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Protest, Norwich Job Centre

Protest, Norwich Job Centre
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Friday, 14 November 2008

child protection and social work

These are my views on why child protection, especially in relation to the social work profession, is failing in what are rare but tragic instances.

Firstly: people who go into social work as a profession mainly do so because it is about a career in helping others. The International Federation of Social Workers’ Definition of social work is: “The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.”

The role of ‘social policeman’ markedly conflicts with this basic purpose. Social workers are not trained to interrogate, arrest, forcibly remove and deprive of liberty and deal with violence and aggression - and for the majority who enter the profession, these activities are anathema to professional and personal values.

Consequently, when those activities have to be carried out by the ‘social policeman’ - because the government and the social work employers dictate that they have to be - they are carried out unwillingly, clumsily and less than competently. They have also, in the UK, bred intense distrust of social workers making it extremely difficult for them to carry out their real professional tasks to do with helping and empowering people to survive in society.

Of course social workers are naturally involved in child care and that necessitates a large contribution to child protection but they should be removed from the direct child protection policing role - they are the worst people to have to tackle this.

Secondly: local authorities (the main statutory employers of social workers) are quirky beings. They are leviathan tangles of managerialism and degenerate bureaucracy. The usual reason cited for the local authorities being the locus for social work is that they are ‘democratic!’ The sad reality is that it is the salaried executives and senior managers that run and drive these huge (since Maud in 1974) gormenghastian conglomerations; not the elected councillors.

Any social worker will tell you that the reasons for their entry to the profession, the knowledge, the professional values and ethics and the skills learnt in training and education, are thrown into the corporate lime pits the minute they sign a local authority employment contract. And the toxic influences of career progression coupled with mortgage necessity soon complete that caustic erosion. The drive becomes loyalty to the employer and subversion to the organisation’s own needs - not “the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being.”

The all-pervading preoccupation within any local authority is finance - how to maintain budgets. I suspect that to be one of the motivating factors in the case of baby P for a lack of further decisive action (I see there had been at least one prior removal from home). I can see a manager supervising a social worker for the family saying “we can’t afford to take court action - the fee has gone up from £150 to £4,800 - don’t do anything yet! I was reminded of this universal priority yesterday at a conference looking at action under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Mental Health Act 2007. The delegates were pretty evenly split between NHS and Social Services (I think I was the only service user there) and in a discussion about preventative services one social services manager pointed out forcibly that ”behind every activity undertaken by social worker or social care worker, there is an immediate price tag and we always have to consider that first.“

The local authority is the entirely wrong base for statutory social work.

Thirdly Social workers have no career structure. Whatever skills, knowledge and experience they do manage to pick up after they have qualified are lost - generally within two years of qualification. The professional social work practitioner has nowhere to go but into middle management where they are soon transformed into bureaucratic automatons (some maybe maintaining a deceptive facade).

We should have a structure consisting of small organisations of professionally autonomous social workers with a career path to consultant level and with adequate administrative back up and professional (not management) supervision.

One of the losses to UK society in all of this is that the valuable social work function of forming a long-term working relationship with someone in difficulties and using advocacy, and enabling, educational, groupwork and sometimes psychotherapeutic skills has largely gone. Form filling, computer database maintenance, community care assessments, reviews, meeting about meetings leave no room for this - even if the local authority would allow it!

I would go as far as to suggest that had a social worker been working in this way with baby P’s mother and family, he would not be dead now.

CORRECTION. The hypothetical scene with the supervising manager advising the social worker to do nothing yet because of the court fees is unlikely to have happened in the case of baby P because the fees were not raised until May 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank your article. I'm a social work student in China.


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