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Children and Families Social Work

Volume 565: debated on Monday 24 June 2013

Building on the recommendations of the Munro review, we have put in place an ambitious reform programme for social work that seeks to improve initial social work education through the Step Up to Social Work and Frontline training initiatives to get the best people into the profession as well as improve the quality of front-line practice by revising Working Together to Safeguard Children and appointing a chief social worker.

I thank the Minister for his answer. How does he plan to ensure that newly qualified social workers both have a degree that best equips them for the front line and receive proper support in the first few years of their career?

My hon. Friend pinpoints a key area of our reform agenda. That is why we have asked Sir Martin Narey to look carefully at social work education and report back to Ministers later this year. It is also why we have introduced, along with the chief social worker, principal family social workers in each local authority area to help champion and challenge social work as well as to provide assistance and support in the first year, which we know has been so successful.

More than half of councils say that they are planning further cuts to children’s services. What impact does the Minister think this will have on social workers and their case loads?

To date we have seen strong protection of children’s services across local authorities, which recognise the importance of providing the best quality service in their areas. Social worker vacancy rates have fallen, not risen, from 10% in 2010 to 7% in 2012. Many local authorities are doing a fantastic job, but we need to ensure that all raise their game.

Given rising caseloads and the pressure exerted by the increase in child poverty up and down the country, does the Minister accept that more resources are needed to pay for additional social workers to deal with rising demand?

I explained in my previous answer the approach that local authorities quite rightly take to ensure that children’s services are the best they can be, but we can enable that through the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children, making it clearer who is responsible for providing which services while ensuring that the quality of social work is as high as possible. That is why I set out in my initial answer why this is such a high priority for the Government.

Has the Minister seen the recent survey of 2,000 social workers, which paints a shocking picture of, in their words, “crisis”, “breaking point” and “chaos”. It shows increasing caseloads, long waiting lists, the use of non-qualified staff to assess children, the use of agency workers, and children who need help being turned away as thresholds are revised upwards to cope with the situation. As one social worker put it, “amber is the new green”. Is it not time that the Government got on red alert and did something about this crisis?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady, who was so supportive of many of the measures we have taken to bring in the recommendations of the Munro review, decides to use this set piece to provide a dividing line that does not need to be there. We are all trying to achieve the same thing: to improve outcomes for children who come into contact with children’s services. We are seeing improvements in the country, but they are needed across the board, and we are introducing reforms to ensure that children and families get high quality social work and support when they need it.