Children and families social work is under severe stress and Government proposals for social work reform have significant weaknesses, says the Education Committee in a new report published today (Wednesday).
The cross-party Committee has called on the Government to scrap its plans for setting up a new social work regulator, and recommends the Government help to establish a strong, new professional body for social work to take a lead on helping deliver improvements in the sector.
The Committee finds that social work is being pulled in contrary directions by the different agendas of the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department of Health (DH).
To improve joined up thinking about social work at a national level and to unify the social work profession, the Education Committee recommends there should be one Chief Social Worker rather than two.
Children and family social workers are having to manage increasing caseloads with Government figures showing the number of children in care (69,540) is higher than at any point since 1985.
A recent study found that one in five children born in 2009-10, almost 150,000 children, were referred to children’s social care before their fifth birthday. The number of children who became the subject of a child protection plan has risen from 44,300 in 2010 to 62,200 in 2015.
Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, said: “Social workers have a crucial role in improving outcomes for children, young people and families. At a time when social work is under immense pressure, with social workers facing increasing workloads and local authorities wrestling with tighter funding, it is crucial the Government now makes greater efforts to work closely with the social work profession.
“The Government shouldn’t be wasting money on a new social work regulator. The Government should instead help to establish a new professional body for social work, which is trusted to take the lead on bringing about the improvements needed.
“The Government’s new reforms do not focus enough on tackling the endemic retention problems in children and families’ social work and Ministers must now make it a priority to fix this issue.
“Improving post-qualifying prospects, increasing the voice of social workers at a national level, and changing the ‘blame culture’ persistent in social work, are important steps which can be driven forward by a strong professional body.”
The report expresses concern that the social work profession is being pulled in two different directions by the lack of co-ordination between the DfE and DH.
In conflict with the recommendation of the Munro Review of Child Protection which recommended one Chief Social Worker, the Government instead created two Chief Social Worker positions: one for children and families, reporting to the Secretary of State for Education, and the other for adults, reporting to the Secretary of State for Health.
Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee said: “There is a pressing need for greater coordination within Government on the future of social work in England. The splitting of the profession into two separate strands has been unhelpfully divisive.
“The appointment of two Chief Social Workers, apparently against the wishes of the profession, has exacerbated the problem.
“We recommend the Government move to one Chief Social Worker which will unify the profession at a national level and encourage joined-up thinking within Government.”
The Government’s social work plans include reforms to the structure of children’s services. Whilst the Committee has cautiously welcomed the Government’s attempt to bring more innovation into the children’s social care system, the report finds the Government’s proposals are untested and recommends there should be no expansion of independent trust model until there is proof it works.
The report states that interventions for poorly-performing children’s services should focus less on unnecessary structural change and more on giving local authorities appropriate support during the improvement period.