October - 2013

The lessons to be learnt from three recent high profile child abuse cases

Daniel Pelka (Credit: Rex Features)

Daniel Pelka (Credit: Rex Features)

In less than a month two high profile serious case reviews and a criminal trial have concluded, which all involved a mother killing one of her children, despite the involvement of several agencies in the child’s life.

The first was the case of Daniel Pelka, a four-year-old living in Coventry who was singled out for abuse and neglect by his mother and her partner until his death from a blow to the head in March 2012.

The second was the case of Keanu Williams, a toddler living in Birmingham who died with 37 separate injuries on his body, inflicted by his mother in early 2011.

The last was the conviction of Amanda Hutton in Bradford Crown Court for the severe neglect and manslaughter of her four-year-old son Hamzah Khan. The boy’s mummified remains were found in his cot in September 2011, two years after his death in the squalid flat where other children were living.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer with the British Association of Social Workers, is worried about the cumulative impact.

“It is unprecedented to have so many cases where so many horrific details all come out at the same time. It leads to the general public feeling that more and more of these cases are happening and the authorities are failing. But it’s not true. If you look at the actual figures then the number of deaths due to neglect and abuse are falling, and of those only a tiny proportion are known to social services.

In all three cases the mothers were actively deceitful, often antagonistic and convincing liars when explaining away injuries or keeping professionals away from their door. In addition both SCRs identified that professionals had succumbed to the “rule of optimism”.

While it could be argued that dealing with antagonistic and deceitful parents is “par for the course” in child protection, challenging the rule of optimism is complicated says Dave Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC.

“Social workers and other professionals are placed in the difficult position of having to maintain a healthy scepticism about what parents are saying despite knowing it will affect what’s called the “therapeutic bond” and the chance to turn things around in a family”.

But he says research currently being undertaken to examine the reactions of different social workers to parental information and presentations could help.

“It could provide a tool for supervisors to identify when they need to challenge a social worker on their acceptance of explanations or when to ask if they are being too eager to take a child into care”

Another key issue running through both SCRs were problems associated with multi-agency working. In both cases professionals often had concerns running in parallel to each other but never seemed able to join them up together which, according to the hindsight of a SCR, would have flagged up serious issues.

While hardly a new issue, it seems depressing that despite the concerted attention given to multi-agency working since Victoria Climbie’s death, issues still remain.

Tucker is hopeful that more multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASH) will provide a solution.

But Mansuri points out that not every council has a MASH or plans to have one. And even in areas where they do exist there is anecdotal evidence that because of the massive public sector cuts, several agencies are cutting their funding to them.

This, she argues, shows that funding cuts and child protection cannot be separated. As cuts deepen so do the risks of children dying from abuse.

“For example in Birmingham I believe there are 100 vacancies out of a total of 450 social workers and of the existing workforce 50% of them are agency staff. Social workers are working 20 hour days and still not getting on top of their caseloads. I could be the best social worker in the world and I still would not be able to do good social work in those conditions.”

Kate Mulley, head of policy and research for Action for Children, says in both serious case reviews many professionals seemed to feel that making a referral to social care was enough to fulfil their duty.

“But as budget cuts bite and the number of referrals increase it becomes increasingly difficult for social workers to sift through the referrals and prioritise them properly”.

She would like to see more multi-agency partners empowered to deal with neglect when it is first suspected, pointing out both SCRs involved suspected neglect and physical abuse. Dealing with the neglect early on could perhaps have prevented, or at least identified, the physical abuse she argues.

“We have this tendency to adopt a “wait and see” attitude, waiting for a trigger incident before taking action when we suspect neglect. We need to empower everybody to do something.”

But Amanda Thomas, child protection lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says for many doctors that is simply not realistic.

“We are usually working during a full clinic and we don’t have time to ring around GPs or health visitor clinics to chase up concerns. In my view that is the purpose of multi-agency working- we feed our concerns to a central point which is usually a social worker. Paediatricians are often working in isolation without knowledge of what else is happening within the system and often reliant upon parents to give us the family history.”

While she agrees some paediatricians could be clearer in their communications to social workers who find “vague concerns” difficult to act upon or prioritise, she also believes an electronic health record would help join up the dots across multiple, independent health organisations at least.

Some believe that embedding social workers within other universal services is the only way to make multi-agency working effective in a time of austerity.

For example the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency has embedded social workers in each team while councils such as Worcestershire have started embedding social workers in schools where there are high deprivation rates or large numbers of referrals.

As Tucker points out: “We’ve thrown money at this issue in the past and it didn’t really result in any significant change. It has to be about better targeting of resources at the front-line.”

Serious case review into murdered foster carer finds unusually good progress should ring alarm bells

Pic credit: Jens Hoare/Mood Boar/Rex Features

Credit: Jens Hoare/Mood Boar/Rex Features

Social workers should be cautious if an abused child seems to be making unusually good progress, according to a serious case review into the murder of a 34-year-old woman by a 13-year-old boy she was fostering.

But the review of the circumstances leading up to her murder concluded her death could not have been predicted or prevented.

There was nothing in the boy’s demeanour at the time to indicate he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis or other mental health conditions in the months or even hours before the attack.

In fact, most staff believed the boy was “flourishing” and looking forward happily and hopefully to a positive future.

In view of a history of significant abuse at the hands of his parents, however, “the fact that he (D) appeared relatively unscathed should probably have rung alarm bells, although given the huge workload pressures on social work and health services in Glasgow, it is understandable that it did not,” the authors concluded.

The review criticised Glasgow council for inadequate social care staffing, inexperienced staff, shortages of resources and disruption to supervisory and management structures at the time.

“This is a strategic and political issue because providing social work services adequate to meet the needs of vulnerable children requires sufficient resource to be allocated, which needs to be argued for even more strongly at times of budgetary constraint.”

The review was told the council’s children’s services department was undergoing a significant restructure at the time.

While there was evidence of a great deal of good social work done in the case, one council social worker failed to visit D in his placement for two months after he had been moved there.

There was also a lack of structured reflective supervision and little use of chronologies and graded care profiles.

However, the review said it had been assured that many of these issues had been resolved in the years since the foster carer’s death.

The report also found some practice concerns around social workers and children’s panel members over identifying with the boys birth mother and losing a “child at the centre” focus. This led to care systems and care planning, particularly those pursuing a permanence option, becoming “engaged and distracted and losing clarity”.

‘How the Care Bill must change to put social work at the heart of reformed care system’

As the Care Bill returns to Parliament, Bernard Walker explains how The College of Social Work intends to press for changes to the legislation that will ensure social workers play a leading role in its implementation.

Megaphone Image Broker Rex Features


The government’s decision to put individual well-being at the heart of the Care Bill  has the potential to be its most radical innovation. We believe that the well-being principle, if it is fully implemented as part of the legislation, can bring about a deep-seated change in community-based health and social care services and improve the lives of the people who use those services.

The bill also emphasises the importance of prevention, which must be at the heart of any health and social care system which promotes well being.   It will take strong social work leadership to reshape health and social care so that it is less reliant on crisis-driven services and more focused on preventing and postponing the need for care and support in the first place.

If the aims of the Care Bill are to be realised, social workers must be fully recognised and valued by fellow professionals as making a specific contribution to the well-being of individuals and communities.  They will have to be confident and assertive with their health colleagues,  to overcome the exclusive “medical model” of the NHS and combine it more effectively with the social model of disability and need, public health planning and models of community development.

In order to exploit this leadership role to its full potential, the Care Bill must equip social workers to take it on.  A service geared to prevention would invest in information and advice for service users; it would make sure that assessments of need were conducted by the experts best placed to help people remain active members of their communities for as long as possible; and it would ensure that service users  were prevented from drifting unnecessarily into institutional and hospital care. Finally, it would give adult safeguarding the status and professionalism it requires if public expectations are to be met.

So we have a four-pronged strategy for amending the Care Bill:

  • Information and advice: named social workers should always be available to local information and advice services because they have the knowledge and skills to identify present and foreseeable need, and ensure that early and appropriate arrangements are made to prevent an unnecessary deterioration in an individual’s condition.

  • Assessment of need: registered social workers should be responsible for assessing people with complex needs to ensure that socially inclusive, community-oriented forms of care and support are put in place, focused on well-being.

  • Safeguarding: social workers should always be appointed to supervise safeguarding enquiries on the basis that they are trained to prioritise community solutions rather than default to institutional care and have the professional relationships with service users most likely to bring about a person-centred response.  We have also argued that the local authority representative on safeguarding adult boards should be social work-qualified and that safeguarding adult review teams should include a social worker with substantial experience of safeguarding work.

  • Powers of access: our survey of College members last year showed strong support for a qualified power of access by a social worker to interview a vulnerable adult where this was being blocked by a third party.  Such a power could only be granted by the courts, as is already the case in Scotland.  The government decided against including this power in the Bill, but along with our partners in the voluntary sector we are urging the government to reverse this decision.

So far the government has been receptive to our lobbying on the Care Bill in the House of Lords, in large part thanks to the efforts of Baroness Greengross and Baroness Browning in tabling several of our amendments.

Health minister Earl Howe conceded that qualified staff had a role to play in relation to information and advice services, adding that statutory guidance should lay out expectations.  He also agreed to review the assessment clauses of the Bill to ensure that people with complex needs are assessed by ‘appropriately qualified staff’.  Baroness Northover, speaking for the government, acknowledged that local authority representatives on safeguarding boards must have the required skills and experience.

Clearly, though, there is more to do to ensure that the government gives social work specifically the place it deserves in this Care Bill. When the Bill returns to the Lords on Wednesday (October 9) for its final stages before going to the House of Commons, we will continue to press for an explicit commitment to social work and the essential role of social workers in taking forward reform that is genuinely underpinned by the well-being principle.

Bernard Walker is chair of the Adults’ Faculty at The College of Social Work

15-minute care visits: an indignity that should be banned or a ‘fully justified’ commissioning practice?

Home care picture Photofusion Rex Features 1

Adults’ services directors have today issued a stout defence of at least some 15-minute home care visits ahead of a vote on banning them on the grounds of indignity.

As charity Leonard Cheshire Disability stepped up its campaign for a ban and with peers set to discuss putting such a prohibition into law, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said some 15-minute visits were “fully justified”.

It released figures – from a survey of directors last year – which showed that while 51% of councils commissioned care in 15-minute visits they represent 16% of all visits commissioned by councils. In addition, just 8% of the councils who commissioned home care in 15-minute visits used them for bathing and washing; by contrast 88% used them for administering medication and 80% for checking up on individuals.

Adass released its figures in response to a report out today from Leonard Cheshire Disability showing that the proportion of councils delivering 15-minute visits is now up at 60%, based on a survey answered by 137 of the 152 English councils. The charity – a provider of home care itself – wants the practice banned on the grounds that it results in the rushed and undignified delivery of personal care to people, be it help with washing, dressing, toileting or getting up.

As it happens, the Care Bill returns to the House of Lords this week for its report stage, and one amendment that will be considered would normally prevent  councils from commissioning visits of less than 30 minutes for personal care. Leonard Cheshire wants peers to back this amendment “to end the indignity of rushed care”.

However, in a strongly worded response, Adass president Sandie Keene said: “It is totally wrong to believe that all tasks need more than 15 minutes to carry out; and frankly naïve to believe that simply by abolishing 15-minute slots a magic wand will have been waved, and improvements automatically achieved in our care services.”

But Adass’s position has itself received short shrift from the United Kingdom Homecare Association, which represents providers.

While Adass has said that just 4% (or so) of councils commission 15-minute visits for bathing and washing, the UKHCA has said this leaves out a number of other personal care tasks that  are being “squeezed into unreasonably short periods of time”.

UKHCA chair Mike Padgham also pointed out that “the sensitive administration of the complex medication so often required by older people should also be a cause for concern when shoe-horned into a 15-minute visit”.

The government is unlikely to support the proposed amendment to the Care Bill – which comes from ex-social worker Baroness Meacher. Its social care White Paper last year proposed an end to the “crude contracting” of home care by the minute, but through the spread of good practice on outcomes-based commissioning, not through the law.

This leaves us with quite a few questions:

  • If 15-minute visits are appropriate what are they appropriate for and are they ever appropriate for what we call personal care?

  • Is law the most effective instrument for preventing inappropriate care visits (of 15 minutes or otherwise)?

  • If the law is not the most appropriate instrument what is?

  • And can we get rid of inappropriate care visits in the current funding climate?

The last point is one that could potentially unite UKHCA, Leonard Cheshire and Adass, who would probably agree that today’s funding climate makes inappropriately commissioned care visits more, not less, likely.  However, that better-funded care system looks as far away as ever, which means that other methods besides an injection of resource must be found to end undignified home care. The question is what.

Picture credit: Burger/Phanie/Rex Features

‘The depressing failure of some social workers to follow the Mental Capacity Act’ – a lawyer’s view

Specialist solicitor Ian Cranefield says too many care professionals are taking decisions about vulnerable adults without properly assessing capacity or consulting them – in breach of the Mental Capacity Act’s principles.


In recent months I have found it both depressing and intensely frustrating that some of the fundamental principles of Mental Capacity Act 2005 have had to be explained in detail for many organisations, before a sensible discussion about legal solutions to a problem can commence.

Within the last three months, for example, I have had to deal with:

  • A local authority which has seemingly refused or failed to ask a man who appears to retain capacity whether he wishes to see his partner of 12 years or remain in a care home, where he has been placed by his children without his express consent.  Many decisions about this gentleman are being made without assessing his capacity, properly consulting with him or exploring his wishes through an independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA).

  • Local authority social workers responding to allegations of neglect, emotional abuse or undue influence by undertaking casual interviews with the alleged victim in the presence of the alleged abuser.

  • Care home managers working with the family of a resident to decide arbitrarily who gets to visit the resident in the care home, without recognising that interfering with the resident’s rights and freedoms of social contact (and those of the visitor) must be properly authorised as a deprivation of liberty under the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (Dols).

On each of these occasions, I have had to persuade the relevant organisation to seek legal advice about their position – often internal advice from a member of its own legal team – before progress can be made.  There has been a consistent pattern in these cases of frontline care or social work professionals making important decisions on behalf of vulnerable people with inadequate information about capacity and without proper regard to the potential legal consequences of what they are doing.

It is true that some of the legal processes connected with mental capacity can be complex – such as applications to the Court of Protection and requests for authorisation under Dols. These cases also throw up significant practical challenges for professionals, such as such as how to care for an incapacitated person when there is fundamental disagreement about what should happen among family members

Nevertheless, the essential legal principles that lie at the heart of the MCA 2005 – the protection and liberation of incapacitated people, proportionate control and decisions being taken in their best interests) are not – in themselves, complex at all.

Some local authorities and care organisations have adopted the principles and practices enthusiastically and consistently, whereas elsewhere there is little sign of this.

The codification of mental incapacity law within the MCA 2005 was universally welcomed as a significant improvement when the Act came into force in late 2007.

Some six years later, however, many believe that it is time to review what has worked well and what has not, to ensure that the fundamental principles of the MCA are effectively applied and some of the most vulnerable people in our society are protected, helped and liberated by its application to their lives.

Ian Cranefield is a litigation solicitor and a consultant with Richard Nelson LLP, Nottingham.  He specialises in remedying elder financial abuse, neglect in care and advising on adult safeguarding and mental capacity disputes.

Picture credit: F1 Online/Rex Features

How good is safeguarding in care homes and how can it improve? Give us your views

Negative media reports can create the impression that care homes are unsafe places. But how true is this picture and how can professionals improve safeguarding in residential settings? Enter our draw to win a Kindle Fire by answering our survey.

Users and carers to gain right to independent advocacy through Care Bill

Government amendment would provide right to advocacy when a person needed substantial support in understanding information during care management or safeguarding processes and had no one else to support them.

Social Worker of the Year Awards: 2013 finalists announced

The final shortlist for the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2013 has been announced. See below for the full list.

Professionals missed significant opportunities to protect murdered toddler

The serious case review into the death of Keanu Williams found that although he attended A&E four times with significant injuries, he was for the most part considered a “child-in-need”.

Social worker who gave parents unsupervised access to child at risk is banned from practice

The two years-experienced social worker ignored a written agreement that had been put in place while he was off sick.

Social workers given guidance on improving Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards practice

Advice for Dols teams and best interests assessors included in Social Care Institute for Excellence guide to improve practice for people detained in hospitals and care homes.

Rise of female leaders in social care should be celebrated, says incoming chief inspector

Women in visible, senior roles in social care must support and encourage others to follow in their footsteps, says Andrea Sutcliffe, who takes up post as chief inspector of adult social care for the Care Quality Commission next week.

‘Being filmed for a BBC documentary helped me reflect on my own practice’

Vicki McKeown in Britain's Broken Families (Tom Barton Humphreys/BBC/Off The Fence)

Vicki McKeown (Tom Barton Humphreys/BBC/Off The Fence)

Family intervention worker Vicki McKeown describes how being filmed for BBC1′s Britain’s Broken Families influenced her practice – and her decision to study for a masters in social work

Fresh out of university, I knew exactly the sort of job I wanted to do. But this was easier said than done in the current job market. Although not in the job title, most jobs I was drawn to required a qualification in social work.

This felt like a kick in the stomach after four years in university; I was reluctant to get into more debt without the certainty of a job at the end. However, after just a few months I was successful in securing a job at Your Homes Newcastle as a project worker in the Family Intervention Project.

I had only been at work four months before the prospect of filming with the BBC was discussed. Originally, my thoughts were mixed. They swayed between ‘what an exciting opportunity’ to fear that programmes of this nature are often torn apart by the general public and the worker critically scrutinised.

From the moment filming started I was on edge and my anxiety levels were high. Initially I was the only worker who had a suitable case with a family willing to be filmed. Throughout the process I had to, at times, put my personal trepidations and fears aside to support the family through the filming. I regularly made time to speak with them away from the camera to ensure they were happy with the situation, always ensuring that my intervention with the family remained the focus.

There were times during the filming when I dug my heels in and felt reluctant to continue. At times, I felt I had lost control and the filming began to impact on every aspect of my life due to the pure intensity of it. It was like having a critical friend with you at all times; I spent months physically and emotionally drained due to the pressures put upon me, not by others but by myself.

Read more about social workers on screen

I was constantly criticising and reflecting on my own practice. During visits I was asked: ‘What do you aim to achieve?’‘Did that go well?’ ‘What’s your plan now?’ I found this particularly difficult as I was a new worker myself and finding my own style. Due to being on camera I did not have the luxury of slowly finding my feet.

On top of this I was forward-thinking and wanted to ensure I spoke about the family in a fair and respectful way at all times. But this was easier said than done sometimes; I’m not a morning person so doing 7am visits was a killer.

I was, and am still, aware of the Daily Mail’s perspective on the families that I work with, but I would argue that until you have walked in these families’ shoes you cannot give judgements. I strongly believe that a vast majority of families and individuals have the ability to change, but that it’s about providing support and working alongside them so they understand the reasons for the change.

Those who work with families will know no amount of planning can prepare you for the obstacles and hiccups along the way. For me, this was even more apparent when filming a routine home visit could uncover another issue which needed addressing.

It is only now on completion of the filming, and on reflection, that I can breathe a sigh of relief. I am so pleased to be a part of the final product. The great success and achievement of this family is so rewarding. Seeing those two boys so much happier, chattier and loving makes the job all the more worthwhile, reminding me why I love doing it. It’s as if all the struggles and slips are forgotten.

It was during the filming process that I made the decision to go back to university to do a Masters in social work. There are many reasons for this: I wanted to do the course as part of my professional development and am keen to learn new things to constantly improve my practice.

The other motivator was professionals’ perceptions that without this qualification I lacked the required knowledge to really understand the work. I am not naive that this qualification will change perceptions, but it will give me a personal sense of achievement and reaffirm that I do know the theory that underpins my practice.

CQC to gain greater independence from government, says Jeremy Hunt

Care Bill will be amended to allow Care Quality Commission to carry out investigations without approval of health secretary.

Book review: ‘An inspirational must-read for everyone involved in adoption’

Adoption social worker Sandra Freeman reviews No Matter What – An Adoptive Family’s Story of Hope, Love and Healing by Sally Donovan

Sally Donovan has written No Matter What to share the journey she and her husband Rob made, from when they first try to have a baby of their own, through their infertility and their decision to adopt. Sally and Rob are overjoyed to adopt half-siblings Jaymee and Harlee, followed later by the distress of discovering the full extent of the children’s past.

The book begins with an account of what Sally describes as ‘having endured another day of traumatic struggle’ with Jaymee. “This is a test of me, a brave test of whether I am going to have the mettle to least the course with him,” Sally writes.

By taking the reader through infertility disappointment and the adoption process, the agony of waiting to be a parent is very apparent.

By going through the process from the adopters’ point of view it is clear that every day of waiting can feel like a lifetime, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for the assessment, waiting for the decision (and this did not change once the children were with them!).

Once the children are placed the enormity of the task dawns, and Sally recounts the story of learning not just how to be a parent, but how to heal each of the children and advocate for them when other professionals consider that they know best.

I often felt uncomfortable when Sally wrote about professionals being late, walking mud into her carpet, and particularly the support worker who shared her own difficulties rather than offer any support. However, Sally does not dwell on these disappointments, rather they drive her on to find professionals who can support the family.

The book ends by moving forward in time – life is not perfect, and Sally is aware of the many challenges ahead, but the family ‘group hug’, is significant, and they will share them as a family. Sally, without doubt, has the mettle to last the course with her children.

As a post adoption social worker, who has also recently worked in a children in care team, this book struck a chord as to how our role impacts on children and adopters.

With timescale changes in the adoption system and increasing pressures we need to constantly remind ourselves that the targets we have to meet are to ensure children like Jaymee and Harlee are matched with the Sally and Robs of this world, and that they in turn have the support they need to undertake that role.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough – it travels with me in my handbag and I sing its praises to whoever will listen! I urge everyone involved in adoption to read this book and to be inspired.

Sandra Freeman works in the post adoption team at Essex council. No Matter What is published by Jessica Kingsley and can be purchased here. Sally Donovan’s blog can be found here.

Budgets, staff sickness and recruitment - learning the ropes of social care management

As Natalie Crisp nears the end of her year-long graduate traineeship she learns the significance of dealing with staffing issues in the workload of any social care manager.

Government doubles funding for looked-after children's education

The Pupil Premium Plus will be worth £100m from April, more than double the current funding for looked-after children's education

‘Instead of sitting in day centres, we're helping to train social workers’

From 2015, social work education providers in England will be required to involve service users and carers in approved programmes. Alex Turner visits a trailblazing service user group at Portsmouth University to explore the potential benefits.

‘New social workers must learn to separate the personal and professional’

Nikki Burton, newly qualified social worker and member of The College of Social Work’s professional assembly, explores the ways in which students and recent graduates can develop self-care strategies - and why it is so important.

September - 2013

No registered manager at one in eight adult care services as CQC plans crackdown

Providers face being fined up to £4,000 for not having had a registered manager in place for two years.

‘It feels like adoption has been singled out as the head teacher’s favourite so all the cool kids must take against it’

Credit: Rex features/West Coast Surfer/Mood Board

Credit: Rex features/West Coast Surfer/Mood Board

Adoptive parent and author Sally Donovan asks how adoption has become such a politically divisive issue, with the ‘social worker-hating right’ now in agreement with the ‘Michael Gove-detesting’ left.

“We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer — a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about ‘self image’, which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up”.

So said Michael Gove in response to 127 educational professionals who argued that formal learning should be delayed from age four to six or seven.

It was a bizarre and eclectic response to what I thought was a well-argued position that early learning through play lays essential building blocks for more formal learning later on.  There was something of the ruler over the knuckles and the dunces hat about Michael Gove’s retort. And it was rude.

Adoption Support Fund

How strange then that a day earlier, from the same stable, came a press release about ‘therapeutic services’, ‘attachment-based therapy’ and ‘stable and fulfilling childhood’.

It was the announcement of a £19m fund for therapeutic services for adopted children. The press release carried Edward Timpson’s name, but I knew who had helped to drive it on. ‘I don’t always agree with you, but I mostly like you Michael Gove’, thought I. ‘Finally someone in a position of influence has acknowledged developmental trauma exists, significantly impacts upon children and requires therapeutic intervention. I am not crazy. I am not an amateur pop psychologist, despite being often made to feel like one’.

The next day, while still pleased with Gove’s work on adoption support, I wondered why he always has to go and ruin things by being horrid.

The head teacher’s favourite

The announcement of the adoption support fund was interestingly met with muted… well I don’t know quite what. It wasn’t covered very widely and where it was the emphasis seemed to be on what the scheme isn’t going to do. It isn’t putting money into supporting kinship carers, it isn’t improving foster care. It felt terribly depressing.

I feel a growing sense that adoption has been singled out as the head teacher’s favourite and so all the cool kids must take against it. That’s the trouble with having an unpopular supporter who sometimes says ridiculous things, the brand is devalued. Designers of super-expensive handbags don’t like to see their handbags being carried by those it considers uncool. It might still be a lovely handbag though.

I adopted under a Labour government, back when the debate was whether a child’s rights to shelter, nourishment and emotional care were being squashed under the rights of birth families to keep their children. From my own children’s’ experiences it felt like the right debate to be having, the problem was once the order was made adopted families were supposed to shut up and get on with it.

Strange confluence of left and right

I suspect that had a Labour government proposed some funding for trauma therapies, everyone would be ripping off their clothes and running into fountains. We might also be talking about how trauma therapies for adopted children could be a foot in the door for all traumatised children, no matter who cares for them.

The debate has now swung in the opposite direction. According to some newspapers, social workers are apparently being encouraged to remove children as quickly as possible and are behaving like child-trafficking social engineers of the worst kind. There is a strange confluence of left and right. The social worker hating right-wing newspapers find themselves in agreement with the Gove-detesting left. Somewhere amongst it all is the truth and a sensible middle way.

I’m not saying adoption is suitable for all children in the care system (why it feels necessary for me to spell out that truism in the current climate is interesting in itself), but for those for whom it is it can be transformative.

A step in the right direction

It is more acceptable right now to hold the view that the state can keep together and mend chaotic and broken families, allowing children to stay where they ‘naturally’ should be, with their birth parents. This is true too, in some cases, but even with massive state intervention, some parents abuse and neglect their children.

In my dreams, adoption support as well as support for all trauamtised children is delivered locally, with skill and without question. The government’s adoption support fund may not deliver what I dream of, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So, at the risk of sounding like the uncoolest kid in school, I commend Michael Gove, Edward Timpson and the Department of Education for the adoption support fund. Sometimes a handbag is nice, irrespective of who’s carrying it.

Rise in number of entries for Social Worker of the Year awards

Entries for Adult Social Worker of the Year, in particular, have doubled since last year.

'I'm proudest of our partnerships with the private sector', says deputy turned director

Iain MacBeath says stepping up from deputy to adults' services director in Hertfordshire has enabled him to carry through an agenda of transforming adult care through partnerships with private bodies.

'Here's why we must protect user-led organisations from spending cuts'

Being quizzed about her attitude to risk by a group of disabled personal assistant employers (PAs) showed one social worker the value of user-led services.

Child protection inspections for health providers announced

The CQC is embarking on a two year inspection regime focusing on how well health staff are protecting children and responding to need.

'If I make any mistakes it will be very public', says director taking charge of three councils

Liz Bruce's background as a social worker, teacher and nurse will stand her in good stead as she becomes adults' social services director at three London councils.

Doncaster wins case over plan to outsource children's services

Doncaster Council has succeeded in modifying the government's plan to remove children's services from the council entirely.

Troubled council scraps Reclaiming Social Work model

Reform plan for the Isle of Wight's children's services includes getting rid of the pioneering model praised by Eileen Munro.

Has social work lost its mojo? Chief social workers take part in first joint debate

The chief social workers for adult and children's services, Lyn Romeo and Isabelle Trowler, appeared together for the first time in public at a recent conference at Manchester Metropolitan University. Here is a brief summary of what was discussed.

How attachment theory can transform adult social work and save councils money

While attachment theory has traditionally been associated with children's services, applying the approach to adult social work can help people tackle the unresolved loss that can shape dependency in adulthood.

'A life after cancer should not be a life without social care'

Social workers are integral to helping people meet the challenges of life after cancer treatment, but too often their health needs are neglected, warns Tes Smith.

Rise in number of children's homes ranked good or better

Ofsted quarterly figures also reveal small decrease in number of children's homes rated inadequate.

Social worker suspended for failing to follow up school referral

Norma Rose Lee also failed to conduct a child-in-need assessment following a request from psychiatrist, while working at Sunderland Council.

Highest number of adoptions since 1992, reveal government figures

The number of children placed for adoption has risen by 15% over the last year, according to the latest government figures.

The annual Looked After Children Statistical First Release shows that almost 4,000 children were adopted between April 2012 and March 2013, the highest number recorded any year since 1992.

Edward Timpson, children and families minister, said that although the figures were “hugely encouraging”, there will still too many children waiting too long for adoptive homes.

“More needs to be done to recruit adoptive parents,” Timpson said. “That’s why we have made the £150million Adoption Reform Grant available for local authorities to spend on recruitment reform, and this summer I gave voluntary adoption agencies a further £16million to expand and recruit more adoptive parents. I hope to see this funding deliver results,” he said.

Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the record increase was “heartening”, but warned the government’s proposals to remove councils from the process of recruiting adopters risks “jeopardising the significant progress being made”.

“It will be vital that government works with local authorities and not against us,” Simmonds said. “Councils are getting on with their part of the job. Government now needs to play its part by finally reducing the heavy legal burden of care proceedings and ridiculous bureaucracy which causes huge delays that can put some people off adopting altogether.”

Directors criticise Ofsted’s new single inspection framework

Credit: Image Broker/Rex Features

Credit: Image Broker/Rex Features

Directors of children’s services have criticised Ofsted’s new single inspection framework for using graded judgements and called for the introduction of ‘narrative judgements’ instead.

The framework, published today, is designed to be much tougher with ‘good’ becoming the new standard and councils that would previously have been judged ‘adequate’ now labelled as ‘requiring improvement’.

From November, inspectors will judge child protection and services for looked-after children at the same time and in the same report. This will include fostering, adoption and the experience and progress of care leavers.

Ofsted’s new national director for social care, former Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Debbie Jones, said it was right to introduce the harder test, which asks what difference services are making to a child’s life.

“I am impressed with the extent to which the new framework sets this out. We are pleased with the responses from many directors [of children’s services] about the focus of the new framework being the right one and it being ambitious for our children,” Jones said.

However, the ADCS said that while it welcomed a single inspection framework, members fundamentally disagreed with the use of graded judgements.

Current president Andrew Webb said: “Graded judgements can and do hide a multitude of strengths and weaknesses and there is no certainty that two local authorities with the same judgement are providing the same quality of service and achieving the same outcomes for children.”

The complex nature of children’s services would be better suited to narrative judgements, he said, such as those used in coroners’ courts. “This would allow Ofsted to describe its findings in detail, including the strengths and weaknesses of the system.”

Webb said he hoped that when Ofsted and other inspectorates came to develop the planned multi-agency inspections for April 2015 they would consider the use of narrative judgements as a “more constructive” way to ensure sustained improvements were made.

Ofsted’s single inspection will make three key judgements about local authority services:

• The experience and progress of children who need help and protection

• The experiences and progress of children looked-after and achieving permanent homes and families for them

• Leadership, management and governance.

If a council is judged ‘inadequate’ in any of these three critical areas it will automatically be judged ‘inadequate’ overall.

For the first time Ofsted will also evaluate the quality of plans for care leavers. Inspectors will grade the quality of support and care, the provision of safe and good housing, access to education, training and employment and the extent to which they feel supported by their corporate parents.

Book review: ‘A practical resource for promoting person-centred care’


A guide for creating person-centred organisations proves a useful and accessible resource, writes social worker Brid Joy 

The growth of personalisation in health and social care means many organisations in the statutory and voluntary sectors are radically reforming their ways of working. Creating person-centred organisations by Stephen Stirk and Helen Sanderson (published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is a useful guide for organisations looking to become more person-centred in their approaches.

Stirk and Sanderson cover a variety of issues including how to create a culture within your organisation that promotes person-centred views, how to have an organisation that has a “bottom up” approach to services and how to foster a culture of teamwork.

The authors offer practical guidance, helped by the fact one of them is a director at a social care charity that has gone through a lot of issues discussed. The text gives practical tips on how to manage challenges such as risk, quality and leadership and offers a variety of easy to understand exercises to use within your team.

While grappling with complex issues, the language used throughout the text is detailed but easy to understand and the points made are logical. This allows the reader, even without any prior experience in the area, to have an understanding of what it means to have a person-centred organisation and what it takes to create one. The book also makes excellent use of diagrams, tables and metaphors to convey key points.

All in all, I found this book an excellent, practical and readable resource for anyone wishing to promote personalisation within their organisation.

Brid Joy is a social worker based in a mental health team. She has previously worked in adult protection and community care for older adults. Brid is currently completing a PhD in mental health.  

NICE guidance to prevent behavioural problems in children

Picture credit: Rex Features

Picture credit: Rex Features

Children’s services departments should ensure vulnerable children under the age of five have access to high quality childcare outside of the home to help reduce behavioural problems according to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The briefing note for councils, based on existing NICE guidance, focuses on preventing behavioural and emotional problems in children.

It is part of new guidance documents NICE is publishing for local authorities to help them take on the public health remit. They aim to highlight which are the most cost-effective public health tactics to put in place.

Other recommendations include:

  •  Primary schools should develop a whole school approach to children’s social and emotional wellbeing and be able to identify and provide specific help for children already showing signs of anxiety, emotional distress or behavioural problems.

  • All health and early years professionals should identify factors that may pose a risk to a child’s social and emotional wellbeing such as poor housing conditions, parental mental health problems or substance and alcohol misuse.

  • Nursery workers and childminders need to have the procedures and training to make referrals to specialist services, based on an assessment of need.

  • All schools should offer support to parents and carers to develop parenting skills such as providing information or offering small, group based programmes run by school nurses or health visitors.

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE, said: “Supporting the emotional and social wellbeing of children and young people is important not only for the child and those around them, but also the community in which they live. Nearly half of 14 year olds report they are being bullied. Their school work suffers and they achieve poorer results – the equivalent of 2 grades lower at GCSE level.  Research shows that aggressive behaviour at the age of eight years is a predictor of criminal and abusive behaviour.

“This briefing aims to help local authorities create a safe environment for children and young people which is emotionally secure and which prevents behavioural problems, including bullying and violence. This means developing their ability to resolve conflicts, solve problems, cope with difficult experiences and reduce risk-taking behaviours.”

‘Calls to change child protection after Daniel Pelka’s death merely offer an illusion of security’

Social worker Abe Laurens reflects on the terrible death of four-year-old Daniel Pelka, and of his own 30-year wait for vital improvements to national child protection procedures and systems.

You never become immune to the tragic stories behind child abuse inquiries, even though they reprise gut-wrenchingly familiar themes like a lack of professional communication and an absence of child-centredness.

The tragic death of Daniel Pelka has particularly touched my colleagues and I, all hard-bitten experienced social workers. This, perhaps, is because the abuse was not hidden behind closed doors, dreadful though that is. So much of his suffering was in the open, among his peers, witnessed by so many.

Daniel Pelka (Credit: Rex Features)

Daniel Pelka (Credit: Rex Features)

The government says there is no quick fix. True, but I’ve been waiting 30 years for a slow one and my patience is running out.

Every report is accompanied by a call for a change in the system, this time for mandatory reporting of abuse. It’s worth raising if only to generate a sustained public debate about the nature of child care and the powers of the state. It would not have protected Daniel or indeed Heidi Koseda, Jasmine Beckford, Maria Colwell or Victoria Climbie. People saw and reported but actions did not save them.

‘Refreshing honesty’ from Munro

It’s damn hard. I know from bitter personal experience how hard it is to prove abuse beyond doubt or make that mental leap to think the unthinkable. I completely endorse Eileen Munro’s refreshing honesty this week – like her I’m not sure I could have done better. All the more reason for a public debate.

Calls to change the system merely offer an illusion of security where seeing to be doing something is apparently more important than doing it. Policy-makers and politicians move on to something else, but I’m still here. The existing systems may not be perfect but they are good enough, especially after Munro. The problem is, they are not being put into practice.

For a job that is all about people it is astonishing how little attention is paid to dynamics and relationship-forming within and between professions. This is tough, draining, time-consuming and messy, which is why it is avoided rather than addressed. This has to change.

I recently attended a workshop run in a so-called failing authority by independent consultants, presumably paid a fortune. At one point I confess I burst out laughing. They had plenty of Powerpoints and flowcharts but little idea of what social workers did day-to-day.

Child protection in England will not improve unless three things happen:

1). Professionals who work in the same locality need to talk to each other. Services are under intense pressure because of cuts and scrutiny, because of performance targets and re-organisation. Therefore colleagues have retreated behind their professional boundaries. It’s said that there’s no time for multi-disciplinary work: in fact it’s an essential, core task. Talk about children, good practice, politics, or X Factor – that’s how trusting, understanding relationships are created, how boundaries are broken down, how problems are shared. Relationships are the oil that makes the system work smoothly. That’s why someone, someday, will find it easier to pick up the phone and say, “This little boy, I’m worried, what do you think…?”

2). We need more social workers. Of course existing resources can be used more efficiently and I know you’ve heard this before. Doesn’t mean it’s not true. There is no escaping the cold stark reality that caseloads are bulging because there are not enough social workers.

3). Managers and directors have a duty to tell their elected members about the true extent of the problem. I’m sick of senior staff hiding behind numbers. Cases may be allocated but that does not mean they are being actively worked on or the child knows their social worker. Vacancies may be filled but agency staff come and go, they are not a long-term solution. Moving the threshold for admission to care improves the statistics but does not mean children in the community are better protected.

The thousands of hardworking, dedicated social workers in this country deserve this and so do the children we work with. You can never stop child abuse but you can do a better job to protect children.

CQC to investigate social care staffing and training

The Care Quality Commission is to investigate levels of adult social care staffing and training later this year.

It will undertake a “thematic probe” into the issues after they were identified by a range of stakeholders as key concerns during feedback.

A report to the latest CQC board meeting said there was evidence that some specialist services or those for people with complex needs, such as people with learning disabilities and ‘challenging behaviour’, were increasingly providing poor care due to insufficient staffing levels and inadequate training.

“In-depth scoping will identify where the CQC can have most impact, sampling providers to collect information in a consistent manner to test the variability of staffing provision, monitoring and quality assurance,” the report added.

Meanwhile, the most recent CQC staff survey results has indicated strong support for changes that the regulator is being made to its operations.

Almost three-quarters of staff (74%) believed the CQC had a clear direction, compared with just 35% in 2012. More than 80% of staff were committed to the CQC’s future direction and felt it would change for the better. Just over half of all staff felt this way in 2012.

Staff also reported less bullying and intimidation in the workplace with 14% claiming to have personally suffered bullying compared to 21% in 2012. More than 200 CQC staff reported they had been bullied or harassed at work in evidence to a review into the issue commissioned by chief executive David Behan. Behan promised to learn the lessons from the review following its publication in June.

Picture credit: Getty Images

Haringey faces new challenge as politicians consider restructuring senior management


Rumours are circulating about the future of Haringey council’s director of children’s services, Libby Blake (pictured), as politicians contemplate a restructure of the council’s senior team.

A spokesperson for the council said a consultation with staff would follow a vote by the corporate committee this week to restructure the senior team. There would be no further comment or details until then, the spokesperson added.

It is thought this could mean proposals to merge adults and children’s services are on the cards, with only one directorship up for grabs.

Blake took over the reins at Haringey from Peter Lewis who was responsible for steering the troubled council into calmer waters following the Baby Peter case.

However, her tenure hasn’t been entirely trouble-free after the council was severely criticised by a judge over its handling of a malicious allegation of child abuse.

Social workers and managers escalated the case to a section 47 investigation without following the proper processes and based on scant evidence. The parents then successfully sued the council for legal costs and compensation.

The case actually occurred before Blake took up her post, but the parents, a social worker and a former social worker themselves, were angry that she defended the actions of staff and agreed to fight the case in court. Blake was forced to write a letter to councillors after the ruling explaining what she would do to ensure such actions could not happen again.

Social workers lead fightback against personal budgets bureaucracy

Social worker and client Rex Burger Phanie 1

Along with death and taxes, one of the few certainties in recent years was that Community Care’s annual survey of social care practitioners’ views on personalisation would highlight widespread disquiet about levels of bureaucracy. So it was with this year’s survey, whose most concerning result was that 77% of respondents thought their council had not reduced the level of bureaucracy in the personal budgets process in the past year.

Bureaucracy – whether in the shape of multiple and complex forms for assessment, support planning and review, impenetrable resource allocation systems, lengthy panel processes for signing off budgets or clunky IT systems – is not just a bugbear for practitioners. This year’s National Personal Budgets Survey, commissioned by the Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) partnership, showed personal budgets’ ability to deliver good outcomes for service users and carers is significantly enhanced the less bureaucracy there is in the process. A very similar message was contained in the 2011 survey and the evaluation of the personal health budgets pilots.

But perhaps the message is finally getting through. Today, TLAP publishes case studies of 20 councils (one-seventh of the total in England) who have taken effective steps to roll back the tide of bureaucracy, alongside a short report with some tips for doing the same. We feature five of the 20 councils – Camden, Essex, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Southend – in a series of good practice pieces, also published today, that illustrate that social workers are at the forefront of efforts to liberate personal budgets from unnecessary restrictions and delays.

In Essex, trained practitioners have been given the licence to sign-off most of their assessments, other than in complex cases, speeding up the process of setting up a personal budget for families. In Camden and Portsmouth, social workers have been heavily involved in slimming down and redesigning paperwork to remove duplication in the information required of people seeking support, and redesigning processes to ensure people are not unnecessarily passed between practitioners and forced to repeat their story.

In Southend, social workers have influenced the introduction of mobile working technology  that enables them to upload assessments onto the council’s care management and performance reporting systems without returning to the office. And in Norfolk, personalisation champions were appointed on each team to support other staff in driving up previously low levels of personal budgets take-up.

The central role of social workers should come as no surprise. Our annual surveys have identified a strong commitment to the values of personalisation among the profession – amid a frustration at the barriers to putting them into place. Moreover, the research – including from the National Personal Budgets Survey – indicates that it is substantially what social workers and care managers do, or don’t do, that makes the difference between whether personal budgets do or do not work for people.

Think Local Act Personal has published a report alongside the 20 case studies capturing key messages about what councils at the forefront of tackling personal budgets bureaucracy. The hope is that other authorities will learn from these and follow suit. The result should be that, by the time of next year’s Community Care personalisation survey, the proportion of social workers complaining about bureaucratic systems is much reduced. Let’s hope so.

Picture credit: Rex/Burger/Phanie

Social work on the move: how mobile working can improve care management

Mobile working Rex Image Source

In Southend, social workers are conducting assessments and uploading them onto the council’s care management system without having to enter the office. The result is significantly reduced bureaucracy.

By Mark Hunter

Despite today’s ultra-light, ultra-powerful, tablets, phablets, smartphones and netbooks, mobile technology is proving remarkably resistant to routine use on the front line of social work. Problems with software compatibility, unreliable connectivity and a reluctance to bring intimidating technology into service users’ homes have restricted the use of mobile assessments to a few trailblazing authorities.

One council that does seem to have solved the mobile conundrum is Southend-on-Sea. Over the past two years, frontline social workers and occupational therapists from Southend’s adult social services department have been issued with swivel-screen laptops that can be used to conduct self-directed support assessments from within the service user’s home. An online link to the council means that the information is fed straight into CareFirst, its care management system, where an automatic resource allocation system calculator works out a personal budget score.

Significant reduction in paperwork

The social worker can do all of this on the move, without having to travel back to the office. The result has been a significant reduction in bureaucracy and paperwork.

“It used to be that social workers would go out and fill in their assessment forms on paper, then come back into the office and use that information to update the records in CareFirst,” says project manager Kim Thompson.

“Now, we’ve put these electronic forms into CareFirst which contain all the information we need for performance. So by completing the social work report our staff are also updating CareFirst without any double entry. These days we don’t use very much paper at all.”

Unlike many local authorities who are currently revamping their self-directed support systems, Southend’s primary motivation was not to increase the number of service users with personal budgets. The council already delivers these to about 75% of its service users and carers, a figure that ranks it in the top fifth of the country, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Southend’s challenge was to maintain this level of service under increasing budgetary restrictions.

Keeping staff in the field

Its response to the austerity agenda was to launch ‘Smarter Ways of Working’, an initiative designed to cut down on office space and travel costs. Flexible hours, hot-desking, home working and remote portals, where staff can plug into the council’s information systems, were all introduced in an effort to keep staff out in the field.

“You don’t have to come back into the office to upload all the data, because we don’t want you to come back into the office,” says Thompson.

Certainly the changes have impressed social care consultant Tim Parkin, who has led a project for the Think Local Act Personal partnership on improving self-directed support. Southend was one of 20 good practice case studies he has selected.

“Southend have shown that mobile working can be introduced in a way that genuinely make things easier for practitioners, supporting the implementation of self-directed support, rather than simply creating another layer of process,” he says.

Transforming the council’s paper-based system into a workable, electronic process that could operate remotely with a mobile workforce required Thompson to act as a conduit between the social workers and the computer programmers in Southend’s IT team. Technical team leader Paul Palmer says this link to the front line was essential.

Listening to practitioners

“It’s no good just understanding the IT requirements, we need to understand the practice requirements as well,” he say. “So we’ve talked to and listened to the practitioners and we’ve created a tool that is appropriate for their work and that they are happy with.”

Getting the system right involved a lot of consultation, trial and error and the road testing of various combinations of hardware and software.

“We benchmarked all the business processes and looked at the ways things were being done on paper, on screen and in the old version of CareFirst,” say Palmer. “We then looked at the various types of mobile equipment we could use, the off-the-peg software such as CareMobile, and the coverage offered by the various 3G suppliers.”

In the end the team felt that commercially available software would not provide the necessary flexibility, so Palmer put his team’s SQL computer-programming skills to the test. “Rather than buying an of-the-peg RAS calculator, we’ve developed our own version in-house using an SQL-stored procedure,” he says. “We retired a lot of paper forms – 90% are now within the Care Assess part of CareFirst – so we’ve really streamlined the process.”

‘We can be virtually anywhere’

For social services worker Rob Allen the mobile system means that he can travel from one assessment to another without having to return to the office to fill in forms or retrieve forgotten client files.

“We can be virtually anywhere in the borough and log into the system for access to up-to-date information,” he says. “With face-to-face reviews, the review is often the easy part. It’s the paperwork that takes the time because each review sheet leads to a continuing care checklist, a personal budget support form, resource requests and so on.

“The new system does all that for you and it allows you to work remotely. So I can be with a client at 2pm, back home by 3pm and straight onto the system without having to come into the civic centre.”

Kamil Pachalko, a social worker for adults in the single point of referral team, says that the increased mobility also allows a much more rapid response to emergencies.

“If there’s a safeguarding incident, for instance, I can now respond immediately even if I don’t have all the paperwork on me. I can just log into the system while I’m at the client’s house and access all the information online. So it’s better for me, but it’s also better for the client because they don’t have to wait so long for feedback.”

Lessons learned by Southend in implementing mobile working

  • Consult widely – get feedback from staff, service users and carers, before, during and after every change;

  • Shop around – Southend tried out a range of software, hardware and 3G provider combinations;

  • Do it yourself – when commercially available software didn’t offer the flexibility Southend required, they wrote their own though it helped to have a team of SQL programmers on the IT staff;

  • Communicate – Kim Thompson is a social worker with an interest in computing and acting as a conduit she was able to make sure everyone was speaking the same language;

  • Plan ahead and never underestimate how long it is going to take.

Putting trust in social workers to curb personal budgets bureaucracy

Manager and practitioner Rex Darren Greenwood Design Pics Inc

In Essex, 70% of assessments are now signed off by the social worker carrying them out, freeing up managers’ time and leading to a much quicker service for clients.

By Tristan Donovan

A social work approach that thins out bureaucracy, empowers practitioners, frees up managers’ time and delivers higher-quality assessments appears too good to be true.

But Essex County Council’s self-confirmation of assessments system appears to have done exactly that. The local authority isn’t the only one saying it.

Think Local Act Personal, the cross-sector partnership that seeks to aid the implementation of personalisation, liked the approach enough to pick it as a case study for others to learn from for a project on reducing bureaucracy in personal budgets.

The basic idea is that frontline social workers in adult services who meet certain standards are given the power to sign off care packages and assessments, and that the task of vetting these reports is handled by a centralised unit rather than individual teams. Essex has been using the approach for about two years now and the results are impressive.

70% of assessments signed off by practitioners

Practitioners now sign-off about 70% of assessments themselves, the time managers spend reviewing and approving their work is down by two-thirds, and assessments are completed faster.

Shaun Lancaster, project manager – safeguarding, placement and development at Essex, was one of the people who helped create the system.

“The idea for it started four or five years ago,” he says. “All assessments were being quality assured and would go to a budget holder to assess. This was representing a significant amount of time for managers. We estimated that 50% plus of team manager time and 30% of service manager time was involved in the quality assurance process.”

The answer was a major rethink of how the checking and validation of assessments was handled. The council moved the task of quality assurance of assessments and support plans into a county-wide team called the central confirmation and validation team (CCV Team).

In addition experienced social workers, who had completed a package of relevant training, would be able to get a ‘self-confirmation passport’, allowing them to approve their own assessments in all but the most complex cases, in which case the CCV Team would need to sign it off.

“We took the opportunity to say that managers do not have to quality assure 100% of cases and that the staff are able to be accountable for the quality of the assessment work and care packages,” says Lancaster.

Quicker service for clients

“This meant we could have a smaller group of people doing the quality assurance in a shorter amount of time. In addition, we were getting improved response times for service users and more consistency across the county in how we responded to care packages.

“Managers can do more development work too. It frees up a great deal more development time for them and gives them the ability to be a point of reference for staff again.”

The training social workers need to do before being allowed to sign off their assessments is comprehensive. It covers everything from Essex council’s corporate governance and the Mental Capacity Act to the database system, safeguarding of adults and children, assistive technologies and basic occupational therapy.

“You do basic OT so that we can assess for OT-based equipment,” says Christina Collins, a senior social worker in the council’s working-age adults physical impairment and learning disabilities team.

“This is better for the person being assessed because you go out there and actually you can do it all in one hit. If it’s a simple piece of equipment with no other risk that you need an OT for you can include that in the support plan.”

As well as completing all the training, social workers also need to have three consecutive assessments or support plans gain approval from the CCV Team.

“You get three of those and you’ve done your training, then you get your self-confirmation passport,” says Matthew Ansell, senior social work practitioner on the CCV Team.

Trust in social workers

“The county is saying ‘your work is good, we trust you to confirm your own reviews’. We’ll keep an eye on them and discuss any practice issues with the workers, but unless there is a cause for concern, which is very rare, they can sign off their own reviews.”

The CCV Team’s job is to vet the work of social workers without self-confirmation rights, carry out occasional checks on the work of those with the passport, and quality assure the assessments and plans for the more complex cases that practitioners with the passport carry out.

Ansell says one of the positive aspects of the approach is that the 15 social workers and occupational therapists on the CCV Team do not have direct contact with service users.

“Because we don’t know the service user we’ve got no preconceived ideas about what we should be seeing,” he says. “Sometimes from a practice point of view it is good to have someone take a step back and say whether we need to put something else in or say maybe we could do something less intrusive here.

“For example a report might say the son gets in the shopping in one bit, but later says the son didn’t get the shopping because he is in hospital. We would send that back to the worker and say we need to know what the situation is in terms of the son fulfilling those basic needs.”

Ansell says the CCV Team might also suggest alternative ways of offering support to having a carer coming in to do the shopping, such as getting shopping delivered. But while the CCV Team checks the work of the frontline practitioners, Ansell says “we’re not there to police people”.

Constructive criticism

“We keep things good humoured and professional,” he says. “That is really important because when you are giving constructive criticism you’ve got to be professional, polite and nice about it – very few people like criticism whether it’s constructive or otherwise.

“I was in frontline [practice] and it’s easy to get caught up in situations and it’s really good to have someone look at what you’re doing and say ‘that’s really good, no problem’ or ‘let’s have a bit of a chat about it’.

“It compliments what frontline workers and their managers do. I am a practitioner at heart – I wouldn’t want to do this unless I felt it improved professional practice.”

Collins says the move to the self-confirmation systems has been good news for social workers in Essex.

“I think it acknowledges their professionalism again,” she says. “It makes sure all the work is completed so that it’s of a higher quality. People are more accountable so they think more about what they are doing and what they are signing off.

“Essex trusts the work that they do, that’s the message it gives to staff. It’s no longer Big Brother, it’s we trust what you’re doing.”

Lessons learned by Essex

  • Time needed to be invested in getting rules right for when practitioners should sign off their own assessments, and when they should be sent for quality assurance to build management confidence;

  • Time also needed to be invested in getting the training programme right for staff to be qualified in signing off their own assessments;

  • Teams needed to be restructured with more experienced staff moved into the central confirmation and validation team.

Picture credit: Rex/Darren Greenwood/Design Pics Inc

Getting rid of teams and forms: one council’s route to simpler personal budgets

Cutting red tape Rex Image Source

In Camden, specialist and locality teams have been ditched in favour of a single service designed to avoid clients being passed from pillar to post in search of social care support.

Two of the chief sources of the bureaucracy that has undermined personal budgets are the volume of paperwork that social workers have to process and the number of different practitioners people have to deal with as they travel through the system.

Both factors were identified as problems for Camden council in a wholesale review of the self-directed support process two years ago that found they was leading to delays in setting up personal budgets and frustrations for people seeking support in having to repeat their stories.

The review, which was set up to help deliver savings, concluded that the council’s adults’ services departments had far too many teams – whether specialist or locality-based – fragmenting the process and leading to unnecessary “hand-offs” of cases from practitioner to practitioner. Excluding learning disabilities and mental health, customers had more than 10 different points for accessing adult social care support from the council.

In addition, the review found that the council used 17 different forms to capture information from potential customers, leading to much duplication and unnecessary form-filling for practitioners.

“We wanted to have a focus on what it is we do that really adds value to the person,” says Lyn Romeo, now the government’s chief social worker for adults but until this month Camden’s assistant director of adult social care.

Single access point

As a result of the review the council has made significant changes on both fronts. It now has a single adults’ service with one access point for people seeking support, excluding learning disabilities and mental health. Practitioners who take initial phone calls from potential service users will go out and assess them. The only hand-off people now face is if they require ongoing support, in which case they will be transferred to a professional working on long-term cases.

“Instead of one team working with someone for a short period of time and then transferring them to another team, we attempt to keep the customer with us,” says Shannon White, lead practitioner for direct payments and personalised support.

The 17 forms have been cut down to five, covering referral, assessment, support plan, reassessment and support plan review, and the council intends to get rid of the reassessment form so that reviews are carried out using the assessment form. The forms have also been revised to reduce tick-box elements and increase scope for free-text responses from service users, providing them and social workers with greater discretion. In addition, the former points-based resource allocation system has been scrapped in favour of a simpler ready reckoner model that calculates the person’s indicative budget on the basis of existing service costs.

“There’s no complex algorithm to explain to service users [anymore],” says personalisation implementation manager Paul Kelly. “It’s the simplest form [of RAS] you can have.”

Camden’s efforts have been recognised by the Think Local Act Personal partnership, which has selected it as one of 20 case studies published today of good practice in reducing bureaucracy in the personal budgets process.

Positive response from social workers

Social workers have been critical to devising and implementing the changes, which were initially tested by a small group of staff, and have generally welcomed the results. “Most social workers will say things are a lot better than they were two years ago,” says Shannon White, lead practitioner for direct payments and personalised support. This is in part because managers have been responsive to their concerns during the implementation process.

For example, in January 2012, the council eliminated the divide between practitioners doing intake and short-term case work and those handling longer-term cases so that all social workers took initial phone calls from clients and could then follow through cases that required ongoing support. However, this did not work, says White.

“Some people tend not to like being on the phones and prefer working on longer-term care management,” she says. “We have to have a balance between what’s right for the customer and how the service is going to cope; staff have to be happy to.”

So the council reinstated the divide between short-term and long-term work. However, it intends to increase the number of practitioners doing intake and short-term work over time to help reduce the number of hand-offs, but White says this will take time.

“We’re trying to change a culture and that doesn’t happen over time,” she adds.

Retaining specialist knowledge

The elimination of specialist teams created a risk that expertise would be lost in these areas. The council’s response was to appoint lead practitioners for areas including occupational therapy, safeguarding, health and long-term conditions and personalisation, to provide a resource for other social workers. White’s role is one of these.

“Our role is to be approachable and visible so people can come and talk to us and not feel shy to ask what they may see as silly questions,” she says. She gets a number of questions each day and tries to spot patterns in the issues practitioners are raising so that these can be raised with senior management, if necessary. She also sends practitioners monthly email updates.

Another issue created by the removal of teams was that it made it more difficult to share information across the department, a role that team meetings previously fulfilled. Camden’s answer has been to create five supervisory groups, each headed by a service manager and operational manager or lead practitioner and consisting of a group of practitioners who are supervised by the operational manager/lead practitioner. This also helps allocate work more equitably between staff , says White.

“Every day I’ll have an email saying, ‘Shannon, can any of your staff take work,” and I’ll say ‘yes, this person can take one and that person can take two cases’. If you have different teams you can end up with one team being chockablock and others having spare capacity. That’s a real benefit of having one service.”

There still remain problems with the self-directed support process, however. While the ready reckoner resource allocation system is much simpler than its points-based predecessor, basing indicative budgets on the costs of existing services can lead practitioners to focus on more traditional forms of support during support planning.

“When you are talking about existing costs of services there can be a tendency to just think about those services,” says Kelly. “That’s our next challenge, to get people to think differently.”

Picture credit: Rex/Image Source

Learning from the best to transform personal budgets

Giving presentation Rex Image Source

By borrowing from top-performing authorities, Norfolk has turned round its approach to personal budgets, significantly boosting take-up and reducing bureaucracy.

By Mark Hunter

Two years ago the system of self-directed support (SDS) at Norfolk council was in serious trouble. The system was slow, inefficient and bureaucratic. Staff and service users were becoming increasingly frustrated. Moreover, Norfolk was performing particularly poorly compared to similar and neighbouring councils on self-directed support take-up.

“In terms of our performance on SDS in 2011, Norfolk was bottom,” says head of social care Tim O’Mullane. “We were below the national average, the East of England average and our family group average [which looks at similar councils]. On the number of people receiving personal budgets we were well below target, which at that time was 30%.”

Today, the county sits comfortably in mid-table on the national averages. It has also been chosen by the Think Local Act Personal partnership as one of 20 good practice examples of councils who have successfully reduced bureaucracy in the personal budgets process. The turnaround has been achieved through a systematic reform of its assessment and resource allocation processes.

Frankly appraising failings

According to O’Mullane the recovery began with a frank appraisal of the council’s failings, based on Department of Health performance information and feedback from staff that it was taking them a lot longer than it should do to set up personal budgets.

The council then prepared a detailed map of the ‘customer pathway’, from the first time people contact social services through to the time they receive a personal budget and their care is put in place.

“We looked at all the different stages, how long those stages took, where the blocks were and tried to identify the various pinch-points where things needed to improve.”

In Norfolk the ‘pinch points’ included duplication of work between the assessment forms and the personal budget questionnaire, delays during the financial assessment and the slow progress of funding applications through the funding panel.

With the problems duly identified, the next stage was to work out how to solve them. So, O’Mullane went back to the SDS league tables to see which authorities were sitting at the top.

Learning from the best

“We arranged a number of visits to these high-performing authorities to talk about what they were doing and what we could learn from them. They gave us some really good ideas of what we could do to improve our performance.”

One of the ideas gleaned was to appoint ‘SDS Champions’ – a personalisation enthusiast on each team who is available to provide guidance and support to other staff. These champions meet each month to feed back information on what is working well and where there are still problems.

“We also wanted to get feedback from service users,” says O’Mullane. “So we set up an SDS steering group that included service users and family carers. They were asked what we were doing wrong and how we could improve things.”

Having identified financial assessments and funding approval as areas causing unnecessary delays, the council also set up an SDS finance group, chaired by the head of finance. Funding panels were abolished completely.

“We gave authority to team managers to agree funding up to a certain amount, so now they don’t have to wait to get it approved,” says O’Mullane.

Curbing paperwork

Finally, the council set about tackling the mountain of paperwork generated by the SDS system. The CareFirst client record system was given a major overhaul so that both the assessment form and the personal budget questionnaire were integrated and placed online. The resource allocation system (RAS) was also integrated into this system so that CareFirst now automatically generates a personal budget allowance where previously it had to be calculated by the finance team.

Norfolk’s success has led it to be selected as one of 20 case studies in a report published this week by the Think Local Act Personal project in reducing bureaucracy in the personal budgets system.

According to Celia Chivers, an assistant practitioner in the older people and physical disabilities team, the new system is not only more streamlined, it also better reflects the goals and values of personalisation.

“The beauty of personal budgets, right from the start, has been that we have more time with people,” she says. “Asking them questions they would not normally have been asked, looking at their lives and recognising the input of their networks of informal support.”

“But [in the previous system] staff were going out and writing up their assessments in a very specific format. It was very task-oriented, regimented and followed a medical model. There wasn’t much opportunity to work holistically. We were being asked to write this wonderful holistic support plan for people but there was no way to put that into the CareFirst system.

“There was very little free text and you never felt that what you were doing really reflected the person you were dealing with. You were always having to paraphrase in a way that didn’t feel comfortable. We were having to be very creative in trying to shoehorn things in to fit the criteria.”

Chivers feels the new system not only reduces the duplication of work, it also allows staff and clients to be more flexible in the care plans they draw up.

“It gives us more autonomy,” she says. “There’s more free text and we can allow clients to be more broad with their terminology. I don’t know if we spend more time with clients, but the time we do spend feels more valuable because the information we are getting matters more. It feels much more human.”

Lessons learned by Norfolk in reforming personal budgets

  • Set a baseline – use performance data and staff feedback to help chart progress;

  • Learn from others – seek out the secrets of high performing councils;

  • Consult widely – get feedback from staff, service users and carers, before, during and after every change;7

  • Map out the ‘customer pathway’ – identify the blockages and pinch-points;

  • Be ruthless in cutting paperwork – use client record systems to integrate assessment forms, personal budget questionnaires and the resource allocation system;

  • Support your staff – with ‘champions’ and written guidance;

  • Trust your staff with greater flexibility and autonomy in assessments and by allowing managers to approve funding without going through a funding panel;

Picture credit: Rex/Image Source

Residence test on legal aid could cost councils millions

Report says the government's proposed change will lead to a rise in homelessness and private legal fees.

Social workers to be balloted on strike action over job cuts

Unison accuses council of "ineffective spending decisions" as council says 1000 jobs must go by April 2015.

Social workers return to work following impromptu strike

Practitioners call off strike after worker suspended for refusing to take on additional case is reinstated.

‘We must not be ashamed of trying to attract outstanding graduates into social work’

Lord Andrew Adonis, chair of Frontline, explains why he thinks social work should strive to attract more graduates from the UK’s leading 24 “Russell Group” universities.

Quarter of social workers say they never get to read serious case reviews

BASW survey finds 97% of social workers want serious case reviews to be centrally located so there is continuous and easy access, while two thirds admit they only 'sometimes' read their recommendations

June - 2013

Recognising excellence in Social Work.

Its that time again to start thinking about recognition in Social Work as the industry starts to gear up to the Social Work Awards in November 2013.

Entries are accepted now until 6th September and include individuals and teams so why not find out more and have a look at the full bro

October - 2012

Lack of HCPC registration real concern...

All Social Workers previously on the GSCC register need to transfer to the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).

The regulator has revealed that almost 80% of social workers in England have yet to renew their registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
It was "concerned" that 68,000 social workers have still not renewed their registration, although they have another month in which to do so.

"We encourage all our registrants to renew before the deadline to prevent the lengthy re-admittance process which follows lapsing off the register," said Marc Seale, chief executive of the HCPC.

"The consequences of social workers lapsing off the register are detrimental and considerable to the registrant, employer and service user and ultimately result in a risk to public safety."

The closing date for renewals is 6pm on 30 November.

How do I register with the HCPC?
If you havent been contacted by HCPC by now then there may of been an issue transfering information to the HCPC so you should contact them URGENTLY.
Otherwise by now you should of had your unique access code to register online.
You will now be able to logon to your registration page on the HCPC and you will need to have completed your registration by 6pm on 30th November 2012.

What happens if I don’t register by the close date?

If you do not complete your registration by the 30th November 2012, you will automatically be removed from the register and will be unable to use the title of Social Worker until you have re-registered.

If your registration lapses, you will need to complete re-admission forms and provide a health declaration, a character reference and proof of identity. If you do this within a month of lapsing there will be no charge, however, if the period is longer than a month the fee will be £115.


How much does registration cost?

Registration with the HCPC is £76 per year or £152 for 2 years. If you register for 2 years, you will be given the option to pay £38 every 6 months rather than a one off payment. Registration with the HCPC will be 2 years rather than 3 years.

I am a student, do I still need to register?

The HCPC will not register students, therefore you will not be required to register. Once you are qualified, registration with the HCPC should only take approximately 1 week to be complete.

The GSCC currently provide a minimum training requirement, will this be the same with the HCPC?

The HCPC will not state a set amount of training that needs to be undertaken, instead the relevance of the training will be considered. They will measure the outcome of the training. You will have a log on your registration page online which will need to be updated during the 2 year registration period.

Each year the HCPC will audit a percentage of the register and if requested you will need to provide:
• A list of training over the 2 year period.
• A summary of recent work completed.
• A Statement of how standards have been met and how the training has helped you to meet these standards, how you are benefitting from the training and how service users are benefitting from this.
• Evidence of the training, notes from courses, supervision and team meetings, certificates.

If a complaint is made to the HCPC they will look at the effect on practice. The sanctions that can be imposed following investigations are:
• A caution order which can go on your record for up to 5 years.
• A condition of practice order. This means that you will be able to continue to practice but you will receive close supervision and relevant training to ensure that there is an improvement in practice.
• A suspension order. Before you will be able to re-apply to register you will have to complete relevant training and be able to show how you will change your practice in the future.
• Striking off order – full removal from the register.
A temporary suspension may also be imposed during the investigation which will mean that you will be unable to work as a Social Worker until the investigation is complete.
When investigating complaints the HCPC will look at your fitness to work and how the allegation affects your practice.

Please contact us at, call 0845 363 1085 or visit our website for any further information.

September - 2012


RIG Social Care are looking for a Registered Nurse to start a post in the East Midlands region.

The worker must have had recent home experience.

Get in touch today for more information!

Contact Emma Appleton on 0845 363 1085

August - 2012

Transfer of GSCC Functions to the HCPC

What is Happening?

With effect from 1st August 2012 all Social Workers currently on the GSCC register will transfer to the Health Professionals Council (HPC), which will then be known as the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).

Who will the HCPC Regulate?

The HCPC will only regulate Social Workers in England. Social Workers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will need to ensure they are registered with the respective regulators, Care Council for Wales, Scottish Social Services Council and Northern Ireland Social Services Council.

How do I register with the HCPC?

As long as you are currently on the GSCC register, your details will transfer automatically to the HCPC on 24th July 2012. The HCPC will then contact you with your unique access code to register online. It is therefore very important that you make sure your contact details are up to date with the GSCC before 18th July 2012.

The GSCC will cease to accept new applications to register with effect from 18th July 2012.

You can send updated details:

• By email to

• By letter to GSCC, Myson House, Railway Terrace, Rugby, CV21 3HT

• By telephone on 0845 070 0630 or 01788 532402.

You will be able to logon to your registration page on the HCPC from 1st September 2012 and you will need to have completed your registration by 6pm on 30th November 2012.

If your GSCC registration is due to renew in July you will still need to complete the forms, however, you will not need to pay your renewal fee.

What happens if I don’t register by the close date?
If you do not complete your registration by the 30th November 2012, you will automatically be removed from the register and will be unable to use the title of Social Worker until you have re-registered.
If your registration lapses, you will need to complete re-admission forms and provide a health declaration, a character reference and proof of identity. If you do this within a month of lapsing there will be no charge, however, if the period is longer than a month the fee will be £115.

How much does registration cost?

Registration with the HCPC is £76 per year or £152 for 2 years. If you register for 2 years, you will be given the option to pay £38 every 6 months rather than a one off payment. Registration with the HCPC will be 2 years rather than 3 years.

I am a student, do I still need to register?

The HCPC will not register students, therefore you will not be required to register. Once you are qualified, registration with the HCPC should only take approximately 1 week to be complete.

The GSCC currently provide a minimum training requirement, will this be the same with the HCPC?

The HCPC will not state a set amount of training that needs to be undertaken, instead the relevance of the training will be considered. They will measure the outcome of the training. You will have a log on your registration page online which will need to be updated during the 2 year registration period.

Each year the HCPC will audit a percentage of the register and if requested you will need to provide:

• A list of training over the 2 year period.

• A summary of recent work completed.

• A Statement of how standards have been met and how the training has helped you to meet these standards, how you are benefitting from the training and how service users are benefitting from this.

• Evidence of the training, notes from courses, supervision and team meetings, certificates.


If a complaint is made to the HCPC they will look at the effect on practice. The sanctions that can be imposed following investigations are:

• A caution order which can go on your record for up to 5 years.

• A condition of practice order. This means that you will be able to continue to practice but you will receive close supervision and relevant training to ensure that there is an improvement in practice.

• A suspension order. Before you will be able to re-apply to register you will have to complete relevant training and be able to show how you will change your practice in the future.

• Striking off order – full removal from the register.

A temporary suspension may also be imposed during the investigation which will mean that you will be unable to work as a Social Worker until the investigation is complete.

When investigating complaints the HCPC will look at your fitness to work and how the allegation affects your practice.

If you are currently undergoing an investigation with the GSCC, you will be contacted separately regarding whether your case will transfer to the HCPC or whether it will be concluded by the GSCC.

Please contact us at, call 0845 363 1085 or visit our website for any further information.

Kelly Gaffney
Northern Manager

Social Care ON THE MOVE?

Today the 'mobile' version of our website has gone live.

Our aim is to make our company and jobs more accessible to those on the move through smart phones, iphones, tablets and ipads.

This is very exciting and should help users when on the move. – this form of accessing the internet is spiraling at the moment so should save people alot of time and hassle.

It is easy to navigate and easy to contact us as a company and our consultants as individuals.

Please have a look through your smart phones and add to your home screen for easy access !

July - 2012


After many months in the making our BRAND new website has been launched!!
We are very proud of it!
You will find all of our current vacancies on the site along with simple and easy ways to share this information on to our new Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

To get in touch simply request a call back or quick register.
If you have the time to add a little more detail then Register an account with us you can login to your saved job searches any time and add new ones to your job pad.

Why not go and take a look?

June - 2010

RIG Social Care: Working in the UK as a Social Worker

RIG Social Care: Working in the UK as a Social Worker

Working in the UK as a Social Worker

RIG Social Care can provide all the assistance you need to work as a Social Worker in the UK. As specialists in social care recruitment, and with many years experience of bringing in overseas professionals, we know how to make the transition as easy as possible for you.

RIG Social Care are now blogging

After a great training course from WSI on how to Blog, RIG Social Care are now talking to the world of proffessional Social Workers through Blogging and look forward to sharing advice, hints and tips

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