How can I compute the process of going into peoples’ homes, often relying on good relationships which have been built up over weeks, months or years and telling them that there is no money left, that services need to be cut with my ethical compass and my adherence to a code of practice for a profession which has, at its heart, a struggle for social justice?
It’s something I’ve been toying with mentally over the past few weeks and months. I suppose in some ways this post is an attempt to become an apologist for my own practice but while I know many would argue against my justifications I can’t honestly afford to throw away my job so what can I do to ensure that my moral compass is retained.
Well, I can do my best to advocate. I can tell people about complaints procedures and urge them to use those self-same procedures to make their voices heard. Maybe when council members see the letters flowing through their respective mailboxes from constituents they will pay heed to the effects of the decisions they are taking but I’m not confident that many will take that path. Complaining, unfortunately, is too closely associated with negativity. It shouldn’t be. A complaint is, in some ways, the best way of learning about what a service needs and lacks. I wish everyone complained more. I have been subject to a fair number of complaints over the years and after the initial jolt of damaged pride, I honestly think they have been extraordinarily helpful in the long run.
The last complaint I received which referred specifically to me was from a woman I had been seeing for a while and we went through the process together of setting up a personal budget and support plan. The indicative budget though, was not enough to provide the services that she felt she needed and so the support plan was lacking in some areas that she felt were important to her – simply because there were limited resources. So she complained. She complained that I had not been able to meet her needs and also that I didn’t visit her often enough.
By the time I had explained my actions to my manager and written a draft response to the complaints department, I had been able to give everyone along the way an earful about exactly why I felt the process of determining an indicative budget from a Self-Assessment Questionnaire was fundamentally flawed and discriminated against people with mental health needs.
Her complaint gave her and others like her a louder voice.
I object and shout and discuss the processes that I see within the local authority systems but I still implement them. Does that make me less of a social worker? Again, other issues that I ponder aloud. I have tended to think that outside statutory services one might be able to take a more idealistic view but the building of competence, relationships and understanding within statutory services are a key part of the role as well.
Interestingly, when I think about the moral dilemmas of my work and how I practice, it is far more the issues that come up on the care management side that vex me because they are about the scarcity of resources. It might be more obvious for me to think about the controlling statutory role and power that I have as an AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional) to deprive people of their liberty by making applications to detain them in a psychiatric hospital without their consent.
I find that part, ironically, a little easier to equate with my role due to the best interests aspect and knowledge that decisions that I make under the Mental Health Act as an AMHP are ones that I, alone, am responsible for and in that role I am not a functionary of a local authority machine but I am responsible for my own decisions to admit or not to admit. While there is, without doubt, an ethical dilemma present in almost every compulsory admission, it feels different when I am solely responsible for taking that decision and can weigh up the issues myself.
So is this post an apology for the actions I take on a day by day basis in being an instrument of some of the harshest cuts in the social care systems? Yes I think it is.
As much as I strongly disagree with the way that the cuts have been weighted against those who have least, I am still instrumental, amid growing caseloads and shrinking resources in being the front ‘face’ of them to many people I know and who know me. I’m the one who tells them respite services are closing. I’m the one who tells them they have to have a pre-cooked meal delivered rather than a carer actually making a meal for them.
If everyone had what they needed though, it would be a delightfully easy job. As it is, I continue in my role and yes, complain about it, but try and use all my energies outside my work to take the fight back to the politicians and the officials who rely on people like me to implement the cuts they decide on behind the closed doors of power amongst themselves.
I genuinely think that it is not possible to be an effective social worker without a thought or concern for promoting social justice and both equality and equity of resource distribution.
And with that, I try to ease my struggling conscience. It is a struggle though.
- Ethics and Community Practice (almostclever.wordpress.com)
- When it’s all too convenient to lock up mental health patients | Alex McBride (guardian.co.uk)