Sir Paul Ennals
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) has announced today that Sir Paul Ennals will be moving on from his role as Chief Executive in the autumn of 2011. Paying tribute to Sir Paul, NCB Chair, Dame Gillian Pugh, said, “NCB has been enormously fortunate to have been led by Paul Ennals for the last 13 years. He has provided inspirational leadership to the organisation, broadening the scope of our work, and has played a key leadership role across the children and youth sector as a whole, particularly in relation to policies to improve services for the most vulnerable children. Paul’s departure will leave a large gap, but we are confident of our ability to fill it.”
Sir Paul Ennals said, “Leading NCB has been the greatest job of my career so far; an immense privilege and endlessly fascinating. However, every organisation benefits from new leadership from time to time, and NCB is very well positioned to continue its highly influential work to improve the lives of children and young people, and to support the sector as a whole. I will remain in post until a suitable successor is ready to join. I have been blessed with an outstanding set of colleagues, across NCB, who continue to show the creativity and clarity of vision that an organisation such as ours always requires. I am deeply proud of so many of our shared achievements over the years, which have been so influential in shaping the world in which children and young people live now. I will not take on any major new challenges until late autumn 2011 at the earliest. Working in the children’s sector all my professional life, I have put all my time and energy into the great jobs I have had. My next big job may be my last one, so I want to take the time to be sure that I make the right choice.”
During Paul’s time at the NCB it has played a major role in establishing the Every Child Matters programme and promoting innovative approaches to integrated working, supporting the creation of the Sure Start programme, improving services for disabled children, promoting the participation of children and young people, offering support to improve the lives of children in care, especially those in residential care, providing leadership in issues of public health and well-being for children, creating and delivering the national Play Strategy and hosting of C4EO. His personal contribution has been outstanding, both in leading the staff and in influencing government policy.
Sir Paul Ennals will continue in his role as Chair of the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) until March 2012. We wish him well in whatever he turns his hand to next.
By Young People for Young People
The European Union has granted SOS Children’s Villages International €400,000 (together with an additional €150,000 provided by SOS Children’s Villages International themselves) to fund a research project in which young people with care experience will become researchers on the subject of leaving care. The project will involve over 450 young people from Finland, Albania, Poland and the Czech Republic over the span of 2 years.
For years, young people in care have been the ‘objects’ of research. This peer research project involves the young people as actors of change, instead of as passive beneficiaries. Young people with care experience will be trained to become researchers and they will in turn interview other young people. The interviews will cover the transition out of care and what processes seemed work best. For both groups of young people – interviewers and interviewees – this will be a sustainable learning process through which they will have a chance to both improve the care environment, as well as developing their own abilities. Nice to see EU money well spent.
The Social Care Association Annual Seminar took place in Clydebank this year. As always, it was a friendly event, with excellent speakers, though the number of delegates was low.
The theme of the Seminar, Relationships, was selected by Nancy Hamilton, the outgoing President of the SCA. She spoke of the importance of relationships and people’s vulnerability when relationships break down, urging delegates to “put relationships at the heart of all you do”. There is no substitute for face to face work, she said; we need real, not virtual, communities; and there is a serious risk that if we do not value relationships we shall “live among strangers”.
A paper by Mark Smith of Edinburgh University was particularly outstanding, and when it becomes available, it is recommended. He criticised managerialism and argued that we had “lost sight of the heart and soul of care”. He saw signs of hope that things were changing but felt that a paradigm shift was needed.
Having now spent forty years in which child care services have focused on specifying every detail and working to targets, it is time to give less priority to managerialism and more to the human sides of the work – the personalities, relationships, attitudes, values and beliefs. The core of social work and social care is the way that workers and service users impinge on each others’ lives – how they relate as individuals, how they share the common task of resolving the service users’ difficulties and creating opportunities for more fulfilled lives. It is a question of balance, not a complete change of tack, but in recent years the balance has been wrong.
Let us hope that Nancy’s presidential theme proves to be one of the green shoots of recovery for a more personal and humane (and effective) approach to the professional task.
The Impact of Cuts 1
Now that local authorities know the financial settlement, hard decisions have been taken and cuts are beginning to bite. Whether the demonstration on 26 March was made by 150,000 people or 500,000 people (as newspapers variously estimated), there is clearly strong feeling about the damage being done. People are being retired early; services are being closed. There are some unexpected spin-offs too. Professional associations are experiencing low levels of attendances at their conferences, for example, or are suffering losses in job advertising income.
The final picture is unclear, and we suspect that the lack of clarity may persist for the life of this government. To use an analogy, when a caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly in the chrysalis stage its cells become a sort of soup and reform themselves into the new shape. It is a miracle. Our fear is that the combination of economic pressures, tensions within the coalition and apparent lack of vision for children’s services will leave us in the soup stage for the next few years. Let us hope for the butterfly; children need a profession with a positive view of the future.
The Impact of Cuts 2
Herr Niemann, Burgomeister of Mittel Appenzell, sends us his greetings every year at this time. Although the Swiss economy is strong they are still facing cuts, and they have devised an unusual scheme in order to save staff time. In making savings, Herr Niemann says, they have two main options – salami-slicing for everyone or cutting certain services and letting others continue with full funding. He likens this to the two approaches to culling elephants. At first people used to cull the oldest elephant in each family, he says, to give the younger elephants a chance, but the result was that the families lost the experience and wisdom of the matriarchs, so they now cull complete families and leave other families unaffected, if they have to reduce numbers.
In Mittel Appenzell they have solved the problem of budget reduction by giving all the child care agencies reduced grants in the form of lottery tickets. Some of them win big prizes and continue or expand, while others win no prizes and have to close down. As Herr Niemann points out, the scheme is very simple to administer and there is no need for his Family Welfare Committee to take time deciding on priorities. What happens is in the hands of the divine being, he says, and we think that the outcome decisions made in heaven will be better than those made in the Rathaus. “We are treating our children’s agencies like elephants”, Herr Niemann jokes.
An Overruling Factor
In the High Court, Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson have decided that
Eunice and Owen Johns, a Pentecostal Christian couple who oppose homosexuality should not foster children. After the hearing, Mrs Johns said, “We have been excluded because we have moral opinions based on our faith and we feel sidelined because we are Christians with normal, mainstream Christian views on sexual ethics”.
In assessing people as foster carers social workers have to balance many factors. All foster carers have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses which may render them suitable for specific types of fostering – or unsuitable. Clearly some of these factors are more important than others and are scrutinised more closely, but the judgements made are generally a matter of balancing factors off against each other and taking a degree of calculated risk, as no foster carers are perfect and no assessment can be perfect either.
Here, though, we have a factor which from now on will rule people with the Johnses’ beliefs out de facto, regardless of their other qualities. Even though the Johnses may have a lot to offer children, this one factor has outweighed all of their strengths.
We recall a case many years ago when Jehovah’s Witnesses wanted to adopt and the argument was put forward that they should not be allowed to, in case they refused to let the child have blood transfusions. It was decided in the end that this should not be a bar; if their actions were to have threatened the child’s life, the child could have been taken into care.
In this respect adopted and fostered children should not be treated differently from children with their birth families. We do not remove children from parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses because of the risk to their children, nor do we remove children from Pentecostal parents who abhor homosexuality. On balance we feel that it is a pity that this single factor ruled the Johnses out as foster carers. It should have been possible for the social worker to find a way round the situation without it becoming a legal confrontation.
The Census and Shared Parenting
Families Need Fathers have announced that they were “appalled” by the failure of the 2011 Census to have a box for them to tick to indicate shared parenting, saying it was “insulting and neglectful” and could “skew the provision of services”. Beck Jarvis, Director of Policy, said that shared parenting had grown rapidly in popularity.
Separated families were instructed to include their child only on the questionnaire of the parent with whom they spend the majority of their time, and to be included as a ‘visitor’ at the other parent’s address if they are staying overnight there on 27 March.
The Census is invaluable for planning purposes (and, later, for genealogists) but it is inevitably a blunt weapon and we have no doubt that a lot of people will not send in returns, or they will be inaccurate for various reasons. Despite its drawbacks it remains useful.
From our point of view it was interesting that Families Need Fathers found the issue such a touchy one. “It is insulting”, they wrote, “to ask parents of children who stay in their home for a significant part of the year not to acknowledge their children’s existence, or label them merely as ‘visitors’. The insensitive handling of these parents in the Census merely propagates a harmful and outdated ‘winner takes all’ view of parenting arrangements”. We are sure that there was no intention to insult or to propagate outdated views; the issue needs to be addressed next time (if there is a next time) but as a matter of practicality, not of hurt pride.
The Pitfalls of a Post Code Lottery
As one of a consortium of charities with interests in rare diseases, Action Duchenne is supporting the introduction of a Rare Disease UK National Strategy and is lobbying the government for cohesive treatment for those with rare diseases, calling for step changes in the commissioning and planning processes for rare diseases to ensure equitable access to health services and treatments regardless of a patient’s location.
In principle this sounds fine. If a life-saving level of a national service is available in one city, surely it should be available in another. Yet in practice, if the principle is adopted, it will lead to conundrums. There is a big argument going on at present about the siting of specialist heart surgery units for children, for example. The proposal is that the Leeds unit should be closed and the work transferred to Newcastle. Defenders of the Leeds unit argue about accessibility and the greater population within travelling distance of Leeds. It is not just a question of resources; to remain expert in the field the professionals involved need to undertake a certain volume of operations per annum. It is not feasible, therefore, to have a specialist unit of this sort in every city. There is no easy resolution to such a problem.
To apply the principle of “cohesive treatment” then, where would the consortium wish to site services? People who live in more isolated settings are going to have greater difficulty accessing specialist services. Some hospitals will be centres of excellence, undertaking research which others do not match. And regional and local planners will have varying priorities, depending upon the needs of local communities. In short, the principle is fine, and it is right at a time of cuts that they should argue their corner, but the disposition of services will remain a problem even if the principle is adopted.
Did You See?…..
….. the BBC 2 programmes about Neil Morrissey’s time in care? From the Guardian article (23 March 2011) it sounds as if it was a dispiriting experience, but his own persistence and inspiration drawn from a teacher’s words made him work hard at a career in the theatre. The rest is history. Since success teaches more positive messages than failures, can someone do a PhD on the histories of the people who have been through the care system and succeeded to see what magic common factors emerge?
….. the Guardian article by Madeleine Bunting on social pedagogy (23 March 2011)? It was informative, positive in its message and rang true to our knowledge of developments. Quotes include, “It’s brought back spontaneity and creativity”, “It’s what I came into social work for”, “It has increased the confidence of children’s home staff”, and it has let staff “work from the heart again”. Nice to have a good news story, and music to our ears. We have argued for the introduction of social pedagogy on and off for two decades. Neil Morrissey’s experience of care might have been different if the ideas had crossed the Channel earlier.
Memories of the Old Days
When I was at school, the history teacher decided to end history in 1914 because, as a child on a bird-watching holiday with his father, he had witnessed the massing of the dreadnoughts at Scapa Flow as World War I began. Reading Jim Hyland’s piece this month was a bit like that for me. To find one’s early career in a classifying school being described as part of history is a bit unnerving.
For the most part Jim’s account tallied with my memories, but there are a couple of qualifying comments I would add. Although I worked at Aycliffe for six years I did not come across major resentment about the classifying school’s role in my contacts with other schools. The assessment and allocation process worked fairly smoothly, with boys staying for three or four weeks, and we were all cogs in the same machine. The main factor in allocating boys to schools (other than age) was geography, and even without the assessment one could have predicted the likely placement for over 90% of the boys. The quality of the assessments was generally good, and the collation of all the information about a boy on a standard format provided a good basis for his training. It is arguable that the systems currently in use for assessing children are no better and in some respects inferior.
How should the Government make Social Policy and support the Services?
In the Editorial this month we argue for the need to take a more considered view of social policy development, to ensure greater continuity and consistency. Clearly, changes are needed from time to time, whether for financial reasons or because the incoming government has a distinctly different policy from their predecessor.
But they should make no mistake that change is highly disruptive. Every time that they bring in a new structure or system some people lose their jobs and their expertise is lost, while others suffer uncertainty and everyone pays a price. It is like major surgery to the body; it is a wound, the body can take a long time to heal, and there may be long-term scars. It affects people’s working relationships, their sense of security and their commitment. It also costs a lot of money in wasted time as well as paying people off.
Even more important, service users suffer the backwash. It may not be possible always to trace the direct line of consequences, but a government-led restructuring of services often means that all the people in the top posts shuffle round, some leave and some are promoted. While this is going on, everyone lower down is focusing on what the changes mean for them, and to some extent their attention is diverted from their primary task.
Which is where the service users suffer – maybe not obvious abuse, but a degree of inattention and some reduction in the priority attached to solving their problems. We have quoted before a brief survey undertaken of children in long-term care in which the reasons for their placements were examined. In every case there had been failures to make suitable permanent arrangements at critical times when their social workers’ attention had been diverted by re-organisations.
Assuming that the point has been made that change can be harmful and wastes human and financial resources, we acknowledge that change is required at times. However, it is our impression that some change is based on the whim of ministers or on their need to prove that they can act incisively, when actually it would have been better to go away and think about the situation for a while. It is probably the atmosphere in Westminster which pressures them to act in this way, so that they are not shown up as shilly-shallying ninnies, incapable of making insightful decisions.
MPs are (nearly) all committed and very hard-working, but the question has to be asked whether the atmosphere in Westminster is imbued with the right values for good policy-making on social issues. Could the pace not be slowed, reducing pressure and allowing more time to develop a consensus? Would it be the same if half the House of Commons were women? At present the successful women have to play the men’s game; a shift in balance might create a different approach.
What sort of support do children’s services need from central government? The last government was generous in supporting services for children and young people financially and probably did more for them than any other government in the history of the UK, but their bureaucratic micro-managed quality assurance approach was time-wasting and highly irritating. There is clearly room for a lot of discussion on the most helpful approach, but that is what is needed if the government is to carry the workforce with it.
In social policy we want a workforce which is concerned for the service users. If so, those involved in management and governance need to care for their workforce, and in turn they need to feel that they have the support of the government. It is not just a question of money, but of attitude.
‘Research’ and Research
* Did you know that school meals cost £ 2.84 per day, with 60% of school-children spending more than £3 a day? Londoners spend an average of £ 2.74 on their lunch, while people in Wrexham spend only £1.79. And men spend an average of 59p a day more than women do on lunch. Not a lot of people know that. And now that you know, so what? (Thankyou BrazenPR on behalf of Feasters Beefburgers for the facts.)
* The most popular book among 14 to 16 year-old girls is Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar according to research undertaken by the University of Dundee. There is concern that children want to read easy texts, rather than be stretched by difficult texts.
* Four out of ten parents with enuretic children keep quiet about it in case they are thought to be bad parents, according to research commissioned by DryNites pyjama pants. They wanted to avoid embarrassment for their children too, partly to reduce the chance of them suffering bullying. It is reckoned that 600,000 children aged 4 to 19 still wet the bed. The advice given is to consult a Health Visitor or General Practitioner.
* One in 26 of all children in care approached ChildLine for support and advice during 2009-2010, a 32% increase over five years. The 3,196 young people involved mentioned problems such as bullying and physical abuse, and talked of running away and self-harm. Have things got worse? Or are young people in care more aware of ChildLine?
World Social Work Day
On 15 March we received notification that World Social Work Day would be on 15 March. A bit late for us to do anything about it. Perhaps their timing was based on their local government experience; if you don’t want someone to attend a case conference, but you don’t want to be blamed for not inviting them, time the invitation carefully so that it is just too late. We’d be happy to give it space in 2012 – given due notice.
Red Nose Day
Also late for this issue, we have been told of a website set up by children to raise money for Red Nose Day by reporting record-breaking. See www.kidzunited.co.uk.
Coming out in April
Unless we have tested things ourselves we don’t recommend products, but we found this advert intriguing. John Lewis are launching “a revolutionary new self warming baby bottle- the Iiamo. Stylish as well as practical, the bottle is the first of its kind worldwide. Using the natural warming effect of salt and water, the hidden capsule heats baby’s milk to the optimum temperature of 37C in less than four minutes. With no cord, no electricity required and easily disassembled, this stylish bottle is transportable and easy to clean. Featuring a striking orange and purple abstract design, the Iiamo costs £24.95 and is the must have baby bottle for 2011”.
We’re not sure about the “must-have” bit; we have no plans to buy one. The intriguing bit is the chemistry and physics of it. We are looking forward to seeing it on sale, as we are rather suspicious that it is coming out on 1 April.
Another new product which we have not tested has been checked by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The makers claim that incognito insect spray has been tested on over 3,000 varieties of mosquito and has been proved effective. It has been tested on children too, and unlike existing repellents it does them no harm. They say that it is one of the strongest insect repellents on the market and is made of completely natural ingredients, including Eucalyptus maculata citriodora, with a fresh pleasant smell. It is reported to be clinically proven to protect against malaria. You can get it direct from the incognito website www.lessmosquito.com.
If it is as good as it sounds we will order a gallon. Scotland is beautiful in the early summer, but it is midge time, and the wee beasties can ruin a holiday. The best remedy till now has been produced by Avon, and it is said to have been a favourite of lumberjacks. Now perhaps they’ll be going incognito.
From the Case Files
She made thinly vested threats.
That the children would have to do the dance of the seven vests?