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BASW: PAC report on child protection – consultation with the sector key to progress

As public spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) publishes a report showing progress has been "too slow" in the five and a half years since the Munro Report on child protection, BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen said good quality research and consultation with the social work profession is needed to really understand what works.

The PAC report says the Department for Education lacks a credible plan for improving the system by 2020 and has asked the DfE to produce a detailed plan by March 2017 on how to transform child protection services. In October, National Audit Office analysis found that despite a number of initiatives aimed at reform since 2010, spending on children's social work varies widely across England and that neither the Department for Education (DfE) nor local authorities understand why it varies.

Commenting on the publication of the Public Accounts Committee report, Dr Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said: “We have previously raised questions about the lack of a coherent national strategy to enable improvement in children's services across all local authorities. We are concerned that the systemic approach to change, the rejection of bureaucratisation and call for a return to professional judgement-led social work outlined so well in Professor Eileen Munro's report in 2010 is being misinterpreted - or misapplied - by the Department for Education to justify a lack of sector-wide planning, and a selective approach to improvement that leaves many children's social care departments without the right resources and many professionals and managers confused about strategy and demoralised about resources and workload.

“Change is needed, but change is also hard, and an inclusive approach to change is essential for successful outcomes for children and staff. We haven't had a really inclusive approach to improving children's services for some time and we see the results in these negative views of progress and reflections on fractured and variable services. An example of this lack of inclusivity and consultation is the Government pressing ahead with the Children and Social Work Bill, a far reaching piece of legislation which was brought forward without talking with and taking evidence from the sector.

“While aspects of the bill are welcome, it also contains deeply unpopular ‘power to innovate’ clauses which have been 'talked up' as a key solution to quality problems in children's social care. In fact, these allow opt-outs by local authorities from children’s rights provisions on a piecemeal basis. We share with the majority of over 1000 social workers we have surveyed - and with children's organisations and partners across the social work sector - a deep concern that this will undermine children's access to rights and entitlements and bring in yet another 'postcode lottery' factor into children's services. Innovation is needed across public services, but it needs to be ethical, aimed at promoting improvement across all services and rooted in protection of hard-won children's rights.

“These concerns have had wide cross-party expression in the Lords and were recently put forward by Shadow Education Minister Emma Lewell-Buck MP - who was a children's social worker in a previous life - regarding the rushed nature of the Bill and of the lack of consultation with the social work profession and with people who use social work services. We are querying why there was no green or white paper on the Bill, the most significant piece of legislation affecting the entire profession in decades.

“It is indicative of the approach the DfE has been pursuing in recent years that has dislocated the department from building common cause across the sector which is essential for widespread improvement in quality. We need good quality research and consultation with the social work profession to really understand what works. The Government needs to start listening to social workers and people who use services about what works instead of imposing reform from above.”