Proposed changes to the Working Together 2018 statutory guidance for inter-agency safeguarding may remove the need for managerial oversight when planning assessments. Will this speed up the decision-making process and give more power to social workers? Or will it leave social workers exposed and reduce accountability?
Taking in a tour of nine towns and cities, as well as inviting stakeholders to submit their views online, the consultation process has now concluded and a formal response is awaited from the Government. However, in anticipation of this response, there is one proposed change that is already causing a significant debate: the need for managerial oversight when social workers are planning assessments.
Under the new proposals, the guidance will change from:
“The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgements to be made by the social worker in discussion with their manager on each individual case”
“The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgements to be made by the social worker on each individual case”
Will this empower front-line social workers or place us at risk?
Whilst the Government may argue that removing five words from a section of guidance is relatively minor, the fact that those five words say ‘in discussion with their manager’ could prove to be significant in child protection work.
Proponents of the change argue that it will speed up the safeguarding process, give social workers a greater deal of autonomy and provide more developmental opportunities for practice supervisors and senior social workers; freeing managers up to deal with other tasks, yet still being on hand to offer assessment pointers on a case-by-case basis.
Detractors and those opposed to the changes have raised concerns that a lack of managerial oversight will leave social workers exposed and reduce overall accountability in the safeguarding process.
In their formal response to the proposed changes, BASW have added weight to these concerns about reduced accountability by stating:
“A further cause for concern is the deletion of managers in the decision-making process in Annex C of the guidance. No reason has been provided by the DfE for doing this and our members are vehemently opposed to it given that managers are crucial in terms of accountability and shared responsibility”
What happens to social workers if the Working Together 2018 proposals are approved?
As with a lot of what is written down on paper in statutory guidance, it can be hard to predict exactly how these amendments will effect those of us working in safeguarding because paperwork and putting it into practice are two very different things. However, we could see possible changes such as:
- Decisions on assessment type taken by social workers. This could see a social worker deciding the course of an assessment (whether it is under Child in Need or Child Protection procedures) without the need for managerial oversight
- Decisions on assessment timeliness taken by social workers. A move like this could see social workers setting deadlines dependent upon their own analysis of the presenting risks and what is in the best interests of the child.
- Decisions on progressing to a Child Protection conference taken by social workers. Such a move might see social workers being able to refer cases straight to an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) when they deem a case to have met threshold for consideration at an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC).
- ‘Front door’ assessment teams being run by practising social workers who screen referrals, decide which to progress, plan their work and undertake the initial assessment process without the need for managerial oversight.
Empowered or hung out to dry?
Whilst some of those suggestions may be a little extreme and are unlikely to come about, these changes will undoubtedly put more responsibility on social workers to ‘get it right’ if they come to pass (otherwise, why remove the words ‘in discussion with their manager’ in the first place?).
When taken in the context of other changes in the new guidance which talk about ‘safeguarding partners and relevant agencies funding their
arrangements by making payments’ (Section 16I) and the disruption of traditional safeguarding structures by bringing in trusts to run failing authorities, it’s easy to imagine new models coming into play where private organisations take over whole departments on a contract-by-contract basis. By bringing in teams of social workers who are empowered by the freedom of autonomous working and need no managerial oversight, costs can be kept down and assessment times decreased. That will be music to the ears of many council chiefs battling with high caseloads and low budgets.
But is that in the best interests of children?
Will that empower us social workers or put us at increased risk?
We’ll have to firstly wait to see what the final guidance says and then watch how local authorities go about implementing it. Until then, it’s a case of hoping for the best and trying not to fear the worst.
Do you agree with these proposed changes? Could you make assessment decisions without managerial oversight? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.