Weeding out a few bad apples? What do we believe registration of residential childcare workers is for?

Martin Elliott

Dr Martin Elliott

Dr Martin Elliott of the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) at Cardiff University introduces a new project funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The study, which runs 2022-24, also involves the Centre for Trials Research at Cardiff and, from HSCWRU, Jill Manthorpe, Mary Baginsky and Carl Purcell. (753 words)

Residential care for children ‘looked after’ by the state is often characterised as the placement of ‘last resort’, despite it being a positive and appropriate placement choice for some young people.  Across the UK, 16% of children looked after in England are living in residential settings, 10% in Scotland and 7% in Wales (Competition and Markets Authority, 2022). Historically, the children’s residential care workforce is undervalued and often seen as transient and low skilled (Department for Education, 2021), despite working with children who have often experienced significant trauma and challenges.

Residential children’s homes and those working in them have been the focus of much negative commentary for many years. High profile examples have ranged from the historic abuse of children in residential care in North Wales and elsewhere to more recent criticism of the impact of the marketisation of care and the profits made by private providers, and the inadequacies of children’s homes in Rotherham and Rochdale and their failure to protect children from sexual abuse. Continue reading

Is the legal tail wagging the social work dog?

Mary Baginsky, Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, introduces the paper given by Martha Cover recently at the Unit. Dr Baginsky convenes the seminar series where the paper was presented.

We were delighted that Martha Cover led our latest seminar in the Contemporary Issues & Debates in Social Work Education, Research and Practice on 18 January 2022.  Martha is a very experienced child law barrister who has considerable experience representing parents and children in cases of serious injury and death. Until recently she was joint head of Coram Chambers.

Martha writes on this subject, and regularly gives television and radio interviews and has given evidence to parliamentary select committees.

She was legal aid barrister of the year in 2019 and has recently been given an honorary doctorate in Law by Queen Mary University of London.—Mary Baginsky

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Is the legal tail wagging the social work dog?

Martha Cover

Martha Cover

Martha Cover

What I do not propose to do in this talk is to enter into the debate about whether the “right” number of children are in care, or whether there are too many or too few – or whether they are in fact the “right” children. To set the scene, as of March 2021, there were 80,850 children in care in England. The great majority were the subject of section 31 care orders rather than voluntarily accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989.

I want to travel upstream from that and ask the question: with legal processes and court requirements becoming more dominant, is there an unintended consequence that social work is now focussed from the start on court requirements, and proving the section 31 threshold? If that is right, then is there any room in frontline social work for open and supportive relationships with children and their families?

The idea for this topic germinated when reading some government research following the institution of the 26-week time limit for care proceedings, introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014.  In August 2015, the Department for Education published “Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-Line Practice: The Public Law Outline”. The research examined the impact of the changes in the PLO on front line practice. It quotes a social worker:

“As soon as we have a case that we know may meet threshold, straight away we start doing pre-proceedings work- family group conference, viability assessments, more comprehensive chronology, exploring extended family members,…. doing any assessments that need to be done……” Continue reading

Improving professional decision-making in situations of risk and uncertainty: a pilot intervention

Dr Mary Baginsky

Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky,Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, reflects on our seminar led, online, by Professor Cheryl Regehr on 28 September 2021. (763 words)

Professor Cheryl Regehr is Provost and Vice-President for the University of Toronto and former Dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. She is also a Visiting Professor at our Unit this term. We were delighted that she agreed to lead a seminar that focused on her recent work. In this she explained how the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada has supported a number of her recent research projects that have examined stress, trauma and decision-making in social work (see examples below). The aim is to develop a new model for improving decision-making in situations of high-risk to reach a better understanding of the factors that drive decision-making in these situations. Professor Regehr and her team piloted a new approach for improving professional decision-making. The researchers examined biological, emotional, cognitive and contextual influences and this involved measuring social workers’ heart rates and recording their reflections on the decisions they had taken at specific times. The participants were able to link their emotional responses to the points at which they had been under physical stress. By raising their awareness to the relationship between their physiological responses and their automatic responses to the decisions they made the intention was to help them move towards more deliberate decision-making. Continue reading

Signs of Safety: Findings from the second evaluation by King’s College London

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky is Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce. (1,109 words)

The report on the second round of Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme funding for the 10 MTM (Munroe, Turnell and Murphy) Signs of Safety (SofS) pilots has just been published. The strengths-based approach to child protection and safety is widely used around the world, as well as in two-thirds of local authorities in England (Baginsky et al., 2020). The term ‘Signs of Safety’ refers to a model of practice that consists of:

  • principles that privilege relationships with children and their families
  • disciplines in relation to assessments, behaviours and language
  • tools for assessment and planning, as well as for use with children and families.[1]

It is not known to what extent a ‘pure model’ of SofS is in place in English local authorities. The survey that identified its use also showed the variations – and pick and mix approaches – that  were in place.

Back in 2014 when the 10 MTM pilots were recruited the idea was that they worked to the model above which was developed into a whole system design that MTM considered essential to support, monitor and build high-quality SofS practice based on a supportive organisational culture and the commitment of those in senior leadership positions. The first evaluation found that: Continue reading

Child and family welfare services: where do we go next?

Dr Carl Purcell, NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. His book, The Politics of Children’s Services Reform: Re-examining Two Decades of Policy Change, is just out. (849 words)

As we emerge from the current crisis, we must rethink how we resource and deliver child and family welfare services. The incredible contribution made by everybody working in the NHS is now widely appreciated. But we must remember that there are many others working to protect the most vulnerable in our society who also deserve our recognition. Furthermore, as we move, tentatively, towards easing the lockdown the skills, knowledge and dedication of teachers, childcare workers and social workers, to name just a few, will be vital to ensuring that we are able to identify and support the most vulnerable children and families.

However, as we place greater demands on schools, local authorities and a vast array of voluntary sector agencies we must recognise that before the current crisis our child and family welfare system was already under significant strain. In my new book I reflect upon recent national policy developments to help explain how we arrived in this position. As we chart a way forward, three aspects of the contemporary system need to be addressed.

First, we need to reconsider the extent to which, and how, we provide financial assistance to those who need it most. Since 2010 welfare payments and tax breaks offered to the poorest families have been reduced or withdrawn. Progress made in reducing child poverty over the preceding decade has been reversed, with over 4 million children now living in poverty, many of them in working households (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2018). Moreover, the current crisis has demonstrated how precarious and insecure many people’s jobs are, and we have seen record increases in benefit claims. Many more families have been pushed beneath the poverty line. Continue reading

Social Austerity – Child Protection and Human Rights

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

Senior Research Fellow at HSCWRU, Dr Mary Baginsky, reports from a conference that took place in Komotini, Greece,1-3 November. (456 words)

I spent last week in the small Greek city of Komotini which nestles in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains near to the borders of Turkey and Bulgaria. It has a minority Muslim population, many of whom came from Turkey originally and formed a protected population under the Treaty of Lausanne. They have mostly chosen to stay in Greece through to recent times.

The Democritus University of Thrace was established in July 1973 and is based in Komotini, Greece, with other campuses in Xanthi, Alexandroupoli and Orestiada. The Social Work Department was established in the 1990s. I was invited to contribute to a conference on Social Austerity – Child Protection and Human Rights. Most of the contributions were in Greek with intermittent simultaneous translation. In addition to finding it difficult to concentrate on the translation when animated presenters were more of a draw, the fact that the written programme was all in Greek meant that the subject of each presentation was a surprise. Continue reading

‘Carelessness does more harm than a want of knowledge’ —Benjamin Franklin

Dr Mary BaginskyMary Baginsky is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. (1,005 words)

I have been conducting research for more years than I am prepared to admit – sometimes to myself. Much of it has been qualitative in nature, although often as part of a mixed approach methodology. So quantitative data have helped to define the issues to be explored in more depth through interviews and focus groups, for example, or qualitative work has been used to help identify the issues that should be explored through a survey. I am used to weighing concepts such as reliability, validity and generalisability when designing and carrying out projects and reporting their findings, whatever their provenance. I am also as fallible as anyone in not seeing an inherent flaw – that is where the wisdom of colleagues and, however imperfect, the peer review process can be invaluable. However, my experiences of the past few years have given me cause for concern. In conducting a review of evidence on an area where I have been working I have been shocked by some of the things I have found. It has led me to wonder if I would find the same level of errors if I looked long enough in other papers, books and articles. Continue reading

Child protection social work: call for study participants

Nicola Anderson is a child protection social worker who is also conducting a study of what affects child protection social workers working directly with parents. If you would like to take part or learn more about the research please contact Nicola: nicola.anderson@study.beds.ac.uk (441 words)

Engaging parents in direct work is an important part of working in child protection. Sometimes it can be a very difficult task as social workers are entering people’s private family life and interventions can feel invasive. Parents are justifiably reluctant to allow this. Parents can express their feelings to the social worker involved and this can sometimes become aggressive. Social workers meet aggression so often that reducing aggression has now become part of social work (Taylor 2011). Schools of thought are that social workers contribute to parents’ negative feelings as a result of their communication or practice styles. There are movements towards changing the way social workers communicate and work with families with the emphasis on respect, listening and ensuring parents understanding of and involvement in plans and processes, for example motivational interviewing and signs of safety. Continue reading

Families and children’s services: international perspectives

Dr Mary BaginskyMary Baginsky is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. (565 words)

Early in September I had the privilege of attending the International Conference on New Perspectives for Outcome-Based Evaluation and Research on Families and Children’s Services’. It was held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and emerged from a collaboration between the University, the International Association for Outcome-based Evaluation and Research on Family and Children’s services (iaOBERfcs) and the Zancan Foundation, based in Padua, Italy. It brought together over 150 participants from 14 countries. The conference opened with children and young people performing traditional Chinese drumming and dragon dances and was followed by opening addresses and presentations. As interesting as the latter were, I was still contemplating how the girls at the back of the dragons had danced for 15 minutes while bent at an angle of 90 degrees. Continue reading

Progressive children’s legislation in reverse gear?

Children Act 1989 report (1991)The Policy Institute at King’s and the Social Care Workforce Research Unit have reproduced a 1991 report into the implementation of the Children Act 1989, and updated it with a new foreword and introduction, the latter by Jane Tunstill, who here discusses current legislative proposals. (1,408 words)

It is no coincidence that the longest-running play on the London stage, The Mousetrap, which is still being shown after 64 years, is based on a key tragic event in the history of childcare policy in this country. Agatha Christie recognised that the death of Dennis O’Neill in 1945, at the hands of his foster parents, was a topic to engage the attention of her readers, and audiences have certainly proved her right. The tragedy, and subsequent enquiry, directly triggered the Children Act 1948, which introduced a national framework of children’s departments responsible for the systematic oversight of the welfare of children.

The recent release of Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, has reminded commentators of the popular feeling aroused by his 1965 film, Cathy Come Home. The image of children being taken forcibly from their homeless parents by social workers had a powerful impact on attitudes and national child care policy. Indeed, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) issued guidance in 1971 that no social worker should receive a child into care because of homelessness alone. The 2013 film Philomena attracted huge popular acclaim for its portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church’s forced adoption of the babies of single mothers, and 2016 saw a papal apology for the practice. Continue reading