Job ads for social workers only tell part of the Croydon story

Our Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on an outbreak of doublespeak in a recruitment drive for the council’s ‘inadequate’ children’s services

Croydon would be unrecognisable to the people who actually live and work here if they had to rely on the descriptions offered by the council in a recent flurry of recruitment ads for its under-fire social work department.

Croydon Council’s self-descriptions in its recruitment ads might merit a complaint to Advertising Standards

This month, Fisher’s Folly’s recruitment drive has seen ads appear for one of the top jobs, the fancily titled “Executive director for children, families and education”, which will offer a salary of the order of £150,000 per year for picking up the shitty end of the stick left by Barbara Peacock after last summer’s Ofsted inspection of the council’s children’s services found them to be “inadequate”.

Also on offer is a role of “Services manager adolescent services”, on up to £64,000 per year, or team managers for the same adolescent service (“Can you champion and drive service improvement by leading from the front line and working alongside our partners?” the council ad asks, offering £55,000 pa to those who can), as well as multiple social worker jobs (on £47,000 per year), in what appears to be some of the toughest areas to work, including gangs and child sexual exploitation.

It is worth remembering that according to Ofsted, one of the principle reasons that Croydon’s children’s services failed its inspection was because of the too few social workers employed by the council, and too few of them being experienced staff, after multiple rounds of redundancies and “reorganisations” – a euphemism for job cuts, many of which will have been authorised by Peacock or her erstwhile boss, Jo Negrini.

The resulting failings saw Ofsted write of real risks to the well-being of some of Croydon’s most vulnerable and cared-for youngsters, which in one case may have contributed to the death of a child.

Now, the language used to recruit staff to plug the gaps in the failing department are full of vacuous platitudes and other egregious examples of meaningless councilspeak. And some of the claims made for Croydon might even be worthy of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency.

Council CEO Jo Negrini: oversaw job cuts

For the top job, the ad blurb cheerily claims: “Come and join us in one of the biggest, friendliest and hardest working boroughs in the country.

“We have a powerful and passionate commitment to improve our services to children and young people as quickly as we can.” That “powerful and passionate commitment” comes in the form of orders from Whitehall, and includes having a team of social workers on site from Camden, because Croydon can’t be trusted to run the department themselves.

This advert’s wanton puffery is the work of a City-based firm of headhunters, a recruitment agency called GatenbySanderson. Presumably, the council can’t trust itself to recruit its own senior staff, so is spending additional public funds in hiring the agency to do that for them.

The ad states, “With a strong network of professional support, additional investment in social work capacity and performance moving in the right direction – the building blocks are all in place for us to continue our upward trajectory.”

“Continue our upward trajectory”? Seriously?

Of course, in a Wildean sort of in-the-gutter-looking-at-the-stars way, when your department is rock bottom and officially rated as “inadequate”, the only way is up…

Didn’t last long: exec director Barbara Peacock

“We are looking for an exceptional social care professional with a clear vision and understanding of where we want to be and how we are going to get there… Your determination to deliver high quality services for the children of Croydon will shine through and you will inspire confidence across our social care workforce and with all those involved with our improvement journey.” Is this suggesting that, perhaps, previous holders of this job did not “inspire confidence”?

Community Care, the social work website, is carrying a “sponsored feature” (which is doublespeak for paid-for advertisement) from Croydon Council under the heading: “Can you see the real me?”, above a quartet of suitably be-hoodied youths who look far too well scrubbed and groomed to have ever had the misfortune to encounter Croydon social services…

In a special panel entitled “Why Croydon”, the ad takes a few liberties with the truth when it states: “Just 15 minutes from central London and Gatwick Airport”, so the ability to make a quick getaway must be considered to be attractive… “Vibrant culture and night life… Reasonable house prices… Great shops and Westfield Croydon under development… 117 parks and green spaces…” And then the real slam dunk: “Relocation package worth up to £8,000.” Cushty!

The paid-for advertorial is based around comments attributed to Hannah Doughty, who joined Croydon Council last November in a new role, one of those created in response to the Ofsted criticisms, covering what is called “targeted services”, which appears to include some of the toughest areas of work, including child sexual exploitation, missing children, “the gangs team” and the youth offending service.

“A small but significant group of adolescents in our London borough face serious risks outside their home: drug gangs, knife violence, sexual exploitation. Many people have already given up on them, but not us,” the article states.

“At Croydon we are building a new integrated service just for them. A service that sees the vulnerable child behind the outward facade and gives them the help they need to be safe.”

The council recruitment ad for social workers. Some of the claims made are, at best, misleading

According to Doughty, “Most adolescents who are challenging are really funny – they have a great sense of humour and a lot of them are entrepreneurial.”

The ad explains that Croydon’s new adolescent service will bring together all services supporting teenagers at high risk. There will be two adolescent support teams that “bring together the complementary skillsets of social workers and youth workers”.

It appears from her interview that Doughty has fully subscribed to the council policy of never actually mentioning that the Ofsted report last year found Croydon’s children’s services to be inadequate. “Our Ofsted outcome last September galvanised us to improve the way we work with young people,” is the cheery way the new recruit diverts from the seriousness of the situation.

The euphemisms don’t stop there. “What I’ve found in Croydon is that there are a lot of adolescents who need social workers who enjoy a challenge,” Doughty is supposed to have said.

For a council that admits it has struggled to recruit enough, experienced social workers, they must be hoping that this job ad doesn’t deter too many top-quality candidates.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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