Monday, December 8, 2008

Avoiding the Next Baby P

How can we avoid the next Baby P?

Here are a number of proposals you probably won't see on any document coming out of DCFS next year.

1. Involve the Third Sector. Not in the actual care-proceedings, but in the work with families - the `preventative' work that if done well stops children being damaged in the first place. At the moment, all of this work sits with Social Services, leaving them in a conflicted role as both nurturer of families and, if things go wrong, taking the kids away. Clearly in the Baby P case, social workers were confused about who they were there to help, resulting over-identification with the Mother, to the cost of Baby P. Better perhaps to let the third sector do the nurturing and bring in the social workers once things get really bad.

2. Rename the social work profession. `Social worker' sounds like a legacy from the 1970s. It is a low status occupation that people avoid. Only this week I was talking to a talented man now in his 40s who considered it when younger but couldn't face the lack of status it conferred, even compared to teaching. Indeed initiatives like `Teach First' and the injection of better management and leadership into teaching have raised it from a Cinderella profession to the job everyone now wants to say they have done. The same is needed for social work.

3. Integrate Child Protection Teams and Police Family Support Teams. A lot of what is happening in families-gone-wrong is criminal - or is about to become so. The skills of the police - and their unsentimental view of the world - are valuable assets in dealing with devious people who harm their children. People in these integrated teams need to be at one remove from local politics - as the police are, well paid (as the police are) and given the kind of status the police have (a lot higher than social workers).

There's a lot that could then happen in terms of leadership, management, recruitment and training that would free child-protection from a lot of the social work ideology and local authority politicking which has blighted the protection of children like Baby P. The Third Sector could play a vital role in providing the ongoing low-level support to families which comes under the label `prevention' and let the new integrated police/child protection teams do the heavy stuff.

1 comment:

Rob Fountain said...

I agree with your views and just wish those doing the knee-jerk jive consider these issues in their review. Two things have convinced me that the view you have articulated here are right; but also sadly may be a long way from what emerges from all this. Firstly - Ed Balls was cited I believe arguing that what was needed was for social work students to spend time on the job (and less on academic stuff) as part of their training. Jeez... it is barely 5 years since setting up the degree which included an increase in the placement days from the DipSW. What is needed is not tinkering with the make up of the qualification it is clarifiying what role the social workers will do when they qualify that is needed. Secondly, hot on the heels of the 'blood on their hands' finger-pointing at social work, I heard today (admittedly on lowest-common denominator Radio 1news) about a new proposal to get police and social workers involved in picking up adolescents out on the streets late at night to prevent them getting into trouble. One concern given voice in the article was that parents thought this was just a way for social workers to stick their noses into their family's business. This split role - protectors vs do-gooders - is untenable under one sector. That is why I agree with you that the Third Sector should use their credibility and skill in the preventative stuff; the statutory sector should be freed up to focus on protection work in conjunction with the police. (Knew we'd end up on the same path on this!)