Informing Parliament : The Children’s Workforce, and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held three meetings since the start of 2008:

  • Tuesday 11 March: The Children’s Workforce: Social Care With speakers Mike Wardle (Chief Executive, General Social Care Council) and Bridget Robb (British Association of Social Workers)
  • Monday 17 March: The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill With speaker Rt Hon David Hanson MP, Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice

Tuesday 11 March 2008 : The Children’s Workforce : Social Care

Mike Wardle, Chief Executive, General Social Care Council, began by explaining that the role of the GSCC is regulators of workforce guidelines; registering of social workers and soon domiciliary care workers; and regulating universities’ delivery of social work education. They aim to raise standards in the workforce and keep it updated with new developments in the field, creating a professional grouping in social care that is proud of what it does.

Key points he raised about the current issues for the workforce included:

  • The Every Child Matters outcomes are in line with the fundamentals of social work – holistic work with the whole person to achieve the best outcomes. The outcomes for looked after children are much lower than for other children and there is a need for far more intervention to help them reach their potential.
  • High vacancy rates are a problem, especially in London and the South East, and this creates heavy workloads and social workers are struggling to give the children the service they need.
  • Social workers are often the lead professionals in multi-agency working, which other services structure themselves around. The role is no longer just about social work; their skill sets now need to include multi-agency working.
  • The social work degree is generic, providing the fundamentals for all social workers before they start specialising during their post qualification training. This gives social workers the chance to try lots of different services, and also gives them a general understanding of the broader client groups which all affect families – for example, adult drugs and alcohol services make many initial referrals to child protection services.
  • The question for GSCC is how to build a workforce that is confident about delivering the outcomes without losing the focus on good social work practice, and how they can achieve good interaction between parts of the workforce, so that workers can move around from, for example from playwork to social care, and so forth.

Bridget Robb, British Association of Social Workers (BASW), began by saying that BASW wants to see different organisations working together to make Every Child Matters a reality, and the key points she made included:

  • Interagency working is not necessarily a new idea within social work, but the new structures to make sure it works are, and they are waiting to see whether they have removed the institutional barriers of the past.
  • Initially many social workers felt left out of the changes to the system, but now they are being involved more, and they welcome the new focus on social work delivery, although it is challenging. There is a lot of focus on specialist services, and many outsiders seem surprised that social workers might be interested in the broader outcomes agenda rather than just in their own specialisms. The contribution they can make to the wider agenda is not always understood. Many social workers have moved into new services such as Surestart centres and this has made a big impact on those services.
  • The impact of organisational change can be severe – child protection still has a very high turnover rate and is staffed by many newly trained social workers. There is a need for consistency in how they work with children, which is key to Every Child Matters.
  • Many of BASW’s members work for the private or third sectors. Their statutory duties are often still the same, but they find they have more flexibility and space in how they work. BASW is very concerned that there is still not a register for private operators of services.
  • Their members are excited to be part of the changes, but worried that they now feel underqualified for this new world. The old system never equipped them for the new ways of working, so they need more help to make the transition and they need opportunities to train further and use their expertise across different services. It is unacceptable that new social workers should be used to fill gaps in services; while it is important to fill vacancies, those new social workers need proper support. People cannot work in stressful organisations for long, and so they leave the field.
  • On training, it is important that all social workers get an understanding of working with both adults and children, because the parents of vulnerable children are often vulnerable adults themselves. Social workers need to be able to understand family dynamics and from where problems arise. Arranging kinship care and adoption often requires an understanding of the communities that the families come from. Social workers in adult services need to have a good understanding of the needs of the children of their clients, and this will have benefits for all of the services.
  • The key is to get the initial training of social workers right, and make sure there is access to continuing professional development; and also enough funding being available and local authorities being willing to invest it in the workforce.

Monday, 17 March 2008: Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Rt Hon David Hanson MP, Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice said that the Government had four main aims for the Bill:

  • to look after the safety and welfare of young people;
  • to prevent crime;
  • to establish a fair and equitable justice system; and
  • to operate a justice system for children and young people.

To date, debates on the Bill had spent a generous amount of time on the youth justice provisions.

Key points he raised included:

  • The Government aims to reduce levels of young people in custody; the high levels in custody today represent a failure of the system. One of the purposes of the Bill is to try to reduce number of young people going into custody by looking at what we do when they come into contact with youth justice system.
  • The Youth Justice Board and Ministry of Justice are now sharing responsibility for youth justice policy with the DCSF – at a strategic level, reporting to Ed Balls and Jack Straw jointly, and reporting to Bev Hughes and David Hanson on a day-to-day basis. This indicates a shift in the way in which the Government wants to deal with youth justice issues.
  • The current review of the use of restraint in Secure Training Centres, and the forthcoming youth crime action plan are part of that change. The Government is looking at youth justice not just in terms of custody, but the causes of crime and crime itself. The Joint Youth Justice Unit will look at a number of other issues such as: early identification of individuals at risk of becoming involved in crime, early intervention with families, children and alcohol, anti-social behaviour, drugs etc. in order to try to reduce crime in the long term. The Bill should be looked at in that light.

Among the provisions of the Bill:

  • The Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) is a new generic community order designed to keep young people out of custody. The YRO is attached to a number of potential interventions, i.e. substance misuse (alcohol, solvents and/or drugs); education and skills; mental health etc.
  • The Youth Conditional Caution will be available to deal with low level behaviour outside of the formal youth court system before behaviour problems escalate. Where the 16 or 17-year-old admits guilt and agrees to the conditions imposed, prosecutors will consider using the Youth Conditional Caution to ensure they have a means of dealing with low level behaviour.
  • There will be a mandatory annual review of all Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) made against children under 18.
  • For the first time, the Bill sets out the purposes of sentencing for children and young people – not just punishment but also rehabilitation, the protection of the public, and reparation.

Each of these areas of the Bill were subject to lively debate in both Houses, and the Minister announced that the Government was intending to bring forward the following amendments:

  • Youth Conditional Caution – the Government will look to extend it to include 10 to 15 year olds (not just 16 and 17-year-olds).
  • Violent Offender Orders – the Government will look at excluding under-18s from this provision.
  • Purposes of sentencing – the Government will clarify what can appear to be a hierarchy of elements to consider during sentencing to ensure that all are considered. The courts will have regard to the principal aim of the youth justice system (to prevent offending); the welfare of the child; and the purposes of sentencing (punishment, rehabilitation, public safety, reparation).
  • Custody – the Government considers that it is a measure of last resort, but will look at whether it needs to better clarify that this is the case. They are still considering the form of words, and believe that custody has to remain an option for some young people.
  • YROs and breach – the Government will amend the Bill to give greater discretion to Youth Offending Team (YOT) managers and courts to deal with breaches.
  • Prostitution – although children’s charities had expressed some concern about this section of the Bill, for different reasons the Government had announced that it was removing these clauses.
  • Referral Orders – the Government is considering whether it will take any further action on allowing a Referral Order to be given for a second offence.

Forthcoming meetings of the APPGC are:

  • Wednesday 2 April: Junk Food Marketing to Children Joint meeting with the APPGs for Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer, Stroke, Children and Obesity
  • Monday 28 April: Children and Young Persons Bill. Speaker: Kevin Brennan MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Children Schools and Families
  • Tuesday 6 May: Disabled Children and Young People and their Families. Speaker: Lord Adonis, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Children Schools and Families
  • Monday 12 May: Education and Skills Bill. Speaker: Jim Knight MP Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department of Children Schools and Families

Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

  • To be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings
  • For copies of minutes from any of the meetings
  • For any further information about the Group.

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