Social work in spotlight at House of Commons family debate

Proposals for a new policy to raise the status of social workers by letting them operate in professional partnerships similar to GPs were discussed at a House of Commons debate on family policy last week, in the wake of damning reports about social workers following the Baby P case.

Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, said the new policy would create a high-quality service to give social workers more control over their budgets.

The debate, ‘The Contested Family: Under-valued or over-nannied?’, was organised by the Family and Parenting Institute. It considered factors outside the home that influence family stability, in particular unemployment.

Anastasia de Waal, head of Family and Education at the think-tank Civitas, said, ‘Telling people how to parent won’t create stability. Looking at employment is the most important thing’.

Professsor Le Grand suggested that to reduce the number of relationship break-ups, marriage should be the ‘default’ setting once co-habiting couples have children, making them automatically regarded in law as married and obliged to get a divorce to separate.

Delegates also raised questions over the value of childcare and fathers’ level of involvement, citing family policy in Scandinavia, where it is the norm for fathers to take ‘Daddy Weeks’ to stay home from work and look after their children.

They addressed concerns over parents who feel compelled to work extremely long hours and cannot get home to read to their children in the evening.

Closing the debate, Mary Macleod, chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, stressed that poverty and work were important to the family policy agenda, but warned that relationships are personal ‘and the state needs to tread very carefully’.