We shall have to wait and see what the new Government has in store for children and young people in the United Kingdom. We hope that the developments introduced by the last Government will be preserved. Many children were lifted out of poverty, even if the targets which the Government set itself were not met. Money was invested in play, in Sure Start, in a Children’s Commissioner and so on. Every Child Matters was a landmark in laying out what children and young people need, as a basis for service development. It will be a sad day for children if an axe is taken to these things.
Everyone will be fighting to preserve their budgets, but we know that many services will have to be trimmed or cut back. The question we want to pose is: what can we, as professionals in child care, do to save resources without significant impact on the quality of services? We would like to suggest two areas which we feel merit attention.
The first is the obvious one of quality assurance and regulation. There are plenty of people who would like to take a swipe at Ofsted, but this is not what we are recommending. We do need some regulation and we do need to evaluate the effectiveness of our services, but what proportion of the total resources expended in child care should go into such work? Which methods really have an impact? Can regulatory action be better targeted?
By definition, people undertaking inspection should be experienced qualified people. The more people we put into such posts, the fewer there are available for front-line work. The number of senior professionals in non-service posts such as management, inspection, training or quango-work must be enormous. It is the child care equivalent of the Royal Navy having more than one Admiral per ship. Maybe those people will not wish to return to practice, but if the balance of such posts to practitioners were changed, the percentage of qualified experienced practitioners and the quality of service should go up. In short, fewer people in quality assurance might improve services.
The second is a reconsideration of the processes whereby children’s care is monitored. At one time, it was for social workers to decide whether to ask their Committees for a Section 2 Resolution for the local authority to assume parental rights. This was a relatively straightforward, and probably with too few checks and balances. The process now, however, is extraordinarily lengthy, with multiple stages, pre-meetings, directions hearings and so on. Taking a child into local authority care is obviously an important decision and needs to be undertaken properly, but let us stand back and consider the down sides of the current process.
It typically can take six months – a large portion of a child’s life – and during that time social work often goes into a sort of limbo, awaiting the decision before action can be taken to make permanent arrangements. This delay can prevent remedial action to address the child’s problems and may even accentuate them.
Again, consider the number of people involved in the process – social workers, their managers, Guardians ad Litem, professionals offering witness statements, lawyers, Court staff, judges. The total cost of the process is enormous, and the cash reflects the time of experienced, qualified, well paid staff. Some of the decisions are complex, but some are fairly obvious. Do they really need to use up so much time and money or could the process be simplified without loss of quality?
These are just two examples. There are probably many more. If processes can be simplified without loss of quality, more work can be done, which will be a better use of qualified professionals/ time and will probably be more satisfying for those involved. What is the point of becoming a social worker in the hope of transforming people’s lives if the decisions which need to be taken require such lengthy kafkaesque processes?
We would like to look on the impending hard times positively as a challenge to be creative, to identify what really matters and to preserve the necessary while jettisoning some of the bureaucratic over-complicated systems.