SWU and BASW to speak at policy conference on next steps for the children’s care system in England and improving provision for care leavers

SWU General Secretary John McGowan and BASW Professional Officer Rebekah Pierre have been invited to speak at Westminster Education Forum seminars on 29 September 2022

The Westminster Education Forum conference “Next steps for the children’s care system in England and improving provision for care leavers” will take place online on the morning of Thursday 29th September 2022.

The Social Care Workforce

SWU General Secretary John McGowan has been invited to speak on the panel of “The Social Care Workforce” seminar at this policy conference. The themes of this session are recruitment and retention, training and CPD, support and pay, caseload burdens, parity of esteem and developing the profession. John will outline the steps that the Social Workers Union (SWU) believes need to be taken to improve recruitment and retention, and tackle current concerns regarding support and pay.

John said, “Issues faced by children’s social workers can be divided into the four categories of caseloads, resources, workload pressures, and respect for the profession. Manageable caseloads and high quality, regular, and reflective supervision are some of the best protections when it comes to staff retention.

“Local authorities with successful models are providing good leadership and management training, good staff training around stress and wellbeing support, and offering professional development as well as reflective supervision and helping to manage caseloads. However, we must acknowledge that these protective measures are harder to achieve against a backdrop of local government budget cuts and an increasing number of children, families, adults, and communities in need of help and support.

“On a broader level, this increasing need for support is a result of government austerity measures and insufficient support both during and post-pandemic. Social work is critical to the health of the nation and – with such a large and ongoing funding gap – the government must invest in the present and future of social work.”

SWU’s work has focused on many of the topics that will be covered during this seminar. This includes campaigning for social workers to have parity of esteem with other emergency workers, supporting the student led campaign that resulted in a 50% increase of financial support for social work students in Wales, designing a Media Code of conduct to better protect social workers from media intrusion into their lives, and collaborating with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Bath Spa University on research into social worker working conditions and wellness. This joint research is the largest investigation of social worker working conditions and wellbeing ever conducted and has produced the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit which is free to download.

Priorities for the children’s care system in England

BASW Professional Officer Rebekah Pierre will also be speaking at the policy conference during the “Priorities for the children’s care system in England” seminar which will focus on the topics of funding, system capacity, standards, national and regional approaches, and the future of the social care market.

Rebekah said, “We need to have parity and equality of care for all children, including children who are aged 16 and 17. The state has created a two-tiered system where some 16- and 17-year-olds will come home to an empty bedsit with no adult supervision and living with the threat of the cost-of-living crisis, whilst others – as they should be – will remain in safe, stable environments where care is guaranteed. It’s completely unacceptable, and frankly immoral, that the state is allowing 16- and 17-year-old children to experience this level of institutional neglect.

“The care system needs to be trauma informed and make lifelong commitments to children in care so that there is no abrupt end at 18 or even at 25 when the care leaver offer finishes. Children in care don’t only face the loss of their family home and often a connection to their culture, but they also face the loss of relationships within care. We need to make sure that care leavers are given connections and people who can champion them for life.

“The cliff edge of care needs to be addressed, and also the task that care leavers have of scaling that cliff. We face systemic inequality across so many areas: we are twice as likely to end up homeless, more likely to end up in prison, and significantly less likely than our peers to access university. This inequality needs to be addressed and in order to do that the government needs to meaningfully invest in children’s services. This is everything from keeping services running, to allowing children in care to thrive – not just barely survive, and investing in the wonderful social workers that we have so they don’t end up burned out and unable to do the job they are so passionate about.”

Rebekah has worked closely Article 39 on raising awareness and fighting for the rights of children in care. SWU and BASW support the great work of this small, independent charity. Article 39 has campaigned to keep caring for children up to 18 (#KeepCaringTo18), published an open letter calling for publication of Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel report, and sent a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Education regarding deep concerns about the Children’s Social Care Review. 

SWU and BASW have also signed the joint statement from Children England and ECPAT UK that “Unaccompanied children must be protected by the care system, not placed in hotels” (#CareForEveryChild). The government must put an end to the unofficial and ongoing shadow system of hotel accommodation for children not born in the UK.