at risk of significant harm, but Labour will want children’s social work and social services to be re-set, within the framework which is in place within the 1989 Children Act, to work in partnership with parents to assist them to care for their children well.
- It will re-route the funding allocated through ‘troubled families’ programmes to local authority children’s social services so that they can provide family assistance services, intensively provided when necessary, to work with families and other agencies to help maintain, and where necessary, improve the care of children.
- In particular, learning from the research on Sure Start and family centres, Labour will work with local authorities to provide help for families with young children and throughout a child’s childhood.