The Westminster Government’s ambitious Children’s Plan for England, published in mid-December 2007, has triggered a series of new initiatives designed to encourage the practical co-ordination and integration of previously separate local children’s services. Several of these projects should help to bring schools and colleges into closer and more effective working arrangements with children’s health, social care and other services – including the development of what the Plan describes as “strong school-level indicators that, taken together, measure a school’s contribution to pupil well-being”, a revised Ofsted school inspection framework to reflect these indicators from 2009 onwards, and “raising the level of challenge and support” from local authority-run school improvement services which can play an influential role in genuinely involving schools with the Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda.Analysing these initiatives in Community Care magazine (3 April 2008), I suggested that “these are significant Government proposals which should assist in bringing schools and social care closer together and thereby – at last – promote a more holistic view of child development in this country”. Day-to-day professional work for children has been fragmented for too long, and we know from considerable research evidence that children who underperform academically are often those affected by other disadvantages in their lives.
Aspect is a rapidly-growing professional association and TUC-affiliated trade union which specialises in representing the interests of professionals delivering children’s services. Now over 4,000 strong, the association is firmly committed to the broad principles underpinning the ECM agenda and is working hard to promote effective staff involvement in, and real influence over, the Government’s drive for better-integrated services for the nation’s children.
We deploy experienced full-time negotiating officials to advise and represent members in the localities, supported by legal expertise from solicitors who specialise in employment law and work-related problems. We also provide an expanding range of specialist skills-based training and professional development opportunities and a recognised work-based professional accreditation system for professionals working in children’s services run jointly by Aspect and the exam board Edexcel.
In addition, our association works hard at national-level to lobby ministers, senior civil servants and relevant national agencies, in order to reflect members’ views over detailed policy formulation as the ECM agenda is progressed. We contend that the voice and expertise of practitioners in the field are central to the ultimate success of this current policy trend and it was pleasing for me to be invited by DCSF Secretary of State Ed Balls recently to join his new Expert Group on the Children’s Workforce. The April 2008 document Building Brighter Futures: Next Steps for the Children’s Workforce outlines further measures to achieve genuine local service integration and tasks this new expert group with producing a detailed report by this autumn on practical proposals to meet this key objective.
An intriguing section of this document refers to the possibility of exploring new professional roles based on social pedagogy, as well as reminding readers of the Government’s existing commitment to pilot such roles within residential childcare in particular. Aspect has long championed the need to study the impact of such multi-disciplinary approaches informed by holistic concepts of child development, and our latest national publication is entitled Improving Children’s Services: Lessons from European Social Pedagogy.
The theory and practice of social pedagogy is well advanced in many North European countries and beyond, albeit in varying forms, and we should duly acknowledge their insights and experience. Indeed, the morale and commitment of tomorrow’s children’s workforce in England will require this kind of structured theoretical support for more integrated practice in local service delivery.
Another recent positive development, in the field of children’s social care, is the updated March 2008 General Social Care Council (GSCC) document Social Work at its Best: A Statement of Social Work Roles and Tasks for the 21st Century. This offers a helpful confirmation of the profession’s deep commitment to children’s rights, and its respect for “the equality, worth and human rights of all people, and their individuality, privacy and dignity”. It looks at the very broad range of tasks now performed by social care staffs and the need to identify situations where a registered and experience social worker needs to be involved, under effective supervision. The growing debate over the future shape of the social work profession in this country, in the light of current government reforms, requires a consensus view on these central issues which, in turn, once again underlines the need for a strong voice for practitioners in this important field.
Strength in numbers
Three years ago, Aspect initiated the national-level Children’s Services Professionals’ Network, to which twelve different professional bodies and associations concerned with children’s services are now affiliated, to explore these issues. This forum enables professional representatives of social workers, educational psychologists, school improvement professionals, education welfare officers, child protection staffs and others to meet together, in order to analyse the Government’s children’s workforce reforms and their likely impact on the professions involved. The DCSF and the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) consult this network on a regular basis, and this machinery allows for genuine level of workforce input into government thinking. The network has published United Minds, United Purpose: A Charter for Modern Professionals in Children’s Services, which is available from Aspect head office.
The Children’s Plan for England and its associated initiatives indeed offer both new opportunities and major challenges to children’s services professionals. While better integrated services do raise prospects of more effective provision for children, the implications for professional staff roles, training, future pay levels and employment security require very careful attention.
The Government views the Children’s Trusts, now evolving in all local authority areas, as umbrella bodies for all local children’s services, as essentially commissioning bodies with actual service design and delivery in the hands of a wider range of potential provider organisations – from public, voluntary and private sectors.
Aspect is therefore working hard to protect and advance the interests of children’s service professionals, locally and nationally, as these key changes unfold. The professional workforce, in many ways, holds the key to the future success or otherwise of the whole ECM agenda.
Aspect can be contacted as follows
Aspect, Woolley Hall, Woolley, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF4 2JR