Follow The Sun

Yesterday the make up of the shiny new government Task Force on Social Work was announced. This is a focus group who are to be involved in the ‘root and branch’ review of front-line practice of the Social Work profession as a whole in the UK.

The ‘team’ has been put together by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families – Ed Balls and the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson and are due to report back to the government this summer.

That doesn’t leave them a lot of time. Of course, I am sure there can be a million different views about the rightness or wrongness of the composition of this committee. Social Work runs across childrens’ and adult services. Social Work covers a wide gamut of interests and experiences. It is difficult for a committee which is small enough to function effectively to be large enough to address the differing aspects of the profession so the hope is that those groups not having a place specifically on the task force will be considered and represented by those who do have a voice.

The task force (I don’t know, that just brings back memories of the Falklands Invasion to me) has the usual members, some front line workers, some academics, some chief executives – but there is one member whose presence really is staggering.

Deirdre Sanders, the agony aunt of The Sun – remember, the same tabloid newspaper that carried out a vitriolic witch-hunt against individual social workers and organised a petition against them – has a place on this Task Force.

image mysza831  at Flickr

I’m sure Deirdre is a wonderful human being. She writes very sensible letters in the newspaper (so I’m told). Am I the only one to be staggered that the social work profession has to engage journalists to discuss the future of their profession though at this level? Sure, if it were a task force on the ‘perception of social work’ or ‘improving the way that social work is reported’ she would be a valuable member of the team –  but honestly, a committee which is tasked with making changes to the social work profession?

It feels a bit like Ed Balls playing (again) a public opinion game with a profession that has had too much political interference for its own good.

Emma Maier considered this at The Social Work Blog and looks at both the positives of Deirdre’s appointment, namely that

giving The Sun the inside track on the taskforce could be a clever because it is always more difficult to slate something you are involved in. Having the popular press on side would help convey some of the important messages to come out of the taskforce. And the rest of the taskforce seems to offer a good spread of stakeholders from children’s and adults’ services.

It is something I hadn’t considered initially but then, why should a team of professionals who are conducting a serious review of the needs of social work in the 21st century have to get ‘popular press’ onside. Why should we, as social workers, need to work hard to involve tabloid journalists in our professional goals and developments. We should look at how social workers can work most effectively and beneficially for the public good and for the individual users of services rather than pandering to public agendas created by popular journalism.

Can we imagine a task force of any other professional group involving an ‘agony aunt’? OK, excepting a task force of journalists.. I guess that would work.. User involvement is represented quite rightly on the task force so why appoint a paid employee of the Sun newspaper. Will her presence, as I’m sure she is extremely articulate and able, overpower and detract from the serious discussions that need to take place about social work. Is this a true and honest attempt to improve and create a fundamentally workable system or is it a publicity stunt by Ed Balls. Again. Who seems to like using social workers are political footballs.

As for me, I feel honestly, insulted that my profession cannot be given the respect should command by the government.

I await the report in the summer with interest and no little trepidation.

13 thoughts on “Follow The Sun

  1. I think (unfortunately) that this is probably setting a precedence of allowing the popular press (which covers everything from the Sun to the Daily Mail) access at a level of government which creates a rather unholy alliance of policy makers and policy reporters. It’s a definite insult to the profession of Social Workers but also a bit of a joke in the arena of free press (not that the rags are worthy of any kind of serious journalistic accolades). Perhaps the Sun will be the first into the area of Ministry of News, proles beware?

  2. Chuckle – It is quite a precedent isn’t it? The more I think about it, the more annoyed I become.

    SWE – I know. I know!

  3. I hope so, Reas and of course, whatever we think,it is happening now but I am concerned about what signal is it sending about the work that we do, if a newspaper agony aunt is seemed appropriate to have on a review panel to discuss the future of social work.

  4. Quote from the column above”My profession cannot be given the respect it should command by the government”Even the government must reflect the opinions of the people and Jack Straw thanked the Times for their long campaign outlining amongst other issues the failings of the profession! The reasons are made clear from recent cases; On the one hand a boy removed for a small pimple,two children brutally snatched from their loving grandparents to be adopted by two gay strangers,a father ordeed to give a vital organ to his son but forbidden to even meet him or tell him he had a father ! babies removed at birth from loving mothers for “risk of emotional abuse” for adoption by strangers.Witchcraft suspected in the Orkneys,split up scores of families.The list is endless!
    On the other hand baby p with a broken back and multiple bruising callously left to die and also Victoria Climbé,and Maria Colwell with similar injuries ! Single mums and respectable families are easier targets than brutal stepfathers or violent new partners in sordid surroundings and much less risky !
    Get your act together showing compassion for the weak and firm action against the brutal and the strong and respect will be regained without new committees composed of worthy members of the establishment !

  5. Ian – I am by no means defending poor practice and never will. Mistakes made have absolutely tragic consequences but for me that is all the more reason that publicity stunts need to be avoided.

  6. Progress is slow, but the Times campaign (articles every day for a week plus 2 leaders) produced a favourable reaction from Jack Straw.(point 1 he agreed with and will change the law accordingly) I reproduce the Times 10 point plan below for comments as I believe no views were expressed on these suggestions by the “SS”,the legal profession,the judiciary,or other politicians of influence (level ministers or shadow ministers;)
    The “SS” always say they cannot comment on individual cases(not true as they can with permission of the family concerned) but they do not comment on suggested reforms to the system like the 10 point Times plan below.

    1. Open family courts to the press in all but exceptional circumstances (as recommended by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee).

    2.Let any parent or carer accused of abuse call any witnesses they need in their defence. At the moment, they are routinely refused permission to do so.

    3.Give automatic permission for parents who are refused legal aid to get a lay adviser to help them present their case. This is routinely refused.

    4.Remove the restrictions that prevent families from talking about their case (as recommended by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee).

    5.Review the definition of “emotional abuse” across local authorities, to make sure that it cannot become a catch-all for overzealous officials.

    6.Provide an automatic right for parents to receive copies of case conference notes and all evidence used against them in court, just as they would in a criminal trial.

    7.Create an independent body to oversee the actions of social services, with proper sanctions. If that body is to be the General Social Care Council, make it easier for parents to go directly to that body rather than having to face delays from the local authority.

    8.Let children in care waive their right to privacy if they wish to speak out. For gagging children is surely not consistent with promoting their welfare.

    9.Restructure CAFCASS, the Family Court Advisory Service, from being an organisation that reports on the parents to the courts to one that actively promotes the parenting needs of children. The primary focus should cease to be assisting the court process. It should be diverting parents away from contested hearings into the making of parenting plans.

    10.Review the recent legal aid cut-backs that are deterring lawyers from taking on these complex family cases. It is quite wrong that desperate parents are unable to find a lawyer to help them in their time of need.

  7. As to the composition of the panel they should have people like Camilla Cavendish,John Hemming MP,Charles Pragnell, or even myself so that those who believe there is a need for urgent reform at least get a voice and a chance to put the “opposite point of view” to that generally debated!

  8. I can’t say I agree but differences of opinion are never a bad thing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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