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

Toolkit for reflection on human rights in the context of social care

Caroline Green is Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, King’s College London. (709 words)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of human rights for people needing care and support in care homes or at home, their carers, families and friends became evident. Care home residents, especially people with dementia, were one of the groups who were and still are most severely affected by the virus, with thousands of deaths from a COVID-19 infection not only in England but many countries around the world. The need to protect people requiring care and support and to balance infection control – thus the basic rights to health and life – with the right to a private and family life and to social participation was but one of many examples of a human rights issue that we as a society had to face during this pandemic. Conversations around these topics are often difficult.

Human rights as enshrined in international and national law, notably the Human Rights Act, are directly relevant to people requiring care and support, service providers and care workers. Not only is every human being entitled to have his or her rights respected, protected and implemented but the English legal and regulatory system for care providers also makes them directly relevant in care settings. However, human rights are more than a legal concept. They are also a moral concept, which can help to build a social care system and determine the way care is provided. Human rights in social care is therefore a broad topic, with many different ways of approaching it in conversations, training and research. Continue reading

Letter from the European Parliament: Promoting Quality Social Services with the ESF Plus

Mary Baginsky is Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. (611 words)

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

I was invited to attend an event (9 April 2019) at the European Parliament organised by the European Social Network (ESN) to discuss ‘Promoting Quality Social Services with the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+)’. The ESN has over 125 member organisations in 33 European countries and supports the sharing of knowledge, practice and policies between social services across Europe. The event was hosted by Sofia Ribeiro, a Portuguese MEP and member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament. The focus was on how the ESF+, amounting to 120 million euros in the coming period, could be put to best use to support the work of social services across Europe. Even though there are UK members of ESN none were present at the meeting. Continue reading

CQC emphasises the importance of human rights for high quality care home services

Caroline Green is a PhD student at King’s College London. (362 words)

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s care service regulator and quality inspector, is emphasising the centrality of human rights and equality when providing high quality care in care homes and other care services. Human rights are the rights we all have because we are human beings. They are legally enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.

Andrea Sutcliffe, CQC’s Inspector-in-Chief, recently explained at CQC’s Human Rights and Equality Conference in February 2018 what role human rights play for CQC’s regulation and inspection of care homes. She said, ‘Human rights thread through all our key-lines of enquiry. It informs the judgement that we make when inspecting care services and is one way that the CQC can emphasise the importance of human rights, raise the profile and make sure that the people are being treated the way that they should.’ Continue reading

Older People & Human Rights

Dr Joan RapaportJoan Rapaport reports from the 9th Annual Joint Conference of Age UK London, the Social Care Workforce Research Unit and Making Research Count. (1,789 words)

The conference, held on the Guy’s Campus of King’s College London, was chaired by Jo Moriarty, Deputy Director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, and attracted a capacity audience. Speakers’ presentations are available on the SCWRU conference webpage.

Human Rights Act: overview of current changes: Caroline Green, PhD student, Social Care Workforce Research Unit

Whilst human rights have been around for hundreds of years both globally and in Britain, Caroline acknowledged that our understanding mostly relates to post World War II developments. The European Convention on Human Rights, drafted in 1950, contains numbered ‘Articles’ each of which protects a basic human right. The European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, rules on cases brought under convention from the 47 signatories. Continue reading

Let’s Talk – Care Homes and Delayed Discharge

Bev EvansNorman CrumpBev Evans and Norman Crump, both of Lancaster University Management School, report from a recent meeting where participants discussed the transition from hospital to care home. (913 words)

According to the National Audit Office (2016), between 2013 and 2015, official delayed transfers of care rose 31 per cent and in 2015 accounted for 1.15 million bed days – 85 per cent of patients occupying these beds were aged over 65. Since 2010, waits for beds in nursing homes increased by 63 per cent. Across Morecambe Bay University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (MBUHT) waiting for a care home place can be a significant cause of delay.

In early October, Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network, Kendal Integrated Care Community (ICC) and MBUHT convened a special ‘Let’s Talk’ discussion group which brought together local care home managers, social workers, hospital discharge coordinators, ward staff and nurse practitioners from the community. The aim of the meeting was to explore how the transition from hospital to a care home could be improved. ‘Let’s Talk’ is a specially facilitated session delivered by King’s College London, Lancaster University, Dignity in Dementia and the South Lakes Registered Social Care Managers Network. Meetings are designed to enable participants to see issues from each other’s perspectives and to afford time to critically reflect on a particular ‘wicked issue’. Continue reading

Data and Debate – reflections on the SSRG Annual Workshop

Caroline Norrie, Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s, was at the Social Services Research Group Annual Workshop this week. (801 words)

This year’s Social Services Research Group (SSRG) Annual Workshop, held at the London School of Economics (LSE) on 15 April was a particularly thought-provoking event. Entitled ‘Evidencing Service Improvement for Vulnerable Children and Adults’, the workshop featured an expertly chosen group of speakers whose presentations stimulated animated discussion from the floor. With the Care Act coming on stream and the increased drive for integration, participants, who were predominantly social care managers with responsibilities for data and organisational performance, enjoyed a great opportunity to discuss service re-figuration and its measurement. Continue reading

New models of social care

Dave MartinThe Centre for Policy on Ageing (CPA) and Co-operatives UK arranged a roundtable event on 18 February 2015 to foster greater understanding and consider the development of social care co-operatives. Dave Martin (an associate with CPA) reports from the gathering. (753 words)

‘Hardly a month goes by without another scare story about aspects of our health and care services. Is there a democratically accountable ownership model for health and care services that could make a difference? Could the active membership and co-operative ownership of workers, service users, volunteers and family members rebuild public trust in services and put an end to cruelty and neglect through a socially inclusive solution where the system of care is owned by the recipients?

In a growing number of countries, from Europe to Canada and Japan, diverse co-operative models of social care are expanding. We believe these approaches can be further developed in the UK and that they would benefit the lives of vulnerable people by empowering them directly in decisions that affect their care.’—Pat Conaty (Research Associate, Co-operatives UK) in The Guardian, 4 July 2014.

The roundtable event was attended by a diverse group of people, described as three circles of interest—first, people who had been involved with the co-operative movement for some time, secondly people seeking to develop (or convert to) a co-operative model for the delivery of care, looking for support and assistance, and thirdly policymakers and commissioners sniffing around—is this the way for the future? Continue reading

New directions in child welfare: good news from the Canadian province of New Brunswick

Geraldine Poirier BaianiDr Joan RapaportGeraldine Poirier Baiani (left) and Joan Rapaport report from New Brunswick. (931 words)

These days, high profile reports of child care tragedies, rising numbers of children being taken into care and social workers struggling with high caseloads are commonplace. Stories of positive developments in children and family services are rare. However, a chance meeting whilst on holiday led to a remarkable discovery: the caseloads of child welfare social workers in the Canadian province of New Brunswick now stand at an incredible seven. Continue reading

Risk, Safeguarding and Personal Budgets: exploring relationships and identifying good practice

Martin StevensDr Martin Stevens is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. (900 words)

Published today are our findings from this timely NIHR-SSCR funded study, which aimed to provide evidence about the impact of using different forms of Personal Budgets on risks of abuse, to explore practice responses to the increased emphasis on using Personal Budgets and the experiences of Personal Budget holders who had been the subject of a safeguarding referral (suspected abuse or neglect). This collaborative research (undertaken by researchers from King’s, the University of York and Coventry University) was driven by our awareness of contradictory perceptions held by practitioners and other researchers. We had heard views that people on Direct Payments (one main form of Personal Budgets) were more at risk of abuse than other social care users, but on the other hand that the increased control offered by Direct Payments was a protective factor. In order to provide some evidence to address these contradictions, we re-analysed national and local data on safeguarding referrals and take-up of the different forms of Personal Budget. Continue reading