Frontline, The Care Review and the lost decade …..

11 July 2021

Frontline, The Care Review and the lost decade …..

July 11, 2021UncategorizedChildrens Social Care Review, Frontlinedianegalpin

A decade on from the creation of Frontline and the final conclusions of the Children’s Social Care Review some individuals careers have soared, riches have been enhanced, power, privilege & elite status have been grasped, bright futures are in clear sight… but alas not for those children and families at the centre of this continuing social work saga.

In October 2012 an early career teacher in his mid 20’s decided he was going to change the future of social work with children and families. So Josh MacAlister approached Ark Ventures, a global charity set up in 2002 by hedge fund managers, seeking support to develop a new programme of social work education based on a fast track teacher leadership training programme he himself had qualified through called Teach First.

Ark responded by providing £200,000 in seed capital so a business plan for Government funding could be submitted by MacAlister to start up Frontline. Support in developing the business plan was provided by BCG (Boston Consulting Group the 2nd largest American consultancy in the world). ‘The business plan was submitted in just four months, and used to secure over £15m of government and philanthropic investment to launch the venture’ (Ark Ventures).

The premise of the plan focused on the calibre of qualifying social workers and their education, suggesting both were inadequate for the task of protecting vulnerable children. To address the perceived failure of social work a new approach needed to be developed.

‘Frontline would be run as a social enterprise, independent from government and employers. It would recruit top graduates, commission and quality-assure the training, and develop a network of social work champions across the profession. It would develop formal relationships with other charities and corporate supporters. The long-term objective would be to build a movement of social work leaders who could tackle social disadvantage.’ (Mac Alister)

The business plan gained Government support, not least from the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.

In November 2013 Gove delivered a speech to the NSPCC in which he argued that social work training involved ‘idealistic students being told that the individuals with whom they will work have been disempowered by society’. Gove held that students were being ‘encouraged to see [service users] as victims of social injustice whose fate is overwhelmingly decreed by the economic forces and inherent inequalities which scar our society’. Gove suggested that the intellectual demands of many social work courses should be raised.

Just a year after the publication of MacAlisters plan Gove announced the creation of Frontline explaining it would seek to replicate the success of Teach First in education by recruiting the “brightest and best” – to social work.

The development and support by government of Frontline was controversial from the off with many in the profession taking exception at the comments of both MacAlister and Gove , neither of whom had ever been a social worker.

Critics suggested Frontline represented conservative ideology and the creation of a social work officer class (Murphy,2016). Accusations of elitism were at the forefront, whilst the exclusion of qualified and experienced social workers in its development was highlighted. I wrote my first blog post on Frontline in May 2013, where I suggested tackling issues such as inequality, poverty, poor housing, unemployment and low wages would make the biggest difference to the lives of the families many social workers are in contact with, rather than having a social worker with a good degree from a top university.’

Over the years many more blogs followed, more recently with the appointment of the lead for the Children’s Social Care Review.(i.e 2020;2021). However, mine is not a lone voice, many others have sought to provide analysis of what lies behind/beneath the rise and rise of Frontline and the Care Review and why it matters that this is discussed/debated i.e Ray Jones special edition; Christian Kerr; Donna Peach; Hanley et al, Care Review Watch Alliance

In record time interim findings of the Care Review have been published and featured in Community Care. Responses from social workers to the article echoed what I and many others felt, there was nothing new, the issues identified had been outlined by social workers on the actual frontline for over 20,30 even 40 years. The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect is well documented. Stress, burnout, heavy case loads, bureaucracy clearly highlighted by Munro. Ray Jones was highlighting issues re the privatisation of children’s services, along with the profits that would be made in 2015 etc etc …… So whilst these issues have been known for years, none appear to have been a priority for Frontline and the lead for the care review. However, what has been prioritised is the development of networks of power with an elite leadership placed in strategic positions, drawn primarily from Ark, Global Management Consultants, supporters of the Conservative party and Teach First. These networks continue to occupy key positions within the infrastructure that surrounds children in the UK and will shape the future of social work. Those who occupy these positions will not critique government, and will not openly seek to challenge government on their role in supporting increasing poverty and structural inequality which impacts so negatively on children and families lives. (see Ray Jones special edition and Galpin, 2021).

It has taken nearly a decade and many many millions (£45 just for 2020-2022 to train 900 social workers + £141,000 salary as care review lead for 1 year ) for the care review lead to finally acknowledge what we all already knew, …. but leaders of the profession have not been interested in listening to the voice of social workers, those social workers they branded nearly a decade ago as of ‘inadequate’ calibre, and even worse those who were idealistic and believed in social justice …….!!

Next year the review will conclude , rushed through and shaped to provide the ‘evidence’ to deliver a predetermined outcome many fear … most likely the much lauded ‘Blueprint’ … the plan written by an American Management Consultancy agency (BCG), the same plan the one independent author, Brendan Martin the managing director of Buurtzorg Britain and Ireland, withdrew his support for as drafted, showing much welcomed respect for the grass roots voice of the social work profession, suggesting that the emphasis on organisational restructuring rather than working with social workers and service users from the ground up was misguided (Hanley et al)

If this comes to pass we will see another decade of lost opportunity and millions more that could change childrens lives spent on what now seems like a vanity project as yet again the elite leaders of the social work profession continue to disregard the ideological & political drivers of the structural oppressions that leave children vulnerable and adults lost and without hope.

A decade on from the creation of Frontline and the final conclusions of the Children’s Social Care Review some individuals careers have soared, profits have been enhanced, power, privilege & elite status have been grasped, bright futures are in clear sight… but alas not for those children and families at the centre of this continuing social work debacle.

In 2010 MacAlister was a potential candidate for a by-election in Oldham East, his bio concluded

“…..and regardless of whether he can make it through such a tough field of candidates, he’s certainly one to watch for the future.” (LabourList)