HL Deb 19 April 1995 vol 563 cc516-50

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull rose to call attention to the case for increasing the training and expertise of social workers in view of their growing responsibilities; and to move for Papers.

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 with—a 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.

5.20 p.m.

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 inquiries—some general, some specific—into 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 strategic decisions but some were closed unduly precipitately because of the withdrawal of placements by local authorities.

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 inquiries—Wagner, Pindown, Utting, Howe and Warner among them—have 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.

Those inquiries have insisted not only on the need to improve training on and off the job, pre-employment and in-service but they have again and again emphasised the dangers of not developing a coherent strategy for residential care. As ARCC—the Advancement of Residential Child Care—insisted: It is time to call a halt to the process of inquiry and report, and to embark instead on a concerted and comprehensive strategy to improve the quality and standing of residential child care for the benefit of children". To that I add that it is time to reconsider the case for extending the availability of specialised residential childcare.

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.

5.28 p.m.

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 workers—the psychiatric social workers, the childcare workers and those who worked with hospitals or children—came 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: at the moment, there is clearly a crisis of public confidence in social work and social workers". Robert Pinker traced the problem and the crisis to the introduction of a set of guidelines by the CCETSW which Professor Pinker said: firmly introduced the language of political correctness, stressing the need to challenge the 'oppressive' social institutions of Britain, and introducing the notion of widespread racism throughout our society. With their introduction, the Education Council became politicised, and core skills came to be neglected in favour of ideology. The Council ensured that students would become less social workers than quasi-political activists … by asking them to challenge suppression in all its forms … I have been professor of social work studies at the London School of Economics since 1978, and it has always been my belief that social workers should deal with individuals and their problems, and should avoid politics or proselytism. Over recent years, I have watched with increasing dismay the erosion of a decent and useful profession, an erosion that has been taking place for years with scarcely a glimmer of government or public interest". 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.

5.37 p.m.

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 reports. The first was about the need to develop a network of resource centres for visually handicapped people across the country; the second was entitled Perspective on Training: A Consultative Report. It is about that recently published report that I should like to speak.

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 unregistered—and 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 hooks 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 life. There are also specialist services. I should like to mention one with which I am connected; namely, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Indeed, there is a whole raft of services out there which could come together under the general heading of "rehabilitation work". Yet, with far too few trained rehabilitation workers in the field, and with the statutory providers apparently giving a low priority to this work, most blind people are left to fend for themselves.

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 year—at 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 was extended to cover voluntary bodies which are under contract to local authorities to provide services. Nevertheless, the money still cannot be accessed by voluntary bodies which have no local authority contracts or by students wishing to train on their own initiative. That is a great pity because there are many different kinds of people now coming forward offering themselves for such work—for example, people seeking second careers, people who have retired early, people who have been made redundant, wives who wish to return to work, and those people who find themselves unemployed. Such people can bring a richness of experience to the workforce which was not present some years ago. That emphasises the importance of finding some method of funding people who do not come from a traditional, local authority background.

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.

5.50 p.m.

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 responsibilities of social workers. These include a great variety of duties, such as responsibility for those who suffer from mental illness, learning difficulties, sensory and other physical disabilities. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, speaking of guide dogs for the blind. My daughter collects used postage stamps for guide dogs and our village is about to pay for—I think I am correct in saying—a third guide dog. The duties also include not only work with the elderly but with their carers as well, the latter being very important. There are also juvenile offenders, children and families and their carers.

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 he 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, You British, you think we know damn nothing, I tell you we know damn all".

5.55 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, I am afraid I cannot beat that one but 1 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 tasks day in and day out with little notice, little reward and with no commendation from the public and indeed from the Government. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take the opportunity to thank and commend the invaluable work which is done by so many thousands of our dedicated workers.

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 computer—for 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.

The degree course has been set up in agreement with the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. Whether the council should be abolished is another matter, not to be debated now, but the council has agreed that the course is invaluable in dealing with this particular subject.

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 countries—for example, in Belgium—there 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 Minister will take on board the remarks that have been made this afternoon and that we shall have a positive response to the needs of our social workers.

6.7 p.m.

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 in order to be crammed for Sandhurst and we understand that Mr. Major and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, both left school at the age of 16, but all three got on very well in the world.

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 arc at different stages but they all agree on the absolute necessity for thorough academic training and experience of work—that 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 rise and stand behind the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and beg the Government to do something about training.

6.15 p.m.

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.

I shall concentrate on the cardinal importance of the family as a social entity and on the cohesive services of social workers to the fabric of our society, including the vulnerable elderly.

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 said—and she is an acknowledged expert with a lifetime of experience—there 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 and truancy. The cost of the public inquiries and the vast cost of litigation funded on all sides by the state has to be taken into account.

The national council, set up—I think, in August—by 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.

6.22 p.m.

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 well as their senior social worker line managers. All that was taking place at a time when professional training itself was not widespread.

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.

Little is gained by undertraining social workers—the professional group through whom we expect an ever-widening range of people to improve the quality of their lives. The decision to extend training to three years would be widely welcomed and should be implemented without delay.

6.29 p.m.

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 he teleological—it must be judged by the extent to which it ensures that practitioners are equipped to provide safe, competent, sensitive care. And here I regret that I must express grave concern over the manifest failure of some courses, including those at degree level, to prepare social work students adequately for their professional responsibilities.

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 workers—a 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 he in senior positions—in 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 of those suffering from mental handicap or chronic illness. Yet all of these people now come within the remit of the responsibility of social workers.

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 Phillips—hardly a right-wing writer—wrote 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: University tutors are abandoning social work teaching because they say they are being forced to teach 'politically correct' attitudes on race and gender in a climate of intimidation and fear. Anti-racist zealots, they say, have captured the social worker's training body, the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, which has built into the social work diploma the assumption that society is fundamentally racist and oppressive. The tutors claim that some pupils and staff are being intimidated. The Observer has spoken to several tutors who ask not to be identified for fear of reprisals. One said 'I've had students come to me crying.' Tutors have said to them 'You're white, so you must be racist: confess.' And if they are going to get through the course, they confess … Students' marks, say these tutors, depend on whether their work displays the 'politically correct' attitudes … The tutors say students spend so much time on ideology they end up ill-prepared to deal with people's real problems. One tutor said, 'Students and tutors who question the CCETSW's assumptions run the risk of being labelled racist.' That's not education, but indoctrination". I could have written those words 20 years ago from my own experiences in social sciences. It grieves me that they can be written today.

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 Faithful] 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.

6.41 p.m.

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.

In 1993 I made two suggestions of which I would now like to remind my noble friend the Minister. I ask for her view upon them now. The first is that if anyone thinks that I or the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, or my noble friend Lady Cox, exaggerate the poor quality of CCETSW's courses, an appropriate sample should be validated by a small group of perhaps five or seven suitably qualified people. The majority of the members of this group should be health care professionals, assisted by at least one proven manager. Social workers and social scientists should be in a clear minority. This validating panel should be free to talk to students, who would have to be offered convincing protection against victimisation at their exams or in their subsequent search for work. I do not think that this would be an expensive exercise. I hope that the Government will consider it now, even if they did not consider it was suitable two years ago.

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 shall listen with interest to what my noble friend has to say. She may tell me that CCETSW has changed its spots in the intervening two years. Personally, I will need some convincing.

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: A common reaction to a report such as ours is to assume that nothing can be done without additional resources being made available. We are not convinced that this is so". Nor am I. I very much hope that my noble friend can convince me that I am wrong.

6.46 p.m.

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 doctor—receives, 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 noble Baroness suggested could be included. I hope that the Minister will take the case put by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, very seriously. It is based, as other noble Lords have said, on a long and hard working lifetime of experience in social work, for which she is enormously and deservedly respected.

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 he 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 implications—less 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…review has demonstrated the extent of the core knowledge required by social workers and probation officers and the importance of a rigorous, analytical and reflective approach to enable them to make difficult judgments about complex situations". I do not see anything particularly Marxist in that. The quotation continues: Of prime importance for social workers and probation officers is all the relevant and new legislation, which gives them powers and responsibilities. Social workers and probation officers deal with some of the most difficult, damaged and sometimes dangerous members of society and their practice needs to be bounded by the law, informed by research, applied to and drawn from practice. The Government took the decision in 1988 that the professional social work qualification should be confined to two years…Since then, there have been major developments in legislation, which have greatly increased the responsibilities of social workers; in particular three major statutes affecting the three major areas of service provision". 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 House—though 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.

7 p.m.

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 possibility of workers al basic field level developing interests in particular aspects of the work". He also went on to say, Specialisation will be necessary above this level, not least to help in the advancement of knowledge". We have followed this pattern in developing the training we have today.

The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, reminded us too, with the greatest clarity, as did my noble friend Lady Liles, 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 CCETSW is an organisation that concentrates on certain issues only. In future it will be seen as an organisation that prepares social workers to deal with the needs of all clients in a practical and effective manner.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, will my noble friend give way on that point? Is there really any point in asking CCETSW to carry out this survey? Surely we need some objective outside body to give confidence to the result?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I believe that we should await the results of the report that CCETSW produces. I understand the point that my noble friend is making, but I believe that he will also acknowledge that CCETSW has a new chairman, that it has changed, and that it is now a different organisation.

Specialist social workers are certainly needed for specific but complex and sometimes intractable problems. That requires expertise born of knowledge and practical experience. But clients who need social workers need them to work with them in partnership on all their needs. I could not hut be impressed, like other Members of your Lordships' House by the eloquent and persuasive case made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin on the needs of those who are visually impaired. Indeed, I visited the centre in Brighton the other day and was enormously impressed by the work which is going on. I understand the points he made particularly on the somewhat narrow use of the training support programme. That is something I wish to discuss with my colleagues.

Since 1991 the Government have developed and resourced a training strategy which has four objectives. These are, first, to improve the quality of basic qualifying courses; secondly, to increase the number of people qualified; thirdly, to increase the training opportunities for existing staff; and, fourthly, to increase post-qualifying and management development training.

We undertook a five-year programme for introducing the Diploma in Social Work as the unified professional qualification. Over a rather shorter period, the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work has been working to establish a vigorous post-qualifying framework. This will ensure that we have expert practitioners in both the field and leadership positions.

However, we have had some concerns about the content of the diploma. The legislative context for contemporary social work has changed with the introduction of new policies mentioned by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, notably the Children Act and the National Health Service and Community Care Act. It is essential that social workers have a thorough knowledge of the new arrangements. We therefore insisted that the central council reviewed the diploma to secure its continued relevance today and to ensure that it keeps pace with developments in best practice. The changes to the diploma mean that all students are taught the relevant law for their own area of practice and are assessed on their competence. In this way employers will be able to have confidence in the newly qualified staff they employ.

Regardless of the area of social work in which students practise, they will all need to be knowledgeable about the laws under which social workers operate. They will need to be able to demonstrate in their practice placement that they not only know the law but how it works in reality. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, is so right when he says that no professional can hope to continue in effective practice without keeping up to date. We agree that it is essential that all professionals undertake continual professional development. I stress to my noble friends Lady Elles, Lord Campbell of Alloway and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that our model of social work training is to have a two-year basic course followed by post-qualifying education and training especially when questions of life or liberty are in question. Although I accept that that does not go all the way, I believe that it goes some way to meeting their aspirations.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, after gaining a qualification, another qualification is taken? I do not follow what the noble Baroness has told us.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, it is a two-year basic course followed then by modules which are specialist courses. For instance, if one is doing mental health work then one needs the extra qualification to become an approved social worker in this area. It is the same model which has been introduced very successfully for nursing under the Project 2000 scheme.

It is important that employers invest in the post-qualifying development of their staff. The central council agreed in 1992 to two levels of post-qualifying awards which are modular-based, and that is what I was saying. They can be acquired over a number of years. These awards will become available in the next year or so and should deliver expert and competent practitioners, but they are not in place yet. The scheme is just coming on-stream.

We have had concerns about the speed with which the post-qualifying framework has been implemented. We have therefore asked the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work to look at the framework, as a matter of some concern, to see how access to the awards can be speeded up.

Formal learning is one source for developing social work practice and it is important, but another essential part is supervision in the workplace. This supervision is not just about the management of work, but about what goes on in social work practice. It is a crucial element in developing both the person and the practice. In the days when my noble friend Lady Faithfull was a director, I feel sure that staff supervision was "normal" and was a key reason why her department was so outstanding. In recent years, however, that practice seems to have lapsed. We have therefore asked the National Institute for Social Work to start a programme of work around the theme of managing and developing practice expertise.

Both my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, spoke in favour of a general social services council to regulate social work. We are giving detailed consideration to the proposal. To help us in this, we have commissioned two studies to look into possible standards for all those working in personal social services. The reports are due very shortly and we shall consult fully on any potential standards that emerge.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, raised the issue of student loans. I am afraid that I do not know the answer because the Department for Education is responsible. However, I shall write to the noble Lady. She can rest assured that the UK system of a two-year basic professional qualification for social work, supplemented by post-qualifying education and training, does not put our social workers at a disadvantage compared with those in some parts of Europe where there are three-year courses.

As social work is not a regulated profession in the UK, it falls outside the scope of the EU directive. Also as an unregulated profession, the recognition of diplomas is not necessary for social workers seeking to practise in another member state. All that is required is information on the qualifications obtained by social workers wishing to take up employment in another member state. However, my noble friend Lady Elles is right that despite mutual recognition of qualifications, a member state would require a separate assessment of the knowledge of its law and language to establish whether a social worker from another member state was competent to practise. I shall certainly take my noble friend's advice and study the training schemes in other countries because however good we are—and we are good—I do not believe that we have a monopoly on wisdom and understanding.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred to the Probation Service. As we had a very full debate on that in your Lordships' House on 5th April, I shall not go into those issues tonight.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull has pressed hard for a three-year degree course for social workers. As she will know, similar proposals were put to the Government in 1987. These were rejected by the then Minister for Health.

There are still some good reasons for not changing the present system which is still new in its entirety. I shall cite four of those reasons. First, post-qualifying training and development allows employers to determine what specialist training staff require in the sure knowledge that there is a solid foundation within the Diploma in Social Work. This allows greater flexibility to employers and builds upon local needs.

Secondly, social workers comprise between 10 to 15 per cent. of the statutory social services workforce. The remainder are care workers of one type or another: home helps, residential and day care staff, and so on. The Government have a responsibility to consider the needs of all the staff in social services and to consider not only social workers but the training needs of all those involved in the care of vulnerable people.

Thirdly, to go down a compulsory three-year college-based route for social work qualifying training would seem to go against the trend towards work-based learning. The policy of a two-year diploma followed by post-qualifying training means that the expertise gained after initial qualification is a mixture of both practical experience and knowledge. This is what we need in social work: a thorough integration of experience gained from the workplace and the knowledge gained from academic work.

Finally, there is the question of cost. In 1987 the central council estimated that the cost would be in the order of £40 million—a substantial sum of money then and considerably more at today's prices.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway were right to raise the subject of resources. It is a question of priorities. Since 1987, we have introduced the training support programme—a specific grant—which now stands at almost £35 million covering the whole social services workforce and which supports almost £50 million of expenditure by local authorities on training and development. In addition, we have made £10 million available through the central council. This means that Government are spending well in excess of the £40 million that might have been spent on creating a three-year training course for social workers. This funding benefits all the social services staff—not just the 10 to 15 per cent. of social workers.

We believe that a two-year basic qualifying course is the right approach providing that it is supplemented by post-qualifying development. The department has invested heavily in the post-qualifying framework and is expecting the central council to implement it speedily.

I cannot leave this debate without saying a few words about the majority of staff in social services; namely, the large numbers of domiciliary care and residential care staff who deliver services to users day after day. Research has suggested that domiciliary care staff are in touch with almost 10 per cent. of people of pensionable age and that most elderly people who are housebound are in touch with the home help service.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, spoke with great insight about children in residential care. I know that he supports the 1991 Utting Report which found that not only is the task of residential care staff more challenging than ever before, but also that a substantial proportion of heads of residential homes for children were not professionally qualified.

That issue was raised also by my noble friend Lady Cox in her eloquent and hard-hitting contribution. My noble friend's views and those of the noble Lord were endorsed by Sir William Utting who recommended that all heads of children's homes should be professionally qualified and that up to one-third of care staff should also have a professional qualification.

I am sure that your Lordships will be pleased to know that the Government have accepted both recommendations and introduced the residential child care initiative as part of the training support programme. That has made available sufficient places on courses for all the unqualified heads of children's homes, but it leaves to the discretion of employers the proportion of care staff who need to be professionally qualified. The training support programme provides funding for secondments to diploma courses for those staff. The noble Lord is right that the people in charge of such homes are very special people who need special training to carry out their important work.

Your Lordships will know that the Government have been seeking to improve the skills of the whole workforce through the development of national vocational qualifications. In social care, there are now over 20 awards covering not only staff who work with children under eight but also staff who work with adults. New awards will soon be available for those staff who work with children over eight, including residential child care staff.

My noble friend Lady Elles explained eloquently the skilled and professional work that is carried out by the Caldecott Community, near Ashford in Kent. That community is fortunate lo have people of such calibre on its board of trustees. Its training course for mature students is something that we are watching with great interest. We believe that it is a worthwhile development and we wish all concerned well with that new venture.

In conclusion, the question raised by my noble friend Lady Faithfull is an important one. It is essential that we have social workers who are able to deal confidently and competently with the problems presented by children and their parents as well as those with mental illnesses, a visual or sensory handicap, elderly people and others who use social services.

Some may see the question of three years for the basic training of social workers as an ideal and, if money was no object, perhaps we would all agree. However, as your Lordships will, I hope, agree, the Government must pay attention to the needs of all social services staff taking into account the available resources. It is essential that all staff are equipped to carry out their work. To this end, we have introduced and maintained the training support programme which is very popular with local authorities. It not only funds particular training according to local needs but also helps social services departments to adopt a planned approach to training.

The Government will continue to make their contribution to the funding of the training and development of all social services staff, including social workers. Indeed, I hope that I have made it clear just how substantial the level of funding to social services training is this year.

I agree with my noble friends Lady Faithfull and Lady Elles and with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that social workers are often unheralded and unknown. Much of what they do is often unseen. In fact, we could say that the aim of social workers is to make themselves unnecessary. But, alas, they are necessary, and we need to hear more about their good work and ensure that with good training they are equipped to fulfil their difficult professional role.

We expect a lot from social workers. Sometimes we may expect too much. We need to be realistic about what they can do, and we need to support them with training that is relevant, right and of a high quality. That is what we are currently seeking to do.

7.20 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, first, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I am deeply grateful to them. I have had letters from six other noble Lords who wished to take part in the debate and who would have supported the Motion, but who were unable to be with us. I thank also my noble friend the Minister for her, as always, charming, good and carefully thought out reply. Sadly, I have to say that I could not agree with it, and I think she knows that. All of us, including noble Lords who were unable to be here but who would have liked to have taken part, will be disappointed that my noble friend does not feel that the Government can support a three-year course, something we have all recommended and for which recommendations have come from almost every university, the Association of Directors of Social Services, and the British Association of Social Workers. I am sad that the Government take the view that it could not be.

A two-year course with a post-qualifying course was debated in 1987. My noble friend the Minister said that we had not yet got under way with such courses. But that was seven years ago. The post-qualifying course may be working in some parts of the country, but it is not working throughout the country for the simple reason I gave earlier—that the local authorities do not have the resources to send people on the post-qualifying courses or to appoint staff to take their places during that year. So the post-qualifying courses are not working. I am afraid that is no good my noble friend the Minister saying—I am sure she will forgive me for saying this—that we are getting such courses under way. Seven years is a long time, so I am sad that the Government feel that they cannot support the Motion, particularly as I believe that such courses would be cost-effective in the long run, as I have said previously.

Some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, and my noble friend Lady Cox, spoke in stringent terms about the courses. I am glad to hear some stringency enter the debate. That is very healthy. But I must point out that the HEFC has looked into the training courses this year. It found that 20 per cent. of the courses were excellent and completed innovative, practical links with day-to-day social work, and that the had courses should not distort views about some of the good courses that we have.

As some noble Lords have said, in the past CETSW has put out some unwise political statements. That is not the case today. If I were to have a dream which came true it would be that there was to be a three-year course. I hope that the Government will take the view that the Department of Health took over the Children Act 1989, and issue guidelines. The Department of Health's guidelines on the implementation of the Children Act 1989 are splendid. I hope that the Government will issue similar guidelines on the training of social workers. I believe that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway will agree with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, and my noble friend Lady Elles spoke about the training of residential social workers. The children we have in residential care are the most difficult, the most disruptive and the most delinquent. Their residential social workers deserve a good training equal to that of field social workers. Field social workers and residential social workers must work in partnership.

My final point was not covered by my noble friend the Minister. She usually covers every point, and we greatly admire her position on the Front Bench for the Department of Health, but she did not mention the fact that social workers are equal colleagues, sometimes taking the major responsibility with doctors—the noble Lord, Lord Rea, will understand this—with teachers and health visitors, and yet they are not trained as highly as those colleagues with whom they work in partnership.

I again thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I would point out to my noble friend the Minister that there has not just been full support here for the Motion but there has been full support for the proposal throughout the country. Perhaps she will sleep on that tonight and think differently come the morning. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.