Orders of the Day — Child-Care Officers

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1964.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacArthur.]

12.13 a.m.

Photo of Mr Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Pontypool

I am grateful for the opportunity to bring to the House the apprehensions that the present shortage of child-care officers is bringing the children's service near to breakdown in many areas. This is not a local problem. It confronts local authorities throughout the country. In Manchester, despite the most active endeavours by the local authority, only 16 out of 32 established posts are filled. In Wiltshire, with only 50 per cent. of the establishment filled, the position is deteriorating as overburdened officers unable to cope with the weight of work resign from the impossible stress of full-time work and opt for part-time work only. In Wales, there are counties like Denbighshire where there has not been a fully qualified child-care officer in the employ of the county for more than a decade. One large north-eastern authority has been advertising 11 vacancies for months and no qualified child-care officer has applied for any of those posts.

The result of this shortage, when, for every three child-care officers needed, not two exist, is grim overwork. Many child-care officers are trying to deal with caseloads of 100 to 115, and all that they can do by working long hours cannot enable them to deal adequately with those under their care. Always, they are burdened by a consciousness of pressure and a shortage of time. Officers are dealing with emergency work which is not of an emergency nature in essence, but it has become so because normal work is left until it assumes emergency proportions.

In this situation of strain, is it any wonder that more than 100 child-care officers last year gave up child care altogether? Undoubtedly, the community is paying a heavy price for the total failure of the Government to build up a structured pattern of professional training for case workers sufficient to meet the needs of children in difficulty.

White Papers abound telling us sorry tales of criminal statistics. Royal Commissions and advisory boards multiply, while the Government, in the meantime building better gaols, more approved schools and more detention centres, charge them with finding a solution for the growth of crime. Yet everyone but the most wilfully purblind knows full well that a high proportion of existing delinquency and crime has its roots in the problem family, the deserted family and the fatherless family, where children are brought up lacking the certitude and direction which can be gained in more fortunate and confident homes.

The child-care officer, above all else, is the one who can stretch out a hand and save little ones born into these handicapped families. But to deal with these groups, often so refractory and exhausting, is tough, and the supportive work needed to be done can rarely be performed effectively by an over-burdened, harrassed and insufficiently trained amateur, however enthusiastic.

Eloquent moral exhortations from successive Conservative Home Secretaries, which sometimes ill become them, will do nothing to contain crime. If they were less prolix in their indignation at the alleged deterioration in moral standards and more active in providing training facilities to produce an adequate supply of skilled child-care officers, they would be doing something much more constructive.

A recent survey conducted by the Association of Children's Officers giving details of the number and qualifications of staff in local authority children's departments in England and Wales illustrates the seriousness of the present position. It shows that there is in the country an establishment for about 1,980 child-care officers. On 31st January, 1964, there were staff vacancies for no fewer than 237 child-care officers, some 12 per cent. of the total establishment. When it is remembered that there is a wide range in the establishment of different local authorities, even if they are similar in size, and that many of us feel that many local authorities try to manage with a less than adequate staff, it will be realised how serious is the staff situation.

Shortage of staff is a serious problem, but equally serious is the quality of the staff actually employed. Only 30 per cent., or about 535, of officers in the service and in posts on 31st January, 1964, were fuly qualified. Most depressing of all was the position of new entrants to the profession. Of the 429 new staff employed by local authorities between 1st February, 1963, and 31st January, 1964, no fewer than 30 per cent. had no appropriate academic qualifications. In fact, only 30 per cent. were fully qualified.

Another depressing feature is the distribution of qualified officers throughout the country, a very high proportion choosing to work in the south-east of England. In Wales, for example, more than three out of every four employed child-care officers are unqualified. Wales has only 4 per cent. of the total qualified child-care officers in the country.

An estimate of future needs for child-care officers is not so difficult to make. What we do know is that there were increases in establishment of 413 from 31st July, 1962, to 31st January, 1964.

A considerable expansion is bound to follow the passing of last year's Children and Young Persons Act. The children's officers estimate a need for approximately 330 additional child-care officers during 1964–65. To this figure of 330 must be added a figure to cover wastage during the year. The figure for the year 1st February, 1963, to 31st January, 1964, was 240, so that a figure of at least this must be allowed for. It appears, therefore, that a figure of 570 child-care officers will be needed for the period 1964–65. If the needs of the voluntary organisations such as Dr. Barnado's Homes, and adoption societies and others are kept in mind, a figure of at least 600 must be accepted. Although it may be difficult to be certain that this figure of 600 will be an annual requirement, all the indications suggest that during the next few years the rate of expansion will not decrease.

When we compare the need of approximately 600 a year with 129 qualified new entrants who entered the service for the first time in the year to 31st January, 1964, we can see how utterly inadequate the training programme is. I want to ask the Government. first, do they accept the estimates of the professional organisations, and if they do not, why not? Indeed, if they discount them, what are the Government's estimates? Have they any? If not, why not? Knowing the need and knowing the extra burden which the 1963 Act places on child-care officers, why have they not yet calculated the figures required? Is there any truth in what I regard as the calamitous suggestion that 300 a year is the Government's aim? Is this correct? Because if it is, it is clear that all that is being done is planning for shortage.

In another place, three months ago, we heard from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that expansion was a need recognised by the Government. The question which I put is: by how much? Will the Government tell us how much expansion, after three months at least in which they have recognised the need—and it seems a little belated to have recognised it only at that time. How much expansion is intended? For example, will the Government consider the possibility of new crash programmes which are clearly needed, such as the establishment of social work training colleges. In Wales, all we have is one small training course for social workers, for five or six people in Cardiff and a course for a similar handful to start in October in Swansea.

May we have an indication that the Government, as a minimum, would prompt the creation of facilities for the 17-monfh postgraduate training course for students who have taken their degree in subjects not necessarily related to social administration? Wales has an exceptionally high proportion of graduates, and such a course would be invaluable.

Finally, could not another look be given to the present maintenance procedures for student grants? One of the most fruitful potential fields for recruitment is the 21 to 25 year age range. If, when a graduate in this age group is making decisions about his future career, he finds that a decision to train to be a social worker means continual parental involvement, this may be more than enough to make him reject the idea. But we need men as well as women desperately to go into the child-care service and the grants and salaries should be available to attract them.

At this time there is great public interest and concern—much, alas, little more that prurient curiosity—in the number of homosexuals in Britain. Boys growing up either in fatherless homes or an hermetically sealed female staffed children's home often have no opportunity to identify with grown-up men. Sometimes, as many a child-care officer has said, the only man the little child boy may have any relationship with is the milkman on his rounds. Such a little boy, engulfed in a feminine world, may so falter as never to find his masculine rôle.

This is the sort of reason why we have such a need for more men coming into the child-care service and I hope that tonight the Parliamentary Secretary will at least give some assurance about the future training courses so as to allay some of the widespread concern which is felt on the future of this service.

12.26 a.m.

Photo of Miss Mervyn Pike Miss Mervyn Pike , Melton

I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has raised this debate tonight, because it has presented an opportunity for an expression of the anxieties we all feel about the future of the child-care services.

If I may for a moment strike a personal note, I could not but help feeling, as I listened to the hon. Member, that it is 25 years since I sat up waiting apprehensively for the result of my own examinations to become a welfare officer; and how my professors, eminent members of the party opposite, warned me that I was entering upon a career in which I should find few suitable openings and that there were no great hopes for my future.

Yet the fact is that there have been dramatic changes over this whole field. Even within the last 10 or 15 years we have all had to revise our estimates of the needs in this field because, more and more, we have come to a realisation of the importance of the preventive side of our work, not only in preventing delinquency, but also in strengthening many of the positive aspects of our society as a whole.

Of course, there is the charge of complacency, but I do not think that we are at all complacent. Indeed, ever since the inception of this service, we have been concerned that there should be an adequate number of welfare officers able to do this work, and I hope that I shall be able to answer most of the questions which the hon. Member has put to me tonight. He will appreciate that there is the difficulty of time in a short debate of this sort, but if there is anything which I leave unanswered, I promise that I will write to him and try to give the best answers that I can.

First, I would like to put the whole thing into perspective for the benefit of hon. Members, and those people outside the House, who may not have a full appreciation of the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend. I must remind them that my right hon. Friend has no direct responsibility for the staffing of these services.

The Children and Young Persons Act, 1948, placed the responsibility for the local authority child-care service on the councils of counties and county boroughs, a duty which they discharge through their children's committees and children's officers. Local authorities, therefore, and the voluntary organisations who perform extensive and valuable work in this field, are responsible for appointing their own staffs and for fixing the levels of establishments.

They are also responsible, of course, for determining, through the appropriate negotiating machinery, the salaries and conditions of service. It is true that the cost of the local authority child-care service is partly borne by the Exchequer by means of the general grant, but my right hon. Friend has no express powers in relation to the size of child-care establishments.

However, this is far from saying that he has no interest in this matter, or that we do not share the hon. Member's concern over this problem. Indeed, I should like to make it clear that we are anxious that the child-care service should be adequately staffed and we are deeply conscious of the problems that local authorities and voluntary organisations have to face. Perhaps I could mention three of these problems in particular.

Local authority children's departments have engaged in a wide range of work, and I think that it is the general experience that the work involved in deal- ing with individual cases is getting more complex and more difficult. This applies not only to the work of the field staff, but also—and this is a point which does not always receive the attention which it merits—the work of the staff in the residential establishments for children. In view of the welcome rise in the proportion of children placed with foster parents, the proportion of the children remaining in residential care and who need special attention, is also increasing, so that the staffs of children's homes are having to become experts in handling children with complex personal problems of one kind or another.

The second problem, which primarily concerns child-care officers in the field, is the additional work arising from the operation of Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1963—a provision which we all welcome. The purpose of this provision is to diminish the need for children to be received into care, and it is early days yet to know how this work is evolving in practice; although it is, however, clear that it will need an increase in the staffs of children's departments.

The third problem, as the hon. Member knows only too well, in this field, as in many others, is the wastage of staff. This is a problem in all other professions, too. I do not want to take up time in developing the point, but wastage is a major factor in the staff shortage. It is due partly to the large number of young women coming into the service who leave upon or soon after marriage. On the residential side, it is largely due to the conditions of service and the conditions of the job.

I turn now to what is being done to solve these problems. While my right hon. Friend has no direct responsibility for staffing, he has a direct responsibility for training. As the hon. Member has said, it is upon the quality and the training of child-care officers that so much depends. In 1947, the Home Secretary of the day set up a non-statutory body known as the Central Training Council in Child Care, whose terms of reference were to promote facilities for training in child care and to select persons for training". As hon. Members know, the Council is under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Moncrieff. Its members are selected for their experience in a wide range of work connected with children and the training of staff for social work generally.

The Council itself does not run training courses. These are run by the universities and other education establishments, usually after consultation with the Council and sometimes on the Council's initiative. The council usually advises on the contents of the course. Within the financial limits set by the Government—and the hon. Member will know that this is always the limiting factor—the Council offers assistance towards the cost of running the courses and to the students in training.

Both the Council and the Government are as aware as anybody else of the need, and the increasing need, for turning out trained staff. I know that the view is held—the hon. Member has expressed it forcibly tonight—that we are not increasing the programme fast enough. Before I comment on that, it is only fair to give the House figures to show what has been done and what has been planned for the immediate future.

As to child-care officers—that is, field workers—the number trained in the late 1950s was between 50 and 60 a year. In 1960, the number was 50. This figure has since been steadily increasing and the expected output for this year is nearly 190. The number expected to complete training in the next two years, for which firm plans have been made, are about 240 in 1965 and about 300 in 1966. That means that over the period from 1960–1966, there will have been a sixfold increase in the number of staff trained annually. I think that the hon. Member and everyone who has knowledge of the scarcity of people for this work will agree that this is a significant achievement.

Then, there are the staff who are being trained to work in residential establishments for children. The number trained in 1960 was 168. The figure has risen to an expected output for this year of 320 and under present plans it will be about 340 for each of the next two years. I should explain that all these figures include a certain proportion of staff who had already been serving in the child care service before undertaking training. The House will, I think, agree that this increase in traininig has been substantial and shows the concern of both the Central Training Council and the Government to provide the child care services with suitably trained staff.

As to whether the programme has been adequate to keep pace with the demand, I should like to make two points. The first is to state that only in the last two or three years has the need for an even larger training programme been widely canvassed. We must be sufficiently careful and just not to judge past efforts by current opinions and by future needs and developments. The second and more important point is that the Government must see that there is a fair distribution of resources among the many and increasing demands which are made for training and further education of all kinds.

I recognise, of course, that any restriction or limitation must be discouraging to the hardworking authorities and staffs in this sphere. The Government must, however, take into account all the many deserving claims on their resources.

What of the future? Here I must return to what I said earlier about the Home Office not being responsible for the establishments of children's departments. A consequence of this is that we have not had records automatically available to us of local authorities' existing and estimated future staff establishments, nor have we thought it appropriate to invite local authorities to submit returns to us. But in view of representations made to my right hon. Friend we have discussed this with the local authority associations and the London County Council, which have agreed that since there has been a steep rise in the forecasts of training requirements we had better collect information from each local authority.

We are now in the process of collecting from local authorities information about their present staffing position and estimates of their staffing needs over the next few years. This procedure will be on a regular footing and will enable us to keep the situation under review. The initial survey is now under way and the results will be available soon. When they have been collated they will serve as a basis for assessing the size of the training programme which is needed, and the Government will have to decide, after taking all other claims into account, what resources can be made available to undertake that programme. I shall not offer any opinion on what the final outcome of this exercise is likely to be, but I can promise that the review will be carried through as a matter of urgency.

I have dealt at some length with the question of training both because it is the sphere in which my right hon. Friend has direct responsibility and because, without question, it is one of the most important questions connected with the staffing of the child-care services. But it is only fair to say that these services never have been, and cannot for the foreseeable future hope to be, fully staffed by persons holding the recognised qualifications granted by the Central Training Council. I say this because it is a simple fact and because it puts the question of training into its proper perspective. We must pay due respect to the contribution which child care staff without formal Central Training Council qualifications make to the running of the service, and the service will continue to have need of these devoted officers.

Having dealt generally with the question of training, I should now like to say something about the position in Wales. Our information is that 24 per cent. of the child-care officers employed by local authorities in the principality—that is, 23 out of a total staff of 95—possess the professional qualifications awarded by the Central Training Council. This is below the national average for England and Wales, which is 30 per cent., but it is higher than in certain other parts of the country. I should like to say at this stage that the information before my right hon. Friend indicates that the standard of child-care services in Wales compares well with that in the rest of the country.

At present, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is one course in Wales approved by the Central Training Council where child-care officers can train; that is the applied social studies course, run by the University College of Cardiff. This caters also for probation officers and can take up to six child-care officer students. In addition, in October of this year a second course is due to open at the University College of Swansea, which will take a further six students. It does not, of course, follow that all the students trained on these courses will take up posts in Wales, since students are free to take employment wherever they choose; but this second course should make a significant contribution to improving the position in the principality.

I cannot make any forecasts about the future since it is not practicable for the Central Training Council to work on a principle of maintaining strict parity between different regions in any expanded training programme, but I can promise that the need of Wales will be kept very much in mind.

In conclusion, I should like to put on record once again the debt of appreciation which the Government and the House and the country generally owes to the staff of the child-care services. I hope I have been able to show that the Government are very conscious of the need to ensure an appropriate level of training, in a field where there is great competition for available resources. I can assure the House that the claims of the child-care services for the fair share of those resources will certainly neither be overlooked nor under-rated.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes to One o'clock.