Press views


A lot of mileage over the past couple of days here in the press following the attention which has put the profession into the spotlight following the ‘Baby P’ case which has villified both individual social workers and the profession as a whole.

Without wanting or being able to judge individuals, it is quite interesting to see the press reaction to the failings in a particular case and in a peculiar system. Perhaps it is an unfortunately presented opportunity to put the profession into the public consciousness and to examine what it is that makes a social worker and what it takes to become one. Possibly a theme I’ll return to at some point.

The Guardian offers a statement from the chairman of BASW in a column, along with a personal piece from a practising, anonymised social worker.

Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said his members were tired of being made a political football, damned for intervening too much or too little depending on the circumstances of the latest case to hit the headlines.

As well as a comment piece explaining the place of social work in child protection cases (the comments to that piece make quite salutary reading).

The Independent also runs comment piece on the support that is needed for social work and some of the shortcomings in the system.

Social work has always been a Cinderella service, underpaid, understaffed and under-resourced. Social work does not enjoy the reputation and intellectual standing of medicine nor the national pay scales and career path of teachers. A social worker with 10 years’ experience will be lucky to earn over £30,000. The result is that the most difficult and damaged children end up being looked after by the least able and worst paid staff.

I wasn’t sure whether to leave that last line in. It grates a little to be classified as ‘least able’ but I then considered that all opinions are valid and I shouldn’t be too defensive in the face of errors having been made.

The Times also presents an interesting piece reflecting on some of the initial errors of judgement that might have focused the minds of the social workers involved in this particular incident and concludes that

But no amount of child protection legislation can ever substitute for properly trained professionals knowing how to think straight amid chaos, with strong leadership from their managers.

And Lord Laming speaks, also in the Times, at the conclusion of the Baby P trial.

On a far less lofty level, yesterday, I was chatting to some of the other social workers in my team. We don’t all work in the same office – the joys of multidisciplinary working! We had congregated in one of the offices though and one of the consultants came to find one of us. She chuckled as she referred to the ‘gaggle of social workers’ (there were three of us!) and asked us if we were feeling defensive that morning.

Well, not until you mention it actually.

5 thoughts on “Press views

  1. Hi CB thanks for your thoughts: here are mine:

    The central problem of this case is the tendency of bureaucracy to be counter intuitive and for professionals within that bureaucracy to believe that the structured confusion they adapt to is both human and humane.

    It isn’t.

    Design and implementation of administration, monitoring of case work is based on a professional theory of ‘mind’ that does not consider real time and accruing issues for organisations that need dedicated community support (that itself is monitored.) over much longer budgeting periods.

    It is no good to be able to ‘fit’ face to face substitutes into any case management template. Professionals know this, and like deceitful and manipulative people they often work with, adjust their responses to the template rather than the job they really want to do.

    Professionals need genuiness of purpose and real time community involvement in local areas that is budgeted for and seen as essential community and professional development.

    This is the burning issue, now, for all bureaucracies, especially medical, social work and health professionals and the police service: how do they begin to create a workable connection with the really disconnected parts of our innermost cities (and souls) within a technological infrastructure desinged for the most part by very young people who live in the perpetual, fragmented now of frustrated online desire?

    Systems of bureacucratic management of social problems are designed within this kind of mindset and, instinctively, professionals react ambivalently to this technology. At the moment it’s narcissistic, we need people designing systems for social work professionals of all kinds who have worked in social inclusion successfully across the world.

    The ‘older ‘ generation need to bite the bullet and get into their virtual and real neighbourhoods and reclaim the territory creatively and constructively: the unemployed, the housewives, the offenders, the retired are all restricted in their activities, restricted in being able to connect with the social problems around them because of this one dimensional bureaucracy and red tape.

    If people felt their neighbourhoods: the empty properties, the shop units empty, the failing businesses around them were part of their neighbourhood and not just part of ‘the market’…if government would give the green light to Job Centre Plus to pay unemployed people, say £100 per week to choose a business or issue they want to help, give a structured account of what they want to do with that business or issue and a time scale, then you’d begin to make up the real gap in our society between the brutalised and the professional metricators and people would be able to help each other rather than just hate each other.

    What do you think?

  2. This is a tough one. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a social worker who works with kids. It must be increadibly difficult balancing welfare issues. The thing that bothers me most is that as long as people are blaming the social workers, they are removing blame from the perpetrators. They battered and abused this baby. They are the people to blame here. Yes, there was a fuck up. But the outrage is being aimed in the wrong direction IMO…

  3. And those were the comments on the Guardian website. I can’t imagine what other sections of the media might suggest

  4. Paula, I think grass-roots work is extremely valuable. If and when people feel the community connection, it has positive effects in a lot of areas and this is included.
    C-D – I agree that I never want to defend poor practice but sometimes it doesn’t seem that the same standards are being judged against across the board – the medical professionals don’t seem to garner the same attention! Although I’ve never worked in child protection, I did train generically and know lots of people who do. I don’t and never have envied them their jobs.
    TT – I had a brief glance at the Sun and the Mail but I beat a hasty retreat.

  5. I think that something has definitely gone wrong in the baby P case, but I am always profoundly uneasy about the tendency to ‘blame the stranger’ instead of the parents. I think that we as a society haven’t yet faced up to the fact that most child abuse occurs in the family, and so we blame the social worker, or the doctor, or the police; anyone who is at one remove from where the abuse has actually occured. I’ve done a post on it at my blog if you want a look.

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