Joint statement on the new Children and Social Work Bill
Recently UNISON has released a statement about the new Children and Social Work Bill.
This new piece of legislation will have far-reaching consequences for all social workers, not just children and family social workers.
UNISON recently attended a joint meeting with the other main social work organisations, such as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Social Work Action Network (SWAN), to explore how we can work together to effectively oppose this Bill. It was agreed that we would issue a joint statement setting out our shared concerns about the Bill.
We have now released the joint statement which is attached with this circular. Please circulate the statement to all your social work members. If you have any questions or comments about it then please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior National Officer
Local Government; Police & Justice Service Groups
Joint statement on Children and Social Work Bill
As leaders and representative bodies of social work in England, we are writing jointly to raise profound concerns about the Children and Social Work Bill (hereafter the Bill) which is currently before Parliament.
The Bill paves the way for sweeping changes to the regulation and oversight of social work and also lays out significant changes to the provision of children’s social care. Because it is a skeleton Bill, it lacks detail. This will be worked out through Regulations, discussed first in Grand Committee in the House of Lords starting on 27th June. This approach means the detail will not be subject to the same level of scrutiny as full legislation.
The wellbeing of some of England’s most vulnerable children and families are at stake in this Bill. The profession of social work could be profoundly changed in terms of regulation, governance, initial and continuing education and degree of independence from government. Yet these changes are presented in a Bill with minimum democratic accountability. This raises significant ethical and constitutional concerns which the Lords’ constitutional committee also raised.
We have specific concerns about two sections which we believe should be dropped from the Bill in their entirety in their current form.
Clauses 15-18 introduces
‘Powers to test new ways of working’ and propose that Local Authorities can apply to the Department for Education to be exempted from meeting requirements within previous children’s social care legislation with a view to ‘achieving better outcomes under children’s social care legislation or achieving the same outcomes more efficiently’.
This clause could exempt providers (whether the local authority or an outsourced provider) from providing children with their rights and entitlements on the basis that a new way of working might lead to improved outcomes. There is no detail in the Bill on monitoring and quality assurance during such a pilot period.
It seems self-evident that this could open up local authorities to legal challenge should a child or family experience poorer outcomes on the basis of opt out from statutory rights. Of more concern is that fact that the children and families who may lose out - indeed who may be excluded from services altogether through this ‘opt out’ provision - would be some of the most disempowered and least able to stand up for their rights.
We believe Clause 15 fundamentally undermines a rights-based approach to meeting children’s needs. Removing the ‘burden’ of requirements to meet statutory obligations enshrined in children’s social care legislation enables local authorities to incentivise private and not-for profit providers to bid for parts or all of children’s social care pathways. This widens the way that is already open for children’s social care to be fragmented into multiple pathways and diverse provision. We believe that, in practice, rather than simply promoting ‘innovation’ this will lead to more confused and less consistent offers, and the increased likelihood of a post-code lottery for quality and coherence. We believe that innovation should be encouraged within a framework of fundamental rights and entitlements within law, and that any changes to statutory frameworks should be properly put before parliament.
Clauses 15 – 18 should be deleted from the Bill.
Clauses 20-40 deal with the establishment of a new regulator for all of social work, both children’s and adults’, across all specialisms. The Department for Education and the Department of Health – without any prior proper consultation or dialogue with the social work sector on the content of the Bill – propose an end to regulation by the HCPC and its replacement by a much more costly and complex bespoke regulatory system.
The Bill proposes a Secretary of State-controlled regulatory body that would set and directly control basic fitness to practice at qualifying level, oversee qualifying training and make awards for specialist roles through a new suite of post-qualifying roles in children’s services and development and consolidation of those in adults’ and mental health social work. Social work could then become defined by prevailing governmental and Whitehall policy directions. The Secretary of State could have complete power over practice standards, curriculum content and assessments at qualifying and post-qualifying levels. This would place social work in a politically controlled position unique amongst health and social care professions.
Should social workers be directly regulated by government, this will further weaken trust between them and Whitehall. It could have a negative impact on the extent to which social workers feel ownership of improvement initiatives and, paradoxically, could stifle the very development of the profession which government states it wants to see. It could deter some social workers from maintaining their registration. We predict it would also stoke the demoralisation of social workers and the well documented current problems with recruitment and retention in parts of the workforce. This has been widely reported by members of our organisations and in the trade press, particularly in children and families social work, and in many areas is at a critical level.
Professions cannot be ‘instructed in excellence’. Rather they must own, create, develop, refresh and maintain it.