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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

All Silk Suits and Cherried Hats

This entry may appear to be a departure from the subjects of PPI, LINks or Disability Rights and Equality.


The fact that LINks, unlike its predecessors, PPI Forums and Community Health Councils, has equal legal responsibilities for monitoring local authority social work and social care in addition to NHS still hasn’t fully registered.

For years - at least since the Seebohm reforms of 1970 - very many of us in professional social work had quickly recognised one of the many reasons for the ineffectiveness and failures of the system of social work in the UK and we have been pointing this out since 1970.

That reason was that the local authority structure, culture and career gradings in social services departments led to social workers wanting to progress in their careers having to move into management positions. A system which remains in place today with minor financial encouragements in the last couple of years in some authorities to remain as senior practitioners.

That system means that just three years on average after qualifying, the practising front line social worker moved out of direct work with people, thereby losing the opportunity to continue to gain experience, further learning and honing practice skills. Imagine this in the NHS!


The corollary is that those new social work managers may well keep up with theory, but they move gradually away from their commitment to professional social work values (although they may deny this), their practice skills fall out of use and they mostly develop, inch by inch, a work ethic of supporting and promoting organisational policies and needs which a good deal of the time run counter to professional social work values and good practice.

So why “All Silk Suits and Cherried Hats”? Look at this:

  • A Chief Executive of a local authority

  • A Chief Executive of a children’s charity

  • A Corporate Director of a Council

  • A Director of Research and Practice

  • A Director of Service User Involvement

  • A Vice-president of a children’s national association

  • A Head of Service from a local authority

  • An Executive Director from a local authority

  • A Principal Care Manager from a local authority

  • A UNISON national officer

  • A Director of Community Services from a local authority

  • A BASW Professional Officer

  • A Professor of Social Work

  • A charity Chief Executive

  • A National co-ordinator of a service user charity

  • An agony aunt from a national tabloid newspaper

Now to me, it’s a basic axiom that if you want to know how a toilet is installed, you watch a plumber or you get a plumber to tell you.

The above list is the membership of the Social Work Task force, appointed by the Government in the wake of the baby P tragedy to look at what is wrong and right with social work. OK, so were all aware of the sort of perverted elitism which pervades the corridors of power - elevated technical snobbery. But surely this is too important a remit to throw common sense away.

To my mind the only people who make any sense being there are Anne Beales, Director of Service User Involvement for Together (I have seen Anne in action and know that she continuously works hand in hand with service users, has not an inch of elitism and is a front line worker) and Maxine Wrigley from A National Voice. They are the only one’s there who have any up to date knowledge and experience of what it is like to work directly with people with social problems, sometimes in very harrowing circumstances; all of the time in stressful circumstances; sometimes in threatening circumstances; and sometimes in violent and frightening circumstances.

To make any sense whatever the members of that task force should be made up of the social work equivalent of plumbers, engineers, mechanics, carpenters. plasterers, painters and decorators - the only people who know what it is like to work hands on in the front line of social work - hampered by the bureaucratic barriers thrown up by managerialism. The elite positions and distance from actual practice of the people appointed mean they cannot even communicate easily and comfortably with those in actual practice. Sheer brain popping stupidity!!!

And an agony aunt from the Sun Newspaper!!!

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