Nicky Morgan unveiled some key reforms to children’s social care during her recent speech at the National Children and Adult Services conference. While there was a focus on attracting and retaining social workers and improving the image of the profession, she also talked about the need for social care to become more like teaching. This got me thinking about some of the changes that have taken place in schools since I was a teacher some 30 years ago.
Many of you may have caught the recent television series, Educating the East End. While Frederick Bremer might not be typical of all schools, the show did demonstrate that the role of a teacher today can involve far more than the delivery of the curriculum alone.
Vulnerable children can live complex and often chaotic lives. They might need a wide range of support to enable them to thrive. Some of this help will come from the teachers responsible for pastoral care in their school, but some might need to be provided by agencies such as social services.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the role of many practitioners working to improve children’s lives is changing.
Getting the whole picture
In both the children’s services and education sectors, there has been a general shift away from looking at a child or issue in isolation. Social workers and teachers alike take a much more holistic approach in the support they provide.
If a child starts to slip behind in school, for example, their teacher would not simply put extra tuition in place and expect them to catch up. In many schools, teachers will look more closely at the reasons that might be behind the drop off in achievement. It could be that the child has missed quite a few lessons or has not been handing in homework regularly. Being able to see a little more information on the child’s background and circumstances, the school might discover that there is no suitable place at home to work. Or the child could be struggling to find time to study because they are busy looking after a sick or disabled relative.
Likewise, social care practitioners who have access to information on a child’s school life, such as details of their attendance or behaviour, can make more informed decisions on what support they or their family might need.
Strengthening the team around a child
There has been an increasing focus on the ‘team around a child’ approach across children’s services and education in recent years. Social services, schools, and other teams, such as health and the police are now working much more closely together to tackle the difficulties that vulnerable children and families face. The different practitioners in contact with a child need access to a much broader view of their lives than the detail relating to their own role alone. Understanding the bigger picture – and being alerted when things change – is essential to ensuring the right support is put in place, at the right time.
So it seems that some similarities already exist between the role of a social worker and that of a teacher. It will be interesting to see what impact the proposed reforms to children’s social care will bring, for both practitioners and the families they work with.