Apologies for lack of blogging – some illness has intervened.
It seems to be received wisdom that there is a shortage of social workers in the UK but social work training courses have been churning out new, qualified social workers every year now for many many, years. There are 83 approved training institutions, mostly universities, in England alone. Currently there are 85,687 qualified social workers and 15,020 social work students registered with the GSCC. Why then the need to recruit social workers from abroad, especial into child protection work? Do other countries have surpluses of keen and able recruits and if so why do we not? Or is there a drain of UK social workers being recruited abroad?- I don’t think so.
The Guardian reports on this which rather gives the game away. The problem posed by the migration “cap” for social work recruitment is about limiting migration from non-EU countries; i.e. the old commonwealth of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. No cap on recruiting Europeans. While there are issues of culture and language discriminating on that basis seems to me not to be very PC .
Sir Nicholas Wall in a speech to Families Need Fathers thinks that the Family Justice Review may diminish or even abolish legal aid for private law family disputes (i.e. residence and contact arguments between separated parents). Zoe Williams in The Guardian comments on Sir Nicholas’ speech and among other matters states what we all know subliminally, that protracted private law proceedings between parents damage families, scar the lives of children and that much of the harm flows from the court process itself. So, indeed why should legal aid be made available to warring parents when its effect is to cause harm their children (and themselves) in interminable court proceedings? But, if legal aid were abolished in these cases we would arrive at the ridiculous position that wealthy parents could fight their disputes out to their heart’s content, with all the concomitant harm to their children, while the poorer parent would be denied that opportunity. I ask you, is that fair? Is that just?
The logic would be to close the courthouse doors to ALL private law disputes over children. That would bring to an end the harming of children through the court process itself and, apart from causing distress to large numbers of lawyers, sounds like a good thing all round at least at first glance. However, on reflection one realises that closing the doors of the court will not make the issues go away – it will just mean they will be fought out in different arenas.
These disputes, says Sir Nicholas Wall, “are rarely about the children concerned. Far more often, the parties are fighting over again the battles of the relationship, and the children are both the battlefield the and ammunition”. A colourful metaphor but what in fact flies to and fro between the parties are statements and letters, allegation and counter-allegation interspersed with court hearings where parties and their lawyers exchange insults. Not nice, but a lot better than trying to settle these disputes by abductions, by stabbings and by shootings.
Both Sir Nicholas and Zoe Williams seem to think some different arena, such as some sort of mediation, resolutions or arbitration service is the answer. I think they both fail to recognise how determined some disputing parents are to have a fully adversarial fight and to pursue their various arguments to the (very) bitter end. There is little point in taking these disputes out of the courts if it just means the same damaging and protracted battles will be fought out in a different forum.
The question becomes; can one create a forum and a system which will deal with cases, especially the most difficult cases, better than the courts do now, or with sensible reforms, could do in the future? While there’s a lot which could be improved in the present court based system I’m not at all convinced that a completely new forum and system is likely to be superior to the current very imperfect arrangements.
Another of the monsters of the Monro Review speaks – but this time on topic and with good sense. Professor Sue White is reported in the Guardian as saying. “People say that there were never halcyon days, but in 20 years I have never seen children’s services under so much pressure created by the system,” She goes on to talk of drastically reducing bureaucracy and giving social workers administrative support so that they can get back to direct work with children and families.
The Hackney social work Units are mentioned as is a Westminster initiative where child and family social workers work alongside teachers and health workers, often in the same premises. I am reminded of the multi-professional teams serving people with mental health problems which fellow social work blogger Fighting Monsters has often written about in very positive terms. Of course child and family social workers should be working with teachers, nursery workers, health visitors and Sure Start staff and where possible from the same premises and sharing the same recording systems. It’s just so obvious – shared responsibility and team work instead of buck passing.
Disturbingly, in the same Guardian article it is mentioned that just 14 of 83 social work training courses had fully met all the requirements in the GCSS appraisal of Training courses. Which sits very oddly with Anthony Douglas’ assertion to the Public Accounts Committee that “Actually, it is, in many ways, good to have some turnover … new practitioners are trained in newer methods and they are actually better, if you can generalise, at working faster on duty, faster throughput, … when you measure throughput per social worker, that’s what we’ve been able to improve. And for many long-standing practitioners, who’ve worked in a traditional way, they don’t particularly like that; they don’t like that extra degree of pressure”.
The Monro Review is due to publish its initial report this month. Will it favour Sue White’s vision of social workers getting out there and engaging directly with children and families and team working with other professionals while being well supported administratively or will Anthony Douglas’ vision of box ticking, IT literate, very efficient, high productivity workers prevail? Is it to be quality or width?
CAFCASS’s Response to Increased Demand for its Services. Uncorrected transcript of Evidence to the Public Accounts Committee 7th September 2010.
Q49 Joseph Johnson: Okay, I just wanted to address some questions of governance within CAFCASS and the Department for Education. In the private sector, this litany of failure against key performance indicators and the general underperformance of CAFCASS would have led to management change. Mr Douglas has been in the post since 2004, during which time you’ve been paid, as Stephen mentioned a second ago, some pretty substantial sums by any standard: £168,000 salary, including performance pay in 2008-09; £157,000 in 2009-10; and you have accrued a bonus pot of £1.7 million, if this is correct-CETV, cash equivalent and transferable value. I think that is the bonus pot-pension pot-that you’ve accrued. Those are pretty chunky numbers. I support exceptional pay for exceptional performance, but, in your words, would you say that you have delivered exceptional performance to warrant that level of pay?
Anthony Douglas: I would, relative to the salaries for directors of children’s services, chief executives, in my line of work.
Anthony Douglas CEO of Cafcass has told the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee that the President’s Interim Guidance will probably be extended for another year permitting Cafcass to continue to use the much criticised duty guardian system.
Well, blow me down, it was only a month ago that the President himself, Sir Nicholas Wall, said he would not be extending it. He then told Family Law “Sadly, I cannot say that as much progress has been made on this [the Cafcass problem] as I would like. I have made it clear that I am not going to renew the interim guidance and I am considering closely the discontinuance of the ‘duty guardian’ scheme, which it seems, has not succeeded.
The Conservative MP attracted controversy over his expense claims. The Daily Telegraph disclosed that he had spent thousands of pounds on electric gates for his Huntingdon home, along with cleaning and gardening for the property. He announced he would repay £25,000, one of the largest payments from any MP. It later emerged that he had claimed more than £13,000 in “cleaning costs”, which had been paid to his au pair. The au pair spent most of the week at his London home but was paid to clean the Cambridgeshire property. Mr Djanogly denied wrongdoing.
Can this possibly be the same Johnathan Djanogly, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Justice Department with responsibilities including legal aid, family justice and the courts system, who is insisting that fees for Independent Social Workers Experts should be slashed by half? Surely not.
Benighted CAFCASS has been accused by the doomed GSCC of putting “a dishonest spin on the scale of the problems it faced“. This is about a Cafcass employee saying what he thought about the dreadful Cafcass (which was much the same as everybody else thinks) in a private discussion group only to find himself reported to the GSCC for breaching the code of conduct. Amazingly, and with a highly unusual burst of forthrightness, the GSCC dismissed the complaint and the social worker was reinstated. CAFCASS CEO, Anthony Douglas is quoted as saying (presumable through gritted teeth) “We are concerned about some aspects of the GSCC process but Charles carries out valuable work for us … “. If you’ve got any sense Charles, that won’t be for much longer. The full report of the GSCC hearing is here.
Meanwhile Pink Tape reports that CAFCASS is attempting to impose some sort of code of omerta on its employees by telling they must not send their individual responses to the Family Justice Review despite the Review specifically inviting responses from individual professionals.
What is it with social work organisations? I thought they were all so overwhelmed with referrals that they would have no time for these sort of silly (and very nasty) games. A very old friend of mine (where are you now Giles?) left local authority social work to work for a voluntary organisation. I said to him how good it must be to be free of all the usual LA politics. “No way” he said, “it’s just a different nest of vipers”.