Social Care Managers Need To Spend Less Time In The Office, Says Balls

Child protection managers should spend less time in offices and more time supporting overworked social workers on the frontline, the children’s secretary Ed Balls said today.

Many social workers dealing with complex child abuse cases in England were too inexperienced and it was unacceptable for them not to get proper hands-on supervision from more senior colleagues, he said.

Managers had to be closely involved with the “life-changing decisions” on the futures of vulnerable children made every day by frontline staff, he said, because frontline practice was “what really matters”.

He added: “I want to see all social care managers regularly ‘going back to the floor’ and working alongside their staff to handle case files and spend time with children and families.”

Speaking to an audience of senior children’s services professionals in London, Balls accepted that social workers had suffered a huge loss of collective morale and confidence following media criticism of the role of child protection professionals in the case of Baby P, a 17-month-old boy on Haringey council’s child protection register who died at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and her lodger.

He admitted that local authorities still had much work to do to ensure child protection reforms introduced in 2005 were being being implemented robustly, but he insisted that the government had created the right framework to keep children safe. The Audit Commission revealed yesterday that most councils were struggling to improve the performance child safeguarding arrangments.

Handling the Baby P case had been a “real challenge” for him as children’s secretary, he said. He had had to balance taking action to ensure child protection systems were fit for purpose “without being too heavy handed, damaging morale and undermining the progress that we have made in recent years to improve child protection”.

Balls has been criticised in some quarters for appearing to bow to intense pressure from the Sun and other tabloids to take aggressive action against Haringey. The council’s former director of children’s services, Sharon Shoesmith, who was personally removed from office in December by Balls, and later sacked without compensation, told the Guardian last month that the children’s secretary’s “breathtakingly reckless” response to the Baby P crisis would destroy confidence among social workers.

But Balls told the conference he had no regrets: “When I took the action that was needed, there was still a sense among certain sections of the profession that my actions were fuelled by the media. But, I have to say, faced with a catalogue of failings … I believe I did the right thing and I would do exactly the same thing again.”

Many councils were facing serious difficulties hiring and retaining fulltime child protection staff, he said. The training and practice of children’s social work had to be overhauled, and he wanted to introduce a masters degree in social work practice, he said.