This year will bring some exciting and, potentially, controversial developments and innovations to children’s social work and social care.
Children and Social Work Bill
When the Children and Social Work Bill concludes there will be some provision for local authorities to test out new ways of working that don’t fit neatly into existing legislation. There are some perfectly reasonable fears round this. However, we need to look carefully at any innovations and proposals that could improve the experience of children and families in the child protection system, and the outcomes for children who enter the care system. It is unacceptable for professional discomfort to get in the way of improving the chances for vulnerable children.
The innovation fund will begin to announce the recipients of its new round of funding. It is particularly welcome that children in care and care leavers will be prioritised in this round. These are the children who we as a profession are responsible for. We must make the right decisions for them more often. We must provide permanence and stability sooner and ensure they have every chance to achieve their potential and go on to live successful and happy adult lives.
The accreditation scheme for children’s social workers will come into effect, and a long overdue focus on a proper framework of continual professional development for them will be enacted. The characteristics of a vibrant and effective profession are that it continues to change, learn and grow, and responds to new evidence and approaches for creating better outcomes for children and families.
The healthy debate about whether too many children are removed from their families will continue. New services such as Pause, and the family group conference approach in Leeds, and the continuing rise in special guardianship orders to extended family members will all feature.
I hope to see a renewed focus on the support offered to birth parents when children are returned to them after a short period in care or a child protection investigation. This is a very weak area of practice and we as a profession need to do much better in supporting birth parents when children are returned to them to make sure that these placements are stable and secure and are able to meet the needs of the children fully and sustainably. It is vital that families are offered ongoing support and that their cases are not closed and then reopened as child protection or child in need cases if the birth parents put their hands up to request assistance. We would not do this for foster carers or adopters, so why must we do it with birth parents?
What Works Centre
We will see the launch of the What Works Centre, which will be very welcome. One of the great failings of children’s social care provision over the years has been the difficulty in rolling out successful work from one local authority to others. It would be good to see the What Works Centre begin to establish common models of service across both child protection and children in care social work. It is neither acceptable nor sustainable for us to continue to have such variations in systems and approaches; we must settle on a small number of evidence-based systems and make sure they are rolled out across the UK.
Finally, 2017 will see the first local authority fully contract out permanence services to a charity. TACT is very much looking forward to working in partnership with Peterborough City Council to demonstrate how this can make a profound and lasting difference to all children in residential care and in foster, adoptive and special guardianship/kinship families
Andy Elvin – TACT CE
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