Review Aims To Boost Social Workers’ Status And Quality

The government is to set up a new taskforce this week to improve the quality and status of social workers in the wake of the Baby P scandal in Haringey. Headed by Moira Gibb, the chief executive of Camden council and a former social worker, it will be a “nuts and bolts review” of social work practice.

Gibb is expected to report to ministers by next summer on training, recruitment and leadership. Senior social workers will be expected to spend time at management level in schools and headteachers will have to have experience in child social work.

The move follows an admission by the head of Ofsted, Christine Gilbert, that some councils’ social services that have been rated as “good” could in fact be systematically failing children because the assessment method used by inspectors was open to manipulation.

Speaking to the Guardian, Gilbert admitted to failings in Ofsted’s oversight of Haringey council, acknowledging that officials in the local authority where Baby P died were able to “hide behind” false data last year to earn themselves a good rating from inspectors just weeks after his death. In recognition of this, Gilbert promised that Ofsted would overhaul inspections of child protection services.

Details of the new taskforce will be unveiled this week by Ed Balls, the secretary for children, schools and families, and the health secretary, Alan Johnson.

In a newspaper article, Balls said he wanted to transform the standing of social workers in order to attract “the brightest and the best” into the profession. “We’ve got to do more to boost the standing of social workers in our country, because protecting and supporting vulnerable children and young people is a vital job,” he said.

He compared the position of social workers with that of teachers, who he said had seen a transformation in the standing of their profession over the past 10 years. “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.”

It is expected that in future social workers will go through a “pre-qualification” year to give them a manageable workload and adequate support. The best will be paid extra to work in tough areas. Universities will take part in a high-profile campaign to encourage recruitment and the National College for School Leadership, which offers training for heads, will be expanded to cover senior child social workers.

Opposition politicians are sceptical. The shadow children’s secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We can only improve social services 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.”

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.”