Posted on 28/10/2016 by
The children and social work bill has had a hostile reception from social workers, the House of Lords and the education select committee.
The British Association of Social Workers has been orchestrating a campaign against clauses enabling local authorities to remove the “burden” of statutory obligations and establishing a new regulatory body effectively controlled by the secretary of state.
It is far removed from the process leading to the 1989 Children Act, which still governs child care practice. That legislation built on years of work in the Department of Health and Home Office.
It was developed in partnership with professionals and bodies representing service users. It embodied work by the Law Commission to bring together in one piece of law the patchwork of children’s legislation. Above all, it was crafted by civil servants in the Department of Health – notably Rupert Hughes – who did not believe they had a monopoly of wisdom.
The Department for Education, which seems now the dominant force in shaping social work policy, has consulted none of its stakeholder bodies before coming up with the bill. Too often it seems to wear as a badge of pride alienating the professionals on whom it depends for good quality care.
The Social Work History Network recently heard about the genesis of the 1989 act from Virginia Bottomley, who was secretary of state overseeing the legislation; peer and family lawyer Brenda Hale, now deputy president of the supreme court; civil servants involved in drafting the voluminous guidance that accompanied the act; and social work professionals involved in lobbying for the changes embodied in the legislation. What was evident was a shared vision to strengthen parental rights and address the mess of child care law.
That vision – indeed any vision – is wholly absent from the current proposed legislation, which has been criticised by the Commons education committee and excoriated in a House of Lords debate. Governments are fond of Henry VIII clauses, which leave them free to fill in the gaps later on. This is more of a King Lear bill: “I will do such things, what they are, yet I know not: but they shall be the terrors of the earth.”
It fails on two main counts. First, without discussion with stakeholders, it proposes to develop the children’s social care innovation programme, widely seen by social workers as offering rewards to those authorities and contractors adopting models favoured by the chief social worker for children. It envisages the removal from council control of failing services and a transfer to children’s trusts. But the select committee was adamant that there was no evidence base to support such a proposal. Ideology trumps evidence.
Second, following the closure of the College of Social Work, the bill now proposes a new regulatory body. It brazenly claims that this is a response to the reviews by Martin Narey and David Croisdale-Appleby, although neither envisaged a new regulator. It is unclear whether the proposed body would have as its priority public protection and standards of service or defining educational standards. No estimate of cost is given. The degree to which the secretary of state would govern the membership is unlikely to be acceptable to the profession.
The view of just about all those who have examined the draft legislation echoes the football chant at referees: “you don’t know what you’re doing”. The post-referendum turmoil has led the government into a number of U-turns. The great European repeal bill demands priority in parliamentary time. It could afford an opportunity to rethink this misbegotten legislation and to follow the approach of participation and consultation that produced legislation in the 1989 Children Act, which has stood the test of time.
Source: The Guardian