Page last updated at 08:21 GMT, Sunday, 7 December 2008

Social work transformation urged

Ed Balls being interviewed on The Politics Show

The training and standing of social workers must be "transformed" to ensure the protection of society's most vulnerable children, Ed Balls has said.

The children's secretary, writing in the News of the World, said social workers needed to be "better prepared for the really difficult job they do".

A taskforce is to examine every aspect of social workers' training in England and will report to ministers next year.

The move follows a damning report and public outcry over the case of Baby P.

Professionals in Haringey, north London, had seen 17-month-old Baby P 60 times before he died in August 2007.


Mr Balls said 73m would be spent over three years in an attempt to raise standards.

There's been a big emphasis on systems and review processes
Ian Johnston
British Association of Social Workers

He believes that only by looking after and valuing social workers will the most talented people want to join the profession and stay.

Mr Balls wrote: "We've got to do more to boost the standing of social workers in our country because protecting and supporting vulnerable children is a vital job.

"Over the last 10 years there has been a transformation in the standing of teaching as a profession. Teachers are now hugely respected and well-prepared to do their job.

"It must now be our mission to do the same thing for social workers."

Mr Balls added that fewer than one-third of social workers felt their course had prepared them to do their job.

Among the ideas being proposed by the training taskforce is giving more hands-on experience to social workers and ensuring senior staff gain full experience in the departments they will lead.

There is also a plan to ensure directors of children's services have had experience in both education and social work.

One of the criticisms levelled at the director of children's services in Haringey was that she had a strong background in education, but not in social work.

Sharon Shoesmith has since been suspended from her post on the orders of Mr Balls.

Sharon Shoesmith
Sharon Shoesmith has been removed from her post but is on full pay

Other training proposals include more emphasis on learning on the job and the introduction of a new qualifying year, in which staff will get hands-on experience before they qualify fully.

Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, welcomed the announcement, but said he was wary of "knee-jerk reactions to individual cases".

"Whilst we learnt a great deal from the Victoria Climbie inquiry, some of the things that were put in with the best of intentions have, I think, proved to be counter-productive," he said.

"I think there's been a big emphasis on systems and review processes at the expense of time spent face-to-face working with people who need the service."

Damning report

The Department for Children Schools and Families said this launch had been worked on for a while and had not been produced as a result of public outrage over the case of Baby P.

But a department spokeswoman acknowledged it had been part of a broader announcement due on Thursday which had been brought forward, in part reflecting public concern over the case.

The case led to an investigation that produced a damning report on the workings of Haringey Council.

Among its criticisms, the report said there was a failure to identify children at immediate risk of harm and to act on evidence; insufficient supervision by senior management and poor child protection plans.

Baby P had suffered more than 50 injuries at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.

The three were convicted of causing or allowing the death of a child and will be sentenced at the Old Bailey next year.

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