Undercover Boss- Wilshaw’s to go undercover in Birmingham’s Children’s Services

Sir Michael Wilshaw blames bad parenting for society’s ills and condemns 86 children’s services- 20 of which are inadequate. If you ever have spoken to a social worker, you will know they are faced with an impossible task being wedged between cut backs and an enormous workload. Their jobs are immeasurably hard,  emotionally draining and thankless. They are the first in line for attacks from the press and they carry a low profile in society.

According to a report by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), 77% of vacancies were left unfilled- so what happens to the children and families who are currently subject to child protection plans? Short cuts, poor decision making, lack of accountability ensue. It is only a matter of time before one of those cases becomes the subject of a Serious Case Review.

Unless the Government are prepared to raise the status of social workers plus inject a significant amount of cash, Ofsted will continue to find services inadequate. But the current government undermined the ECM (Every Child Maters) agenda, they took away the database which meant children could be tracked and they cut back on services which promoted good parenting and family relations. As a Head of Year, I liaised with a number of outside agencies all of whom were affected by the funding cuts and were forced to make difficult decisions. The cuts affected ‘non-essential’ services such as parenting courses run by support workers.

Yes, Sir Wilshaw poor parenting is to blame. Have you considered children whose parents are 2nd generation drug addicts, alcoholics and have never accessed education let alone work. Perhaps consider the flip side of good parents working two jobs to keep the house going because of huge rise in living costs and lack of affordable child care?  Children who are forced to share bedrooms because of the Bedroom Tax, children who are carers of disabled parents. Most of these would fail to meet the threshold for Social Care intervention.

His comments fail to take into account of the dynamics that modern Britain is facing and the consequences of social policy which is engineered to fail the poorer parts of society. The statements made by Wilshaw underpin the lack of empathy by an elite class who have never set foot in the boroughs condemned by his Ofsted inspectors. The poor parenting he cites, was being dealt with by Sure Start Centres, by social care support workers, by support staff in schools and although unmeasured by statistics, their absence is being felt with a rise in social care referrals.

Any teacher who has had the harrowing experience of a pupil reporting a child protection issue will also have experienced the frustration of Social Care not taking the case on board. They don’t do it arbitrarily, no social worker refuses a case because they don’t want to help a distressed family or children at risk, I have never met one who doesn’t care. The Service is crumbling, from an onslaught of blame and lack of accountability from the top down. Any professional dealing with child protection tries their best with funding that only stretches to ticking boxes and covering the bare minimum. It is no wonder that the public find themselves reading horror stories of children who are ‘failed’ by the State.

Social Care is part of a team which includes Health and Education but the remit of providing services is pushed from one service to another, with no real accountability because of the funding crisis in all three sectors. Nobody from Teacher to GP to Social Worker wants the burden of a Child Protection plan, they are not only time consuming and costly but also laden with responsibility. And when things go wrong, all three sectors are in the media spotlight. There were 104 Serious Case Reviews (SCR) in 2009-10 whilst 38,400 children were subject to child protection plans. The process for each case requires deadlines, action plans and scheduled meetings called Core Groups which are supposed to provide support to the family. More often than not, the meetings are fraught with professionals ensuring their part of the plan has been followed and that box ticked. Every one involved is acutely aware of the repercussions that accompany failure.

According to Kirsty McGregor, from Community Care Magazine, ‘the average number of cases held across the UK is 25, ranging from an average of 11 for students to 25 for qualified social workers who do not have any management responsibilities and 30 for those who do. Newly qualified social workers hold 21 cases on average, 16% less than more experienced social workers’. How can any organisation or individual cope with that level of demand and do a good job? The United States recommends a maximum of 12 with no more cases added until previous cases are closed. A system like this in England and Wales would mean doubling the number of qualified social workers.

Sir Wilshaw should read the report by BASW where social workers are answering phones and manning reception counters and some are even cleaning the office loo and ask whether this is the correct use of social worker’s expertise and time? He should take the time to read through the complaints of bullying by managers towards any social care worker who dares to raise concerns.

We need to lose the inflammatory and unhelpful language that is used to assert and proportion blame. We need to be mindful of all public sector professionals who are constantly degraded by the press and government officials when they are the ones administering the austerity measures, which have little impact of the lives of the fortunate but dire consequences for the vulnerable. I challenge Sir Wilshaw to spend a week in the life of a social worker in one of the 20 inadequate boroughs. I wonder what would change as a result.





About milkwithtwo

A blog about my experience as a Head of Year, looking at some of the issues faced by young people and teachers in the UK. Offering straight-talking child-centred advice.
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2 Responses to Undercover Boss- Wilshaw’s to go undercover in Birmingham’s Children’s Services

  1. Clare22 says:

    This is a great article. I’m a front line child protection social worker with an average of over 20 cases at any one time. I work roughly 60-70 hours in an average week (37 of which i get paid for) and still don’t get everything done that should that should be done, and often feel that the quality of my work suffers because of my workload. Government policy and regulatory bodies are all well and good and much needed, but are of little consequence when those making policy and guidelines have little or no understanding of the day to day social work role, or indeed the environment that social workers work in. The American guidelines of 12 cases per worker is a sensible number in order to allow a worker to devote time and effort to each family they work with. We can all dream I suppose?! x

    • milkwithtwo says:

      Hi Clare, thanks for your kind comments. My heart sinks for you and your workload, we need those who make policy to come from the grass roots. What does Wilshaw actually know about your work! what does Gove know about mine? Keep the faith, you will have made a difference to someone somewhere even if you don’t know about it yet. Much support and well wishes, Julia

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