Saturday, 12 June 2010

Children's Service Problems

Thoroughly depressing report in the Post today concerning the staffing shortages among NCC's children's social workers and for once I'm going to try and avoid slagging anyone off.

I have a certain amount of respect for the Children's Services Corporate Director for being (relatively) open about this. In particular stating publicly that part of the problem is that other authorities are now offering better terms and conditions is not exactly on message, as the very clear flip side to this is that NCC's conditions are inferior. Clearly, in his position, he can't actually say that the matter has been made worse by the recent hatchet job on all NCC workers conditions as part of single status but you can read between the lines and his comments leave the door wide open for others to make this very point.

The comments on the article make for some interesting reading as well, with the usual proviso that there are one or two twats who made it through.

However the inevitable questions will be asked such as why Ofsted assessed NCC's children's services as 'performing well' as recently as December 2009 and why Ian Curryer was himself claiming that everything was just peachy only a year before that in direct contradiction to what the unions were saying.

I'm no expert but throughout my working life in the voluntary sector and in various social welfare roles I have been aware of a constant background noise of recruitment problems within children's social services going back to before the City Council took over responsibility when it was awarded unitary status. I don't think it's a new problem.

My own opinion, and I don't think it's a controversial one, is that the media has to take a great deal of responsibility for this issue. And yes, Daily Mail, I'm talking to you. That paper was among the most vocal about the Baby P affair back in winter 2008 but within days was again printing stories about how social workers were barging in too early and upsetting 'decent parents'.

They're not alone though. Our own Evening Post printed a number of rather bandwagoning stories about admittedly distressing serious case reviews in Nottingham. Yet these cases were from 2006 and 2007, so why were they writing about them in December 2008? Di they report on them at the time? It's almost as if they were trying to keep up with the Haringey Joneses, "Look, we've got crap social workers too!"

In addition, the blame is always placed at the door of social workers whereas the police, legal and health services are often involved too. In the Baby P case the police escaped almost without criticism, social workers requests to put him in care were blocked by Haringey Council's legal officers (not Sharon Shoesmith as you might have assumed from the coverage. She, incidentally, has a background in education not social services) and how many people knew that the doctor who missed the poor kid's broken back worked for Great Ormond St? You can't criticise the sainted Great Ormond St you see so social workers were to blame, according to the media. Faced with all this opprobrium, who in their right mind would be a children's social worker?

Clearly, the City Council must do something. They can't do anything about the Daily Mail but it can do something about terms and conditions. IT staff in local authorities are often paid a 'market supplement' on top of their normal pay scale to reflect the fact that wages are normally higher in the sector than the pay normal local authority job evaluations would allow. Maybe something similar needs to be done with children's social workers? They could also do something about the poisonous work culture that pervades across the entire organisation as well, that can hardly contribute to workforce retention.


Anonymous said...

Taking their lead from the monetary sacrifice made by the new ConDem cabinet, perhaps the City Council's cabinet and most senior officers could vote themselves a pay cut in order to provide the necessary cash to offer social workers better terms.

Do you want to suggest it to them or shall I?

Andy said...

You wouldn't even need to suggest pay cuts. Both opposition parties tabled amendments to the budget at the Council's annual meeting to reduce the amount spent on the 'Arrow' and the ridiculous 'Proud' campaign but they were defeated.

Essentially, NCC would rather spend the money on propaganda to cover up the fallout rather than solving the problem itself.