Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 15 Rhagfyr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 12:00, 15 Rhagfyr 2016

I hope to get some clarity from the Minister regarding the industry’s and the Opposition’s concerns about the clause and the introduction of the child safeguarding practice review panel. I will give a more specific analysis when we debate amendments to clause 13, but I will put them into the context of clause 12.

The British Association of Social Workers is worried about the independence of the child safeguarding practice review panel and the possibility that the Secretary of State could use the panel to hammer on local authorities that she would like to take over. There is widespread alarm in the sector that the warnings in the National Audit Office report, which we discussed in Tuesday’s sitting, are being ignored by the Department. Within recent weeks we have seen yet another Labour-led council being told to transfer its statutory duties to an independent trust. I hope that when the Minister responds he will point me toward evidence that trusts do better and can achieve what local authorities could not have done without support.

The clauses also allow for the creation of a national child safeguarding review panel that can choose to identify and review complex or nationally important child safeguarding cases and make recommendations. I completely understand the rationale for overhauling the local serious case review process, as there have been widespread inconsistencies in the quality of such reports. However, while local learning can be patchy and distorted by local political and inter-agency dynamics, local-led investigations also keep local agencies engaged and involved and enable local knowledge to inform the process and the recommendations. I hope the Minister will be able to explain how the local aspect will not be lost.

There are a few examples of independent expert boards set up by recent Secretaries of State and the Department for Education. In 2014, they created the innovation fund to promote new practice within children’s social care, with a board to oversee operations and to set strategic direction. It appointed three people with financial services and investment banking experience, plus the chief social worker for children, who we know sees herself no longer as the independent voice of the profession, but as a senior civil servant, yet she is the only person on the board with practical experience in children’s social care.

When the Government sought to promote and publish more serious case reviews in the same year, we saw yet another expert panel. The four members of the panel were a journalist, a barrister, an air traffic accident investigator and a former career civil servant who had been the chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund. No one on the panel had any front-line experience in child protection or its direct management. It appears that there is a worrying recurring tendency. I hope the Government will reflect, rethink and build relationships with those who know most about helping children. At the moment, it appears that the DFE sees little value in using the professional experience and expertise of those who work to assist and protect families. Can the Minister shed light on how many former or still registered social workers are in his Department? When the Government appoint experts to oversee and direct children’s services, they have consistently considered commercial and financial expertise more relevant than direct experience. That is why there is some wariness about the intention to set up expert panels to advise DFE.

It is also intended that the Department for Education will have control over who can be a social worker, whether they can continue to work, how they are educated and trained and who will provide this education. The current preference is for that to be provided outside universities by Frontline, a fast-track programme that is premised on moving practitioners as quickly as possible from practice into management and threatens the continuation of traditional university courses.

The other big part of the Bill, which was removed in the other place, will create a system of inconsistencies. Rather than innovative, that system might less generously be described as an increasingly threadbare safety net. Control of social work and social workers should be in the hands not of politicians but of the profession itself.