“We must always ask ourselves what difference we make for children”
Steve Hunt, Cafcass Assistant Director and former Ofsted inspector, shares advice and learning from his social work career and time with Cafcass, as he retires.
Just say yes.” This is Steve Hunt’s philosophy when being presented with a challenge or new opportunity. It was advice given to him early on in his career. “It’s stuck with me, to always take on the challenge. If I were to sum up my career I’d say it’s been a combination of this and being in the right place at the right time.” Alongside “retaining and being driven by your values and ideas of respecting people,” it’s the advice he’d pass on from his 37-years in social work.
Involvement in research highlighting the experiences of homeless single persons with the Centre of Environmental Studies in 1977 first motivated Steve to train in social work. He began his career with East Sussex Children’s Services, going on to train social work students for the Home Office and teach at Brunel University. Then followed a 10-year stint as an Ofsted inspector, before joining Cafcass.
Greater recognition and understanding of issues affecting children and families
During this time Steve has seen a huge shift in societal and legislative recognition of child physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, domestic abuse, child trafficking and honour based violence. “After incidents like the death of Peter Connelly society has woken up to the reality and risks for some children. We’re understanding more and more about behaviours and underlying traumas, and improving how we respond.”
One of Steve’s most significant contributions to child safeguarding was as lead HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) in the Inspection Thematic on Domestic Violence in 2005. Steve wrote the report, informed by a working group comprising of seconded Cafcass staff, Women’s Aid, judges and academic experts. It helped shift attitudes around domestic abuse and impacted on the course of the Children & Adoption Bill: providing a prompt for the amendments which saw the Cafcass risk assessment (16A) placed on a statutory footing.
Time at Cafcass
Fast forward six years and Steve was helping improve practice from within Cafcass, joining us in 2011. “Having inspected Cafcass Kent when it was a struggling area meant it was a huge personal challenge for me to come in and turn things around as Head of Service.” He merits the collective action of local managers Peter Richardson and Sorcha Morgan, together with a practice and business services team committed to positive change.
“We all worked incredibly hard and put the hours in – a collegiate approach. We were elated when we got to Good with the last single area Ofsted inspection.” This is striking when talking to Steve – his achievements are all rooted in being part of or leading a team, and by building positive relationships and mutual respect. He’s taken the same approach with Cafcass Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Dorset: growing and maintaining a high performing area.
Measuring the impact we make for children
Another legacy has been Steve’s work on child outcomes to measure the positive impact we’re having in cases. “I’ve been driving this since my inspection days – we must always ask ourselves what difference we make for children? What is the point of the activity we carry out?” He’s also been behind various projects to improve writing across Cafcass, including being the strategic lead on the writing project with the Royal Literary Fund. “Translating clear thinking into clear writing is imperative to the social work task but this should ring true for all communication we produce, whether that’s in practice or our corporate teams.”
Steve’s interest in reading, writing and the arts is featuring in his retirement plans, and as many at Cafcass were unsurprised by, cycling, with a three week tour from Saint-Malo to Nice. “After that, I’m interested to see what happens. There’s a long list of things I’d like to do, but I’ve enjoyed every bit of my social work career – it’s been a privilege.”