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ADCS SPEECH JULY 9 2015
I’d like to say 3 things about 3 things:
SOCIAL WORK REFORM; and
The DCS ROLE
We’ve been able to celebrate a significant increase in numbers (5000+ up 60% in 3 years),
but numbers will fall next year as numbers of Placement Orders have plummeted.
You will know the origin of this being two cases in 2013: re B and re BS, which appeared to
change the interpretation of adoption law.
The Adoption Leadership Board, which I chair, published a MYTH BUSTER, clarifying that the
law had not changed. But to little effect.
That should not have mattered because in December, the President of the Family Division,
Sir James Munby published a key judgement: Re R.
He could not have been more emphatic when he said:
“It is apparent that there is widespread uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion which
we urgently need to address…. There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an
adoption application now has to surmount a much higher hurdle or that adoption is over.
[Those impressions] are founded on myths and misconceptions…Where adoption is in the
child’s best interests local authorities must not shy away”
But confidence has not yet returned. Best I can say is that the drop in Placement Orders may
have bottomed out and that there are some indications of a modest recovery. But the
figures are stark:
There were more than 1500 new placement orders between July and September of 2013. In
the quarter beginning October of last year, the most recent quarter for which we have
figures, that number was 740. A drop of 52%.
But these are not as a result of the Courts rejecting placement order applications in vast
numbers. The drop is overwhelmingly explained by a drop in local authority PO applications.
They have from dropped from 1,830 to 910 a decrease of almost exactly half....
Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the
interests of those children, I urge you to ensure your SWs and lawyers have not lost their
nerve, and that the President’s exhortation that you must pursue adoption when that is in
the child’s best interests is followed. If current figures do not recover then, over time, we
shall see adoption numbers drop back very substantially indeed.
I don’t think adoption can ever be suitable for other than a minority of children in care. But I
think that minority is probably more than 5,000, or just 7% of the care population.
The plans for greater the regionalisation of adoption services have been carefully thought
through. My advice to govt was that it was vital we avoided any top down imposed
I’m delighted that is approach Government has taken. The ball is now in your court. Some
of you will want to build on current liaison arrangements.
Some will want to devise new partnerships. Some will want to retain the public sector role
in recruiting adopters. Others will want to partner or contract with VAAs.
The key is that you can steer this. I know nobody who thinks that 180 or so separate
organisations all recruiting adopters is sensible. You have a rare opportunity to design a
more effective service and, simultaneously, to save money. If the power in the forthcoming
Bill to impose mergers has to be taken then you will have missed a great opportunity.
Yesterday’s budget announced a 30m subsidy to refund you the cost of IA fees when finding
adopters from another LA or VAA for a hard to place child. This is meant to address the
delay, sometimes considerable, in sequential adopter searching, where LAs look first at their
own adopters and only after that at adopters from other LAs and VAAs.
My personal view is that this happens much less than it did, although sometimes flexibility is
confined to looking only within a region. But I still see cases where adopters express an
interest in a child in another LA and that interest is immediately rebuffed. We need to
ensure we look far and wide when seeking adopters for harder to place children.
SOCIAL WORK REFORM
It is now 2 years since I gave Michael Gove my recommendations intended to improve the
education of and the calibre of children’s social workers.
Progress has been steady rather than spectacular, in part because of entirely reasonable
efforts to move with the Dept of Health who have the lead responsibility for SW and, quite
properly, have different priorities.
But here’s my three things:
We now have Isabelle Trowler’s knowledge and skills statement which was a response to
the first of my recommendations. But we need to see more evidence of Universities
responding to that and demonstrating that they are adjusting their curriculum. In making
my recommendation I was impressed with, and wanted to see replicated, the GMC’s similar
prescription to which medical schools rigorously adhere.
But the need for prescription is arguably greater for SWs where the time available for study
is so limited (2 years in a Bachelor’s degree). It’s imperative we teach the right things.
First Step Up and now Front Line have shown what can be achieved with a curriculum
focussed on the educational needs of children’s social workers. I’d like to see more
Universities demonstrating that they are responding to this ground-breaking guidance.
University standards and HCPC (TCSW).
The variability in the quality of social worker produced by different Universities has yet
properly to be addressed. As my report argued, we have had two weak validation systems
(HCPC’s approval process and TCSW endorsement process). We’re about to lose one of
those – the stronger of the two.
So we’re now left with one process in which, I’m afraid, I do not believe you, Universities,
potential students or government can have confidence. We have some excellent
Universities producing excellent social workers. I’ve visited some of them. But it’s an open
secret that we have some, which admit too many students of relatively poor calibre, where
lecture and class sizes are too large, and where too many social workers are produced who
do not move into the profession. Almost every academic I have met has privately
We need either a wholly transformed and more rigorous approval process from HCPC, or we
need a new process altogether. My hope was that TCSW would emerge to replace HCPC (I
rather suspect that, had Annie Hudson had her way they would have done so). It is with
considerable regret – as far as I’m concerned – that the College did not grasp that
opportunity. We might not be anticipating their closure had they done so.
And may I digress to say something about Annie? The best bit about the College for me has
been working with Annie whom I first met as an impressive DCS in Bristol. There was a time,
last year when in a series of seminars about adoption matching, with esteemed academics
explaining the research, me urging more pragmatism, but with the College hosting and
Annie personally probing the issues and leading much of the debate, that I saw a glimpse of
what the College might be. No one could have done more than Annie to keep it afloat for so
My third thing about social work education is about whether or not the time has come to
accept that children’s social work is effectively a profession in its own right and that all
children’s social workers need a University education entirely concentrated on the skills
they need to protect children.
I’m a pragmatist, and in my report I proposed a compromise, that we should retain a single
degree but with the second year of academic study dedicated to children’s issues (as
recommended by Lord Laming).
But I now believe that we need to go further. The quality of social workers being produced
by both Step Up and Front Line shows what can be done. It shows that very high calibre
graduates can be attracted to children’s social work and although their education is shorter
in duration, we can produce social workers who combine intellectual ability with passion
and compassion and who are well equipped for the challenges of the profession.
Of course there is a common ground between adult and children’s social work. But as
someone in this room explained to me, about 70% of adult social work is dedicated to the
elderly. And demographic changes will further separate the two sides of the profession. We
have about ten million adults in the UK aged over 65. By 2020 that number will be 15million.
By 2050, it will be 20 million.
The number of people aged 80 and over will double in the next decade and a half reaching
six million by 2030.
We might still be able to hold together an argument for one social work profession. But we
can no longer justify the inevitable compromises in a degree which tries to cover children’s
and adult’s issues in equal measure and in just two academic years. I suggest that you need
social workers whose academic programme has concentrated on child and family issues and
where both placements have involved working with children.
DIRECTORS OF CHILDREN’s SERVICES
If there is a crisis in children’s services or if there is going to be: It’s not your fault.
The proposition that any such crisis is due to your lack of leadership, or because you move
on from your posts too quickly, as suggested by one Cabinet member at a No 10 summit
before the election (at which some of you were present) is nonsense.
As I told Ministers in a report a few months ago, the quality of DCSs is of course variable.
Some of you struggle. But some of you excel. I think the variation in quality is what one
would expect from a distribution of 152 individuals.
And there is a great myth about the number of interim appointments and the vacuum that
creates. At the No 10 summit Eric Pickles confidently told the PM and other members of the
Cabinet that last year half of all DCS posts were held on an interim basis. That’s not true – as
I explained to him.
It’s true that it would be good to see DCS turnover slow a little. But that too is sometimes
ludicrously exaggerated. SOLACE called the rate of turnover last year “a national
emergency” and Community Care weighed in saying turnover had reached “staggering
proportions” It’s simply not so. I’d like to see turnover slow a little. But the truth is that the
median number of Directors of Children’s Services per local authority between 2007 and
2014 was between two and three.
But doesn't mean that leadership can't be improved. Your jobs are some of the most
challenging in the public sector and the net needs to be thrown wider to get the very best
There are some very good DCS already who do not have a social work background. There
are extra challenges in not being a professional – as I found in leading 2,000 social workers
at Barnardo’s for six years (the first non social worker to do so). But it can also be liberating.
This doesn't mean professional SWs won’t continue to fill most DCS posts. But it’s vital that
we get the very best people and from whatever professional background for some of the
most demanding leadership challenges in the public sector.
Finally, I think there’s more work to be done on leadership and support.
I enjoyed and was grateful to the Virtual Staff College for allowing me to read much of their
teaching material and to attend a DCS leadership event a few months ago (with Alison).
My observations were that what is sometimes described as leadership in DCS training is
more often about what I would call influencing.
The necessity of influencing, managing the environment, or systems leadership - as its often
called - is one I understand. But I think there needs to be a greater emphasis in developing
DCSs as outstanding practitioners in leadership: particularly in staff leadership.
You have a workforce that often feels beleaguered. Encouraged sometimes by the
Universities who produce them, often by the Trade Press, and discomforted by occasional
criticismin the mainstream media, they sometimes believe their jobs are impossible and
they're uniquely unloved by the public and by government.
And social workers, including social work managers, characteristically, are not the easiest
individuals to manage (Barnardo’s story)
So the task of inspiring them, leading them, getting the best out of them and – to use a
vulgar but necessary term – ensuring their productivity - is a considerable challenge.
I use that provocative term intentionally. My experience of social workers at Barnardo’s,
and in scrutinising adoption work in both local authorities and Voluntary Adoption Agencies,
is that there isn’t an issue over people working hard enough. There’s no shortage of
compassion and dedication. But there may well be an issue over all your practitioners
working productively enough, working to the priorities you prescribe, and understanding
and following evidence.
As things become financially more challenging, its vital that staff know what your priorities
are and that you set a vision which can inspire and encourage them.
Doing that well doesn’t always come easily or naturally.
So I’d like to see ADCS taking the lead in developing a new package of leadership support to
help Directors deal with the challenges ahead.
Let me conclude. Those challenges are considerable.
The scale of our deficit, our growing debt, and as the Budget yesterday reminded us, the
determination of the government to rein back public expenditure, or at least slow it down is
a reality we have to manage
I say in parenthesis that, despite the rhetoric in the press about the slashing of welfare,
yesterday’s budget means that welfare spending will increase, not decrease, between now
and 2020. And by more than £10billion.
But you all know that local authorities have more very difficult choices to make.
It will make your jobs – already demanding - even more challenging. There is a need, now
greater than ever, to ensure that, as far as possible, Government makes the right decisions. I
believe that Alan Wood positioned you, as an association, extremely well last year. And
Alison has taken up the baton with great conviction. My advice to her is that she has to be in
the room when the big decisions are made. I think she should be and I think she will be.
Protecting our children, most particularly those who are the victims of neglect and abuse is
a vital job. Managing that work – as you do – is remorseless and sometimes thankless.
I’m glad that work as important as that is being done by people like you.