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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I seek to recommend that the training of a field social worker should involve a three-year degree course to replace the present two-year diploma course. Should a student have already gained a degree, then I recommend that the student should serve a two-year university course. I believe that there should be a degree in social work, with each university responsible for its own degree course, thus giving it the status and standing of the other professions. It is perhaps not inappropriate to mention that I believe there should be a general social services council as recommended by Professor Roy Parker in 1992.
I am grateful to the Council for Education and Training in Social Work; to the many universities which have written or faxed their views; to the Association of County Councils; the Association of Metropolitan Authorities; and the British Association of Social Workers. They all submitted their recommendations during the Easter Recess. Further, I am grateful to have seen Mr. Greenwood the chairman of the Council for Education and Training in Social Work who is convinced of the need for a three-year university course in social work leading to a degree. It is to the credit of the Republic of Ireland that there is already a three-year degree course for social work. I also look forward to hearing what is happening in Scotland from the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie.
Perhaps I may give some background history. In 1987 the Council for Training and Education in Social Work applied to Her Majesty's Government for the two-year course to be extended to three years. I believe that it was agreed that there should be a two-year diploma course and that the qualified social worker would take up a post and return later to take a one-year qualifying course. While I have every sympathy with the Treasury in its policy to curb expenditure, the officials of that department appeared not to appreciate that local authorities (not the Treasury) would have to pay, and that a temporary member of staff would have to be paid by the local authority.
It is true that the training support grant has been helpful. With diffidence I am bound to point out to the Treasury (as indeed have other Members of your Lordships' House in other debates) that to take a short-term view is not cost-effective in the long run, and leads to greater and unnecessary expenditure. For instance, it was stated in the Clyde Report, following events in Orkney, that the social workers were inadequately trained. Great resources have been expended on public inquiries into distressing childcare abuse cases when at least some of those might have been foreseen and prevented. But enough of the past.
The social work service has worked, and is working, under pressure. Since 1987 when the decision to have the two-year course was taken, Acts of Parliament have been passed which lay heavy and difficult duties upon social workers: the Criminal Justice Act 1988; the Children Act 1989; the Criminal Justice Act 1991; the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (yet to be implemented, but which concerns social workers); and the Education Act 1993 (Part III). Those Acts are in addition to the 13 other Acts of Parliament implemented or used by social workers.
It must also be said that the explosion of awareness and concern of child sexual abuse, little acknowledged in years gone by, has required knowledge, skill and understanding. We look forward to the report to be produced by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who is the chairman of the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse set up by the NSPCC.
All those Acts require collaboration and co-operation with other professions. Doctors have a five-year or longer training; health visitors have a four-year training; teachers have a three-year training; the social worker is often the person to call a case conference and in some cases to play the leading role, yet he or she is the least qualified among his or her professional colleagues. Social work in the UK is a non-registered profession. I should add also that judges have commented to me upon the lack of knowledge and understanding of the law shown by some social workers. That is not surprising, because 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. of the two-year course is spent outside the academic institution. Social workers in the European Union have a longer training than those in the UK. My noble friend Lady Elles will speak on that matter.
I wonder whether the heavy responsibilities placed by statute on social workers are generally appreciated. They have to make decisions that affect the liberty of citizens. That is under childcare, criminal justice and mental health legislation and can lead to parents losing children and children losing parents. They must deal with homeless teenagers, the vulnerable elderly, and mental health cases in the community. They need to foresee where prevention of breakdown could be dealt witha skilled piece of work which needs to be done and needs to be extended.
I pay tribute to the social work service. Much of its taxing work is unheralded and unknown. Only the breakdowns are news, and those are as distressing to the social workers as they are to the cases themselves and to the community.
The status, the standing, the knowledge and the skills need to be reinforced, and I submit that that can best be done by providing a university course. I have not touched upon the training of social workers in a residential setting. I believe that that too should be a degree course, and my noble friend Lady Elles will speak on that subject.
In conclusion, perhaps I may submit to my noble friend the Minister that a residential conference might be held in the first instance, perhaps in Cumberland Lodge, inviting CETSW representatives, representatives of the universities and of the local authority associations, bearing in mind the report of the Association of County Councils, The Work Force and Training in the Personal Social Services 1992. I recommend also that civil servants, particularly those from the Treasury and the Audit Commission should be invited to attend. I am sure that the Sieff Foundation would be willing to undertake that task. With this short speech, I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, both for initiating the debate and for her distinguished contribution to the cause of child welfare as a whole.
I very much welcome the debate and wish to concentrate on the role of social workers engaged in the residential care of children and young people. We are more aware that even children in care are at risk. Regretfully, reports of official inquiriessome general, some specificinto children's homes can be numbered by the score. One of the continuing themes of such reports, from Curtis in 1946 to Warner in 1992, is the need to improve selection and training of staff. That point was made by the noble Baroness.
The past 20 years have seen profound changes in the form and role of residential care, not all of them for the better. Since 1981, the number of children in residential care has fallen from 37,000 to fewer than 8,000; that is, from 40 per cent. of those in care to fewer than 15 per cent. That has been reflected in the widespread closure of large traditional institutions. The National Children's Home, with which I am involved, has closed almost all its large homes. Some were closed as the result of
In their place have come smaller specialist units providing care or respite for disabled youngsters, often as an alternative to permanent hospital care; care for profoundly disturbed people, among them the most damaged and delinquent members of their age group; and the offer of independence training to young people on the point of leaving the care system, which is too often the prelude to homelessness or a young offenders' institution.
The positive reason for the reduction in the number of young people in care is the wholly desirable aim of keeping natural families together in the community or, alternatively, of placing children and young people in foster care. However, repeated breakdowns of fostering placements can make difficult problems worse.
The negative reason is that keeping children and young people in residential care is very expensive. Costs can range from £30,000 per year per placement to well over £100,000 in the case of a home in south London in which the NCH is involved. It caters for deeply disturbed teenagers for whom the alternative could at best be a lifetime in prison and at worst suicide.
It is regrettable, if hardly surprising, that local authorities may opt to keep disturbed youngsters in the community in the knowledge that if they offend and are convicted the Home Office will pick up the bill for secure accommodation. However, one way or another, caring for young people will cost us, the public, a great deal. Part of that cost must be employing staff of a sufficiently high calibre and with sufficient training. That has long been recognised by leading child charities such as Barnado's and the NCH, which has had its own training college since the 1930s. But, by and large, those are the exceptions. In many parts of the statutory sector we have seen a reduction in the resources made available to residential care, a neglect of training and the consequential spread of a feeling of marginalisation among staff.
Those staff are having to cope with a residential care population which covers a growing concentration of the most difficult and disturbed young people in our society and with children and young people who need special educational help and who have learning difficulties, disabilities and behavioural problems. As the noble Baroness emphasised, no one should undervalue the work being done in those homes. As was emphasised by the Warner Committee, for example, for the most part those who work there do a remarkable job in trying circumstances for very little thanks or reward. Yet successive inquiriesWagner, Pindown, Utting, Howe and Warner among themhave found that most of the staff in residential children's homes have little or no training and that the most needy children and young people in our society are being cared for by the least qualified and least experienced staff engaged in social work.
Such a strategy must encompass respite provision on a regular basis at one end of the scale to secure accommodation at the other, and it must include the provision of temporary accommodation in the case of family breakdown and more permanent placement, which can be a perfectly valid choice by some young people for perfectly sensible reasons; for example, older children who do not wish to be fostered.
However, if residential childcare is to take its proper place in overall provision, committed and properly trained staff are of critical importance. These people are in direct contact with children and young people, often on a 24-hour a day basis. They are very special people and they need very special qualities and specialised training. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, drew our attention to the fact that while we rightly insist that doctors, teachers and nurses who work in residential homes must be fully trained, we cannot accept that the staff who actually care for the children should be unqualified.
Among the experts there are differences of view on the best form of training but it is common ground that all heads of residential care homes for children should hold at least the Diploma of Social Work and preferably a degree. I fully share the anxiety expressed by the noble Baroness about the inadequacy of the present two-year course and the need to develop it into a full three-year course. I do not pretend to have any expertise in the field but I see the strength of view that, as regards other staff, supervised work-based training that is integrated into the NVQ system is the best way of providing staff with the skills and competences that they can directly relate to the day-to-day tasks.
Very few young people are in residential care because they have committed offences. Most of them have had distressing and damaging experiences, often including physical and sexual abuse. Two out of three suffer from emotional or behavioural difficulties. All are individuals with different needs. All deserve the best help that can be given to them and that help must come through the medium of caring, committed and, above all, well-trained staff.
Lord McGregor of Durris: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, for creating this timely opportunity to debate a subject on which she possesses unique experience and such great knowledge that I speak with trepidation. The first question to be asked is: what do social workers do? Here we must distinguish, today as yesterday, between on the one hand their own descriptions of their work and training and on the other their actual practice.
Forty years ago, they were stuck in the phase of what the late Barbara Wootton, then a severe critic, called "pyschoanalytic self-deification", although she was always at pains to emphasise that their practical work was greatly to be preferred to their theorising about it. Their theorising led them to claim that their case work could be identified with the art of changing human attitudes. As reliance upon Freudian concepts diminished, so specialisation among social workersthe psychiatric social workers, the childcare workers and those who worked with hospitals or childrencame under attack because of the effect which having to meet several social workers might have on one disrupted family.
One result was the establishment of a few so-called generic training courses in some universities. Another result was the setting up of the Seebohm Committee. That led to an Act in 1972 which abolished the specialist councils responsible for training in social work, childcare and probation. It put in their place one central council, the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, explained. That body has become a powerful empire which regulates the procedures and content of training and which enforces its policies through the allocation of grants to the institutions of higher education responsible for the courses which it approves.
Some 18 months ago Professor Robert Pinker, who until recently was a professor of social work education at the London School of Economics, made a comment in the context of a statement made by Mr. Jeffrey Greenwood. At that time, Mr. Greenwood had been appointed chairman of the CCETSW. Mr. Greenwood said that:
I am bound to say that I agree with Professor Pinker that that is not to suggest for a moment that the evils of racism and other forms of discrimination are not present in Britain. But I agree very strongly with his view that it is not the function of social workers to assume a political role and become the agents and promoters of social change.
What should social workers be doing? In addition to their specialist tasks in respect of, for example, childcare, to which the noble Lord, Lord Murray, referred, they should be keeping abreast of the provisions and developments of social services so that they can advise people who are tangled in the immense complexities of the welfare state and our social services. They should be mobile and accessible welfare encyclopedias within the system, taking vulnerable and ill-informed people by the hand and guiding them as to available services. They are the only people available in the community for that essential task.
My conclusions are that better and extended training is essential. I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said about the need for three-year courses and for a differentiation between graduates and other kinds of people coming into training. But the last few years have demonstrated that social work is not rooted in a firm or stable intellectual tradition. Unhappily, it is not yet a scholarly profession. That assertion is supported, for example, by the lack of research by social workers into the results of their own activities.
The present situation does no credit to the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. I hope that the Government will abolish the council and replace it with a smaller and more representative validating institution.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I know that the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Faithfull for making use of her luck in the ballot by raising the important issue of the training of professional people engaged in social work. She made a strong case for raising the level of training for social workers in the light of their growing responsibilities. I shall be interested to hear the response from my noble friend on the Front Bench.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, reminded me of the moment shortly after I became Secretary of State for Social Services in 1979, just a year after Professor Pinker was appointed to the LSE, when I said at a private meeting with some chairmen of social services departments that they needed to get a grip of their workforce because many of them were behaving more like socialist workers than social workers. Unfortunately, my remarks were leaked to the press and it created quite a stir. However, I am comforted by reminding myself of the line Professor Pinker took at the time because I think we were both right.
The particular aspect I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention is the need for significant change in the arrangements which are made for those who work with the visually handicapped. I speak as chairman of a body called the Visual Handicap Group. That is an informal umbrella body which includes in its membership representatives of the 10 major voluntary organisations of, and for, the blind and partially sighted. We have been in existence for only about three years but in that time, with the help of our able consultant, Dr. Graham Lomas, we have produced two major
Like other speakers in today's debate, I begin with the needs of the client group which is where all social work should start. Noble Lords will remember that in 1991 the Royal National Institute for the Blind published its survey, Blind and Partially Sighted Adults in Britain, which, to summarise a very detailed study, showed that there are nearly a million visually-handicapped people in Britain, the vast majority of them elderly, most of them unregisteredand very few of those receiving any services. The survey also established beyond doubt that failure to register a person as blind or partially sighted virtually guaranteed no access to any of the services that are available.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the survey came as a bombshell, both for the voluntary bodies and for the statutory authorities. It showed that the numbers of people who should have access to services on account of visual handicap was between two and three times higher than the estimates that everyone, including my noble friend's department, had been working on.
Part of the problem lies in the traditional low priority accorded to those with sensory handicap by most local authorities. We have heard today about the needs of the children's services and no doubt we shall hear about the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. As those needs have become more prominent and insistent, so the needs of those with sensory handicap have slipped back. According to one calculation, the availability of trained workers to assist the visually handicapped falls short of the need by over 50 per cent., amounting to many hundreds of jobs which simply do not exist.
Another factor is the manifest inadequacy of the traditional arrangements for training workers to work with visually handicapped people. The former providers of training, the North Region Association for the Blind and the South Region, both of which had done good work in the past, lost the confidence of government and last year their grants were terminated. In their place, the Government established a separate head of the training support grant for people working with the visually handicapped.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example of what can happen to someone who is losing his or her sight. The elderly person has passed through the medical profession; that is, from the GP to the consultant. After examination, the consultant may say, "I am afraid there is nothing that medicine can do to save your sight. Have you got someone to take you home?" And that is the end of the matter. Yet there is a very great deal that skilled and committed social work can do for such people. There are living and mobility skills that can be taught; there are services available, such as talking books and talking newspapers which can be provided; and in many parts of the country there are, although there need to be more, networks of care which can provide social contacts, mutual support and encouragement to continue to live a full and worthwhile
The first need is simply to raise awareness of the problem. That was done last October in a spectacular way at a "Think Sensory" conference at Wembley. People drawn from a wide range of statutory and voluntary organisations took part. What was particularly encouraging to many of the voluntary bodies concerned was the evidence of a new commitment by the Association of Directors of Social Services to raise the priority of the sensorily handicapped.
Secondly, the voluntary sector has an enormously important part to play, mainly through the agency of local societies for the blind and partially sighted which are taking up the challenge. There are now a number of collaborative schemes coming into existence between, say, a local society and a national body or, perhaps, a local authority. Local societies are increasingly entering into contracts with local authorities to provide services for the visually handicapped. Local resource centres are beginning to come into existence, bringing together many of the organisations which are in a position to help. Perhaps, as examples, I may cite the new resource centres which have been established in Bristol and Brighton; indeed, there is now an excellent one in Edinburgh. National societies such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind are beginning to make contracts, as is the case in Lincolnshire, with social service authorities to provide a whole range of services to a very high standard.
However, the shortage of trained rehabilitation workers is seriously hampering the work. The RNIB, with a course at the University of Central England, the Guide Dogs for the Blind, with its own training school near Reading and with a small offshoot at Forfar in Scotland, and Henshaw's Society in the north west, are now the three main providers of such training. Yet the sum available from the training support programme is only £250,000 a yearat least, that is what it was in the year just ended. It seems pitiably small when set against the need to train many dozens of rehabilitation workers a year.
At the beginning of last year there was a fear that even that sum would not be taken up. Happily, that fear has proved groundless. On the contrary, the demand for places now substantially exceeds the supply. I am told that in this academic year some 29 students, who passed the selection interviews at the GDBA and the University of Central England, have been unable to take training either because they could not personally afford the fees or because their local authority would not, in the end, pay for direct employee training. Perhaps I should explain that it was only local authorities which originally had access to that training support programme money. However, after the Visual Handicap Group made representations to my noble friend's department, it
The report of the VHG also examined at some length what the content of training should be. It is clear that the traditional routes, often by way of add-ons to normal training, no longer fill the bill. Much more specific, purpose-related courses are essential. Following the Wembley conference, a strategy group was set up with members drawn from the Department of Health, the Association of Directors of Social Service and the voluntary sector. That is now seeking to carry forward the work to identify appropriate syllabuses and qualifications.
In February, members of the Visual Handicap Group met my honourable friend John Bowis, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health. Our main request was to ask that the Government should now acknowledge that the needs of the visually handicapped deserve a much higher priority and that we need, particularly, to have a higher priority for the supply of trained workers.
We stand, as voluntary bodies, ready to play our part but in a matter of this sort it is for the Government to give the lead, and that is what I ask for this evening. As we consider the training of social workers in general I hope that my noble friend will recognise the particular needs of the million or so of our fellow citizens who are blind or partially sighted. There are people out there willing to be trained. What is in such short supply are the resources to train them.
Lady Kinloss: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, explained very fully the reasons why it is felt that social workers should have an extra year's training, and that their diplomas should be upgraded to a three-year degree course.
Since they were established in 1971, social services departments have been required to implement legislation in the social care field of ever-increasing complexity, the most recent being the Children Act 1989, the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 and the Criminal Justice Act 1991. All of these have greatly contributed to the changed responsibilities of local authority social services departments and the skills required of practising social workers. Of these the Children Act 1989 and the care in the community legislation have increased the workload as well as the
In North Yorkshire, where I live, these groups are served by service units or teams. They are organised on a basis of children and families, older people, adults, mental health, health and disability and learning disabilities. All the requirements that are needed to deal with any situation that might arise make one pause and ask how all this knowledge, with the practical learning, can be achieved within a two-year training course.
Social workers have to make decisions which affect the lives and liberties of citizens. This is particularly so in the case of mental health, child care and criminal justice legislation. They need to know about welfare rights and services which can be called upon, to learn and practise skills for helping people, especially skills in intervening in the lives of those who do not want to be helped. In the case of families, it is important that the approach should be practical and easily understood by the mother, so that an unhappy or harassed mother can easily understand what is needed and how they can be helped, especially those who feel they do not need or want help.
British social workers have the shortest training in Europe. One way in which social workers might be helped to take a further qualification would be for those who have a first degree in sociology or social policy to be able to take a second degree in less time, their first degree counting towards their second one, such as in a law degree.
Can the noble Baroness explain about student loans? I understand that students studying for a diploma in social work cannot get a student loan, yet a student who has a first degree and is taking a one-year post-graduate course in education can have a student loan, and of course a student loan for their first degree. Can this anomaly be looked at? If the diplomas were upgraded to a degree level and extended to three years I imagine a student would then be eligible for a student loan.
Another benefit of the extension of the course to three years would be to enable students to enter social practice components of the course with a greater foundation knowledge in social science, which would obviously be a great help to them in their work. Can the noble Baroness say whether that would enable social workers with a degree to work in the European Union? The European Commission regulations apparently differ between member states for the training of social workers. There appears to be a requirement of three years' training as a minimum basic requirement. I understand that their courses end in a degree.
I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has to say about the member states of the European Union. At present social workers from other members of the EU are able to work here, but our qualifications are not recognised in the EU. That appears to create an unfair, one-way opportunity. Do those who apply to work here have to show they are qualified in English? English is a difficult language, and to show how difficult, I would like to end with a quotation from a novel, The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Monserrat, in which a Russian interpreter says to a British naval officer in Murmansk,
Baroness Elles: My Lords, I am afraid I cannot beat that one but I shall try to say a little on what I hope I know about. We must all recognise how extremely fortunate we are to have had this debate introduced by someone who is incomparable in the field of social work in this country. My noble friend Lady Faithfull has already this evening shown her immense practical knowledge and experience in this field and we are most grateful to her for introducing this subject today.
The Government have recognised the need for training, and continuous training, in many fields in this country, particularly in industry and the development of technology and innovative subjects and science. However, it is extraordinary that, although so much change has occurred in the industrial field, there is no other field in national life which has changed more than our social life. I refer to the breakdown of marriages, drug addiction, sexual abuse and whole fields of events of which we in your Lordships' House are only too well aware. However, I have not yet heard the Government recognise that this, too, is a field in which closer attention must be given to the adequate and efficient training of people who have to deal with these radical changes in social as well as in industrial life. I shall be anxious to hear what my noble friend Lady Cumberlege will say on the Government's approach to the need for a new look at training in this difficult and complex area.
The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, referred to the complexity of the welfare state. However, nothing can be more complex than our own lives and those of children, of ill people and of people in different sectors of our society who have already been mentioned in our debates. In this House, above all places, we are only too well aware of the impositions that have been placed on local authorities through legislation. The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, has already enumerated many of the Acts which have affected the work of local authorities and has referred to the need for trained social workers to deal with the many tasks with which authorities have to deal on a daily and long-term basis.
We are, of course, aware of reports of failures which have appeared in the media. We are aware of reports of errors which, regrettably, some social workers have committed. We are all aware of these failures. However, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull said, we are not always aware of the immense work and dedication which so many social workers have given to difficult
When we consider training, we may think of training in the field of technology. If someone makes a mistake when using a computer, at the end of the day he may have to buy a new computerfor example if he has pressed the wrong button. But do we recognise the difficulties which arise if a social worker makes a wrong judgment and makes a decision on the basis of that judgment which can alter for ever the life of a particular individual, be he a child or an adult? Surely the life and way of living of one person is just as valuable as a computer which may be thrown away when someone has made a mistake. I hope that that point will go home.
As regards the residential care work being carried on in this country, I know of no place where more work is done and more attention given than in the Caldecott Community home in Kent, of which I have the honour to be a trustee and whose distinguished chairman is my noble friend Lady Faithfull. There is evidence of tragedy in the lives of the seriously disturbed children who come to the home. Between 70 and 75 children stay in the home, either to save them from impossible situations or to protect society from them.
The task of residential workers at the Caldecott Community is to ensure that at the age of 18 those children are able to face the world on their own, emerging from care, protection and affection. The aim is to teach the children emotional balance and ensure that they are able to earn their own living at the age of 18.
Those of us who are parents or grandparents know that even with all the benefits of our society which so many of us enjoy it is very difficult to ensure that even well-balanced children, with all the comforts and facilities that we can give them, are able to fit into society today at the age of 18 when they suddenly find themselves on their own. Therefore, surely it is much more important to have skilled residential care workers to look after children who have to rely on those individuals to enable them to cope with life when they leave the Caldecott Community.
Thanks largely to the energy and enthusiasm of my noble friend Lady Faithfull, the Caldecott Community has set up a Caldecott College which offers courses to those working in the childcare sector. That covers foster parents, child minders and others. The college also offers a degree course for social workers in a residential setting. The intention is that those people will have practical experience of what it is like to look after seriously disturbed children 24 hours a day. As the director of the Caldecott Community never fails to tell us, children have become more and more difficult in recent years. Our day-to-day experience confirms the need for this specialised course.
I should like to touch on the European aspect. Early this afternoon we had a debate which related to subsidiarity. This is one area where there is no longer to be harmonisation of standards for the training of social workers. The European Commission no longer has a co-ordinating role in this field. In some countriesfor example, in Belgiumthere is an obligatory three-year course after secondary education which ends either with a diploma or, usually after four years, a degree. That system applies throughout the member states. However, there is not to be a system whereby a general standard is recognised throughout the member states of the Community.
There is an international association for social workers with a European Community liaison committee. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will have information on this subject from that body. I am sure that it will be of benefit to examine the type of courses which are held throughout the Community. Many Community countries look at our own system, knowing the many problems that we have in this country, which are not always reflected in their own societies. One will see in any newspaper throughout the Community that individual countries have to deal with different problems, and they train their social workers to deal with those specific problems in their countries and within their local authorities and regional authorities. I believe that it would be well worthwhile for the department to investigate those systems and courses in order to establish the best that can be produced.
In terms of recognition of diplomas, presumably somebody who has taken a two-year training course would not be given the same job as a social worker in Belgium, where a three-year course is necessary. It is not a question of the subject matter being different, but the depth of training is lacking in a two-year course. I hope that that is a matter which the Government will look at to ensure that we are not negligent and that our own trained social workers do not fall below a general standard, whether or not one calls that a European standard.
I should like to touch on one further area. It is a phenomenon which, although not new, is now facing experts in the field. That problem is actions perpetrated by some people in official positions against whom it is difficult to take action. The problem has been brought to my attention by psychologists who have had to deal with difficult situations which, at present, can be dealt with only by taking action in the civil courts against somebody who has perpetrated some act against a victim. Social workers are often the only people who can deal with such problems.
In conclusion, I should like to take this opportunity to thank my noble friend for giving so many of us the opportunity to speak of our own limited experiences in this field. The voluntary social work of 30 years ago is no longer recognisable in today's society. I hope that
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness who has just spoken in such an interesting fashion and all the other speakers in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. After the noble Baroness had finished speaking I wondered whether there was any more to be said. That is the trouble with a really first-class opening speech; it leaves everyone else with a sense of hopelessness. However, we have to do our best.
I was moved by the reference to the partially sighted. About a year ago I ceased to find it possible to read any book which was not in large print or to read a newspaper article. I have to ask my wife to read to me if she is in the mood. However, there are compensations. One cannot use notes, and we are always told that in the House of Lords Peers do not read their speeches. So at least one is spared that temptation. I remember that the grandfather of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, spoke much better when he was almost blind than when he could see. One draws some encouragement from that example.
The noble Baroness has unique knowledge of local government. It is a rather dismal reflection that when she came to this House many years ago she was the only qualified social worker, and she is still the only qualified social worker, in this place. I do not know what conclusion one should draw from that. Perhaps social workers do not occupy a high enough position in our society today.
I recognise, as we all do, the almost terrifying responsibilities that may fall on social workers. That has been in my mind since this morning when I visited a man who is in prison. He is serving 12 months in prison and his wife is also serving 12 months in prison. I only know his side of the story, and I do not offer an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the case. According to his own account he and his wife are in prison because they attempted to interfere improperly with the lives of their five children, who were taken away from them six years ago on the recommendation of social workers. For six years they have been trying to get those children back. Apparently they made such a fuss, or behaved in what was thought to be the wrong way, that they both find themselves in prison now. I do not offer an opinion. Those social workers may have taken the right decision, or they may have taken the wrong decision. However, it is a terrifying responsibility to take five children away from a father and mother who, to the best of my belief, love those children.
Those are vital responsibilities and that is why social workers need thorough and careful training. I agree with what has been said by various people, including the noble Lord, Lord Murray, that proper training is vital for doctors like my noble friend Lord Rea, lawyers, the police and teachers. We all agree that professional training is vital for social workers. Some people may say that it is possible to succeed in life without much education. Sir Winston Churchill had to leave Harrow
One may say that education is not absolutely essential, but we generally agree that it is highly desirable and it should be provided for the whole community. As parents, we make every effort to ensure that our children have a good education. Education and training are much better than no education and no training.
We come to the question: what training and how long should it be? Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to three social workers at different levels. One was near the top of the profession locally; another qualified and passed his diploma some time ago and after years of experience in work and marriage he is now taking a further degree. The third is a young woman taking her diploma now. All three are at different stages but they all agree on the absolute necessity for thorough academic training and experience of workthat is a double training.
How should that be provided? We must bear in mind that a two-year course rightly includes about a year working in the field. Academically speaking, therefore, the course is for only one year. Speaking as a former university tutor, I regard a one-year course as derisory for an academic qualification or any degree. Therefore, on the face of it the two years should be extended to three. It may seem that that stands to reason, but it becomes even more obvious in the light of the facts brought forward initially by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and other later speakers, about the increasing responsibilities. The noble Baroness read out a list of Acts which, in recent years, have placed new responsibilities on social workers. I have in mind particularly responsibilities for the mentally ill, who are complicated cases. No one can say that a knowledge of psychology is anything but extremely useful, perhaps indispensable in dealing with such mental cases. That is only one example.
The whole idea of community care means that more and more work, more burdens, more responsibilities and more delicate choices are thrust on the shoulders of the devoted social workers. Some people would suggest that for voluntary work one does not need training. Most of us here have done voluntary work and we would not argue in that foolish way. My noble friend Lord Murray referred to the terrible situation of children being placed in residential homes. As he said, sometimes they are offenders and sometimes not, and they are put in the care of devoted but untrained people. That is only one aspect.
It comes to this. Do we believe that people should be given a thorough professional training? At present one cannot say that that is done but we believe that it should be. If we were allowed to do so in this place, we should
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps by introducing this debate my noble friend Lady Faithfull has put tinder to the torch of commitment towards many of our people who are less fortunate than us. Perhaps the debate and the contributions which have been made will serve a permanent constructive purpose of immense value.
The training of social workers is a large subject. The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, referred to residential homes for the elderly and the problems of the mentally handicapped. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding mentioned the plight of the blind. My noble friend Lady Elles referred to residential care for the young. Every contribution has its own special worth.
As all other noble Lords have said, the enhanced training and status of those who attend on families where there are distressed or disturbed relationships has now become a matter of national concern. It lies fair and square within the exclusive remit of the Government, central government. At the outset, a tribute must be paid to the sense of dedication of those who provide the services in difficult, dangerous and emotive situations. Their sense of dedication is not to be called in question.
However, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull saidand she is an acknowledged expert with a lifetime of experiencethere should be a three-year training with graduate status at first degree level of higher education, funded by central government, no doubt within the allocation of the Department for Employment.
As to the three-year period, it has the support of Lord Clyde, and Lord Justice Butler-Sloss from each side of the Border. It operates in Ireland and is in conformity with EC requirements as regards the interchange of professionals.
As to graduate status, it would confer an ethos of competence, confidence and authority. It is proposed that the present non-graduate programmes should be extended to three years, linking the DipSW to the award of a Bachelor's degree exactly along the lines proposed by my noble friend Lady Faithfull.
As to the mechanics, the Government will set the standards and methods of training to qualify for the degree. That might perhaps include a course on relevant aspects of law to be given by highly qualified teachers, as suggested by my noble friend. All other aspects of implementation such as recruitment, conditions of employment, and the rendering of the services would remain with the local authority.
As to resources, the cost to the Exchequer of the extra funding for training should surely be regarded as a sound but requisite investment in the future social well-being of our people. Account must be taken of the fact that the broken family sows the seedcorn of crime
The national council, set upI think, in Augustby the NSPCC no doubt will render signal service, always bearing in mind that it is the parents rather than the children who are in need of help and advice. A course of study on parenting and life skills in the national curriculum, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady David, who is not in her place although she would wish to be, could well be of immense value. But when trouble comes it is the foot-soldier on the doorstep, the dedicated social worker, well trained in the state of the art, upon whose help, advice, decisions and actions the well-being of a family in distress must rely.
There is nothing more for me to say other than that the case for increasing their training and expertise and for according status to the social workers has already been made out, even before my noble friend Lady Cox rises to speak. The hope is that the Government will take and implement the appropriate policy decision as soon as possible.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, on introducing this debate, which aims to make the case for a third year of professional training for new entrants to professional social worker posts. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, for mentioning residential staff, who are distinctly one of the forgotten groups within the social services.
I ought to declare my interest. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, will perhaps be interested to know that in 1968 I was a student on an experimental three-year diploma course in social work. That course was experimental in that it did not deal only with social work but also looked at community work and attempted to teach it to school leavers. The course predated the formation of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. Subsequently, I worked in various capacities, eventually specialising in offender services, for in Scotland there is no separate probation service. Therefore I am very interested in the debate. I know that the expectations and duties placed upon social workers have been much expanded since I completed training in 1971. That training involved me in practical placements with 16 different agencies and began to marry theory with practice.
During that period, an attempt was made successfully to bring all social work activities under one roof and so bring to an end the separate services offered by the children's department, the welfare department, the mental health department and the probation department. That remains the current position in Scotland. An attempt was also made to abandon a specialist approach and to bring in generic social workers who were to be competent right across the spectrum. That practice was often resisted by those who had worked in the old departments. But new entrants were quickly given generic caseloads with access to specialist advisers as
Gradually, the generic approach has declined and specialist posts have been created within social work departments. It was recognised that the skills and knowledge base for a generic social worker was too wide and that the clients would be better served by a more focused social worker but one who understood more than just his or her own specialist area.
The rise in the amount of social work legislation has not only brought about rescheduling of priorities for social work departments, but has also caused social workers to learn and relearn the statutory base for their work. The in-service training task is considerable in that respect. That is an area of formal training to which more time needs to be given.
Noble Lords will have heard me say in the recent debate on probation work training that it is important for social work trainees to be given a broad education in the whole social policy area and that they must understand the context in which they work. To that, I would add that they must be given a knowledge of policy formulation and the legislative process so that they would be better prepared for the ever-changing nature of their statutory duties and indeed their non-statutory duties.
The rise in the number of high priority cases in which several different agencies are involved has highlighted the need for management skills, calling case conferences and running them while acting as key workers implementing the subsequent decisions from all the agencies. To be effective that has to be based on a broad knowledge of how other agencies work.
The case for an additional year of training seems to me to be quite clear. It is unfair on everyone to launch into professional practice a social worker who could have been more thoroughly trained and who would have established greater practice experience.
In Scotland, social work education is organised by four training consortia. Several colleges offer the basic two-year central council approved diploma courses and two colleges also offer a three-year degree course. But those degree courses are the so-called two-plus-one courses, where the professional qualification is achieved in two years and an additional year allows for further study. There are proposals to expand the basic qualification course to three years, which must be welcomed, especially as the Scottish social work context is wider. But those proposals can be implemented only when the central council has the authority to increase the training requirement. I must remind noble Lords that the central council is, of course, a federal organisation.
I note with interest and admiration that so far the only part of these islands to have the common sense to extend social work training to three years is the Republic of Ireland. I congratulate the Irish on their wisdom.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Faithfull on raising this very important and timely topic. It is important and timely because social workers have been given such expanding responsibilities for the provision of care to so many of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Before I embark on a contribution, part of which I fear may sound a little critical, I must pay tribute to many very committed social workers who fulfil their challenging professional responsibilities with dedication and professional competence. I also emphasise that I broadly support my noble friend's plea for more systematic high level education for social work students, with the proviso that it does not become prey to the problems which have characterised some social work courses to which I shall refer.
First, however, the extension of social workers' responsibilities reflects changes in the law and changing trends in our society. The most dramatic extension of their role came with the National Health Service and Community Care Act which gave to social workers and social service departments the primary responsibility for the provision of care for the growing number of people being discharged from long-stay residential institutions into the community. That policy has many merits, especially for the more independent and least vulnerable residents of long-stay institutions. Discharge from institutional care into the community has been a success for many people who have found new independence, more autonomy and enhanced self-esteem and dignity. But for others, including many frail and infirm elderly people suffering from mental illness or handicap, the community can be a very lonely place, and for very dependent people with multiple needs life in a three-bedroomed house in a busy high street can be as institutionalised and even more confined than life in a larger residential community with recreational and occupational facilities on site.
Therefore, there is a challenge for those providing social work training to ensure that social workers are well prepared to take responsibility for these very dependent and very vulnerable people. Alongside these challenges there are many others, imposed by changes in society, such as the needs of children suffering from a family breakdown or from abuse of various kinds, or the multiple problems experienced by ethnic minorities. So there is a strong case for ensuring that social work students understand the diverse needs of those for whom they will be professionally responsible. I agree with my noble friend that a rigorous, comprehensive and professional education is essential.
However, I fear that the provision of an academic degree per se is not enough. The content is crucial, together with the match between theory and practice. Professional education must be teleologicalit must be judged by the extent to which it ensures that practitioners are equipped to provide safe, competent,
These problems are compounded by other sources of confusion in social work education and practice. For example, there is confusion about who are social workers. In some children's and some residential homes, unqualified staff are known as social workersa point made by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest. I ask my noble friend the Minister: what are the training provisions and what is the range of responsibilities for these untrained social workers? Also, how are these matched to training?
Secondly, there is sometimes confusion about social workers' responsibilities when patients or clients are discharged from National Health Service hospitals into local authority or private sector community care. There have been many reports of problems in ensuring multiprofessional involvement in the preparation of each client's "care package". I hate the phrase "care package" but that is what is meant to be provided for patients being discharged from hospitals into the community. As many of these people have complex health needs, it is essential that their clinical requirements are met, and this must involve health professionals making their contribution to the assessment of needs and the provision of care. Unfortunately, there are many reports that health care professionals are not always adequately represented in discussions. This can have very serious consequences, leading perhaps to literally untold suffering. Social work students need an education which enables them to work more effectively with other professionals and ensures that the contribution of those professionals is appropriately included in all forms of care.
Thirdly, there is a practical problem on some courses in finding appropriate placements for students. Social workers acting as practice teachers have increased case loads with their new responsibilities. Consequently, many are unable to accept students or to provide adequate support and supervision. There is thus a backlog of students waiting for placements. As apprenticeship is an invaluable element in any practical professional training, this must be a serious flaw in any academic course.
Mention of the words "academic course" brings me to my concern over the academic content of many social work courses. For example, a course which I knew very well was offered at the then Polytechnic of North London in the 1970s. Your Lordships may say that that was a long time ago but the social workers who qualified as a result of that course are likely now to be in senior positionsin social work practice or in social work education. The course content was presented in a formidable document approximately one inch thick and full of largely Marxist-oriented courses of macrosociological theories of society. In the entire four years of that course the only reference I saw to mental illness consisted of a two-line entry requiring a critique of contemporary theories of mental illness. There was virtually nothing on the problems of elderly people or
Some of the teaching was bizarre, to say the least: some of the lecturers contributed to and cited publications such as Case Con, a journal of "radical social work", which claimed that mental illness was a product of capitalism and that its cure was to adopt socialism. Incidentally, that was a particularly cruel irony at a time when the Soviet Union was using alleged diagnoses of psychiatric illness to repress and indeed torture political and religious dissidents.
The Polytechnic of North London was not unique. Of course not all the students who qualified from such courses swallowed everything uncritically, but they were still left with a great vacuum of knowledge about mental illness and the reality, say, of the tragedy of the suffering of patients with severe depression or acute psychosis, or about the complex needs of the multi-handicapped. It is therefore not surprising that some social workers were influenced to the extent that they had grave reservations, as a matter of principle as they saw it, about certifying anyone as mentally ill, even when medical staff deemed it necessary to do so for the safety of the patients themselves or of other people.
As I said, that course, which I knew personally and challenged at the time, was offered in the 1970s. But, as I also said, its graduates may now well be in senior positions. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether there has been any provision for remedial education to enable them to obtain a rather more rounded view of the nature of the needs of clients and of families coming into their care. Are we sure that all current courses are beyond reproach? I fear not. I share Professor Pinker's concern, described so well by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris. In August 1993, just over 18 months ago, Melanie Phillipshardly a right-wing writerwrote in the Observer an article documenting continuing symptoms of ideologically dominated social work training. Now the ideology comes more in the form of "politically correct" commitments to various "isms", especially anti-racism and anti-sexism. I must emphasis that I abhor racism and I am intensely critical of injustice perpetrated by sexism; but I can also recognise old Marxist ideology under the guise of much that is being promoted now in the name of these "isms". I also find totally unacceptable any form of censorship on academic campuses in the name of politically correct ideologies. It is in this context that I find Melanie Phillips's critique disturbingly redolent of the ideological travesty of academic courses in social work education which I encountered in the 1970s. She claimed:
I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made some attempt to require social work education establishments to move away from such indoctrination and eliminate political ideology from social work education, but the revised Document 30 that she commends is not a real solution. Many concerned with social work education have called it a fiasco.
I conclude by urging my noble friend Lady Faithfull to appreciate that if she succeeds in her commendable objective of enhancing the length and status of social work courses it will not automatically improve the quality of education or practice. I hope that she will use the high esteem in which she is rightly held to influence the content of social work education so that practitioners will be adequately prepared for their new and expanding responsibilities.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, my authority for intervening briefly in this debate is, first, that I was involved for some 10 years in validating social work and other similar courses in the polytechnic sector; and, secondly, that I had the honour of initiating a debate in your Lordships' House on 27th January 1993 on the training of staff in children's homes. I should like to pay tribute, as other noble Lords have done, to all the good social workers who do extremely difficult work in what is an increasingly difficult area. I think that that tribute is all the more deserved, because I feel absolutely sure that they succeed in spite of their training rather than because of it.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull, and I believe nearly all other noble Lords, promoted the idea that the present two-year courses should be expanded to three-year courses. I am afraid that I have to disagree with that, unless something can be done about the quality of existing courses. When preparing for the debate two years ago I had to have quite a detailed look at many of the courses that were around then. I was this evening most heartened to hear what the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, had to say. He suggested that the time might have come to abolish the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. In our debate in 1993 I had some harsh things to say about CCETSW and its courses, which as far as I know have not been seriously challenged since. As I have had occasion to remark to your Lordships before, it seems to me that when we look at teacher training in the normal school system we look at the soil in which the roots of British state education feed. So it is with social work when we look at the courses validated by CCETSW.
My second suggestion is that I remain sure that the group's findings will justify recommendation No. 62 of the Warner Report, and that the Diploma in Social Work should be abandoned in favour of a new diploma targeted very much more practically. In that respect, it is very encouraging to hear what my noble friend Lady Elles has had to say about the Caldecott Community's courses and their practical element. I feel sure that that is the right route to go, and I very much hope that the Government will do everything they can to expand that kind of initiative.
I end by saying that until a clear unbiased professional examination of our social work courses takes place, and until the result of that examination is made available for wide public debate, there is absolutely no point in making the courses any longer or throwing any more money at them. As the Warner Report so wisely said:
Lord Rea: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, as I expected, put forward a very strong case for increasing the professional training of social workers to three years of graduate status. What I can say is more a cheer from the sidelines than a critical commentary, which we have had from the last two speakers. There is no doubt that qualified social workers and probation officers have to take on additional responsibilities today both because of changes in society, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have mentioned, and as a result of recent legislation. That has been spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and other speakers. I do not need to list recent Acts which have added to the workload of social workers on top of what is already a very heavy load. Often, they deal with some of the most deprived as well as the most disturbed people in the community.
I should like to echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, about the problems and difficulties faced by social workers. They do not get many thanks when they succeed, but they get a lot of stick when things go wrong. That is rather different from the profession which I have been very lucky to be part of: medicine. In medicine one often manages to make people feel better quite quickly, and people express their gratitude. I used to get such a good supply of whisky every Christmas that it lasted me right the way through to the following year. That does not mean to say that I drank a bottle a day!
As a GP, I have worked together with many social workers and probation officers. Usually we have both been involved with families in which children have been at risk or with mentally ill patients where decisions have had to be taken about compulsory admission. I take the noble Baroness, Lady Cox's, point that sometimes social workers resist the idea of compulsory admission perhaps more than they might. On the other hand, they are the only people who stand up for the patient, and I respect them for it. In some cases in which I have been involved the social worker's decision has proved to be right and the patient has got well at home without having to go to hospital.
I have also had many links with probation officers with equivalent training, dealing with a variety of patients who have had brushes with the law. For many years I was a visiting medical officer to a reception centre which took in children who were in need of emergency social services care. On this point I very much echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Murray about the need for the motivation, background and personality of workers in residential care to be carefully assessed and for their training to be better, as the noble Baroness suggested.
Although I have been very much impressed by the sense of responsibility and concern for their clients that individual social workers have shown, I have not always been quite so impressed by the depth of their knowledge or the wisdom of their decisions. I certainly have not been impressed with the bureaucracy of certain social services departments. I have sometimes sympathised with patients who have felt that social workers were acting more as another arm of the law rather than being their defender.
However much training a social worker or other professional for instance, a doctorreceives, it is always possible to make mistakes and to get on the wrong foot with a client, particularly when he or she may be of a difficult or manipulative personality. Good additional training increases the skill and understanding of social workers. That minimises the chance of failure in communication. People in difficulties are quite often extremely hard to help, a point made by other noble Lords. That is part of their problem. The ability to stand outside the immediate issues, to show concern but not to be patronising, to be involved but at the same time detached, are not easy skills to acquire. But appropriate training can make a big difference and the additional year proposed will allow the additional breadth and time for reflection that is needed, as well as the detailed training in the legal aspects of their work, which the
The noble Baroness called for the creation of a General Social Services Council. I very much feel that that is a desirable aim, just as I should like to see a General Teachers Council in the same category as the General Medical Council, which performs a very useful educational and disciplinary role. I wish to refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, and ask whether social work has yet achieved a sufficient academic body of knowledge or body of research to constitute the background for creating such a council. I hope that the Minister will refer to that when she replies to the debate.
It is probable that the Minister will argue that her noble friend's case is a good one but that we cannot afford it. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said that this would be largely local authority expenditure, but nevertheless the money eventually will have to come from central government, because local government has no money to spare at the moment to increase expenditure on its social work training. Perhaps the noble Baroness will answer that point as well.
It is perfectly true that there must be cost implicationsless so for the graduates who will be excused taking a three-year course and will have to take only a two-year course because they have already shown their academic capacity. In my view, the additional cost will be justified, whoever provides it, for several reasons. First, the British social work qualifications will have to be brought into line with European Commission requirements for the interchange of professionals. The Republic of Ireland has already done that. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, referred to this point. It is not a requirement as such, I agree, but, as she said, the three-year course will be needed for doing equivalent work in many countries in the European Union.
The second reason for increasing training is the added load of recent legislation. The Acts concerned have been listed by a number of noble Lords. The third and perhaps the most important reason for increasing training is that skilled work may well involve savings later. That is so with regard to making good assessments for those going into community care from National Health Service institutions. It also applies to the probation service, where skilled work with offenders results in a reduction of reoffending compared with custodial sentences. In social work, skilled work with families may prevent children having to be taken into care. We believe that any further separation of the training of probation officers from that of social workers would be quite retrograde. That was the overwhelming opinion of a large number of speakers in the debate on the probation service in your Lordships' House on 5th April, just before the Easter Recess.
Although it has been severely pilloried today, I should like to quote some remarks from the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. It carried out a review of the Diploma in Social Work in February. The council states:
The noble Baroness made a plea for a strengthening of an important part of our social fabric. It may cost a few million pounds but it will be a valuable long-term investment. It is very gratifying that a call for such long-term investment is coming from the Government side of the Housethough from the Back Benches. We have become too used to short-term thinking from the Government Front Bench over the past decade and a half. I hope that the Minister will be able to correct that in her reply to her noble friend's Motion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, I believe that even the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, the only other professional in this field here tonight, will agree with me that there is no Member of your Lordships' House better qualified, more knowledgeable or astute to introduce this debate than my noble friend Lady Faithfull. Those of us who have been involved in social work (albeit in my case some time ago) have long been admirers of my noble friend. She is indeed a legend in the land and we acknowledge her supremacy in this field.
I believe that this has been a very worthwhile and interesting debate. I have listened carefully to what all your Lordships have said, and I shall discuss many of the suggestions made with my ministerial colleagues and officials in the department. Bearing in mind the anecdote of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, perhaps this is the moment at which I should tear up my speech but, sadly, I do not have that sort of courage.
As regards the training of social workers, the Government believe that it is essential to establish the correct balance between generic social work and specialist expertise. The noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, referred to the 1968 report of Lord Seebohm. He foresaw,
The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, reminded us too, with the greatest clarity, as did my noble friend Lady Elles, of the ever-increasing pressures on individuals and families and how essential it is that social workers and other staff are equipped to deal with the problems of people who come to them for help. It is right to be reminded that personal social services are being delivered in a social and demographic context which has undergone substantial changes over the past two decades. For example, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding reminded us in another debate, when Her Majesty came to the throne in 1952 she sent 270 telegrams to people on their 100th birthday. Last year she sent 2,923. I believe that they are now tele-messages. People are not only living longer but, as a consequence the number living alone has almost doubled in the past 20 years. As many of your Lordships will know, divorce rates are up while marriage rates are down. In the past 20 years the number of marriages has decreased by a quarter but the number of divorces has more than doubled. All this puts pressure on families and increases the chances that some families will not be able to cope and will turn to social services for help.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway mentioned the NSPCC commission of inquiry and speculated that it might make recommendations on the need to ensure that parents are helped to improve their parenting skills. The Government believe in supporting families rather than undermining them. An example of this is the Department of Health's £1.5 million family support initiative. Key elements of the programme have been to encourage self-help; to develop a partnership with families and to develop support through a network of helpful information and advice. I can assure my noble friend that we look forward to the results of the NSPCC commission. We shall continue to work with families and not seek to undermine them.
Although noble Lords have agreed that social workers should not see their role solely as agents of social change, we should also acknowledge, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that social workers deal with some of the most vulnerable and difficult people in society. Sometimes there is a misconception among the general public that some social workers are too young, idealistic and under-trained for this very difficult task. But that is actually far from the truth. Over the past 30 years the proportion of field staff who are qualified has risen from 38 per cent. to over 90 per cent., with almost all team leaders now being qualified. The average age for those qualifying is 35, so contrary to public belief social work is in fact a mature person's career.
However, we share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, and my noble friend Lady Cox about political correctness. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Pearson will be pleased to learn of the review of the diploma which we have asked the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work to undertake. We wish to see a move away from the perception that
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