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Children’s Social Work Practices: Key Lessons for Children’s Social Work

1. This report focuses on the Children’s Social Work Practices Summit, held by The College of Social Work (TCSW) in London on 16th October 2014, to draw out and evaluate principles for innovation in children’s services in the light of learning from the social work practice (SWP) pilots.

2. Nearly all those at the heart of the children’s SWP project came together at the Summit to share ideas and discuss what worked – and what didn’t – in the practice pilots. TCSW assembled a varied but eclectic group of participants in the hope of an informed, lively debate that would deliver significant conclusions for the future of children’s services. It did not disappoint.

3. Practising social workers, academics and sector leaders from across the country converged on the Royal College of Surgeons in London for the Summit, which was chaired by Dave Hill, a TCSW Board member and Director of Children’s Services. Academics from the national evaluation of the children’s SWPs and SWP practitioners themselves fed their views and findings into the discussion, as did some of those involved in the parallel social work practices with adults.

4. Keynote speakers were Professor Julian Le Grand, co-inventor of the SWP concept as a “greenhouse” of innovation in social work, and Professor Nicky Stanley, who led the national evaluation of the SWP pilot programme. Both of these leading academics clearly thought that much of value had been learned, but they also represented two different aspects of the debate, Le Grand being seen as a keen proponent of SWPs while Stanley has been seen as more cautious. A full list of Summit attenders can be found in Annex A.

5. These contrasting perspectives energised the discussion. How far had the children’s SWPs been successful and why? If they had been successful, could local authorities reproduce this success? To what extent did SWPs live up to their founding principles and was it feasible for local authorities to embody these principles too? What would it take for LAs to do equally well in the same respects? These were some of the questions to which the Summit, made possible by a grant from the Department for Education’s (DfE) Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, ventured answers that will merit careful consideration as children’s services are redesigned.

6. High profile failures in local authority children’s services have led to a rethink of the way they are provided. There is an appetite in some LAs for experiment and innovation. Our Summit drew on the experience of the SWPs and wider developments in children’s services as a contribution to the process of renewal.