UK government promises social services overhaul


Britain's children’s secretary Ed Balls said today that he wanted to “transform” the role of social workers as the government prepared to launch a root-and-branch overhaul of the profession in the wake of the death of Baby P.

Officials confirmed that Mr Balls and health secretary Alan Johnson will this week announce the formation of a new task force to look at every aspect of social work in England, including leadership, training and recruitment.

Mr Balls acknowledged that the changes ministers were planning would be “controversial” but said that he was determined to ensure that the professionals entrusted with child safety carried out their task properly.

But he said that social workers should be put on the same footing as the teaching profession, which has been “transformed” over the past 10 years.

“The thing I want to do now is to do the same thing for social workers as we have done for teachers, to improve their training, to improve the quality of leadership, to improve the incentives for people who rise up through the system,” he told BBC1’s Politics Show.

Officials said ministers wanted to see future chiefs of local authority children’s services gain experience in schools and social work before they are appointed.

Training schemes will be changed, with more emphasis on “on-the-job” learning and the introduction of a new “qualifying year” in which new staff will get hands-on experience before they qualify fully.

And it is expected that better-performing social workers will also be paid more to work in “tough frontline areas”.

“In my view, the training of social workers is too theoretical. There isn’t enough on-the-job training,” Mr Balls said.

“We need our schools and our social workers to work more closely together, we need to boost leadership, there’s lots to be done.”

The proposals come after Haringey social services in north London were severely criticised in a damning report into the death of 17-month-old Baby P who suffered appalling abuse at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and her lodger.

The council’s leader and cabinet member for children resigned while the director of children’s services, Sharon Shoesmith, remains suspended on full pay.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said that the new taskforce will be headed by Moira Gibb, the chief executive of Camden Council and a former social worker, and will report to ministers by next summer.

A DCSF spokeswoman said that it would be a “nuts and bolts review” of social work practice.

“We know that we have not done enough to support excellence in social work,” she said. “We have been working for a while on a workforce strategy.”

The announcement was welcomed by Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England.

“The introduction of a new qualifying year in which staff will get hands-on experience before they qualify is a particularly sensible improvement,” she said.

Shadow children’s secretary Michael Gove said real improvements could only achieved by learning the lessons from previous tragedies.

“That means making public as much information as possible about what has gone wrong in the past, including publishing the Serious Case Review from Haringey which currently remains secret,” he said.

Liberal Democrat children’s spokesman David Laws said: “While any additional training for social workers is welcome, this does rather sound like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”