Clock on a pressure valve

Social workers need support not proscription in tough times

The social work profession has come under a lot of pressure recently as social workers find themselves caught up in damaging public debates about their role in keeping children and families safe.

Accusations of failure and incompetence appear in the press regardless of the myriad reasons behind these so-called practice failures.

An example of this was reported last year when a social worker was hauled up in front of a panel of the Health and Care Professions Council’s (HCPC) conduct and competence committee accused of failing to make regular visits to some children on her caseload and to maintain adequate records.

Luckily, the social worker at the centre of the HCPC judgement was allowed to continue to practice, but under proscribed conditions. Nevertheless, the panel did acknowledge that she “clearly had a too high workload” and that “some aspects” of her “supervision “appeared to be “lacking”.

While working conditions worsen as a result of ongoing budget cuts and the HCPC brings further judgements against social workers, inevitably the debate has to involve the recurring themes that have a hugely negative impact on the social work profession.

These themes include:

  • high caseloads
  • lack of time for reflective practice
  • adequate supervision
  • little resources
  • inadequate funding.
Keeping people safe, independent and supported

Effective and good social work helps to ensure a well-coordinated and holistic approach for people of all ages to be safe, independent and supported.  It is in particular the frontline services that ensure children in our most troubled families are supported, flourish where possible, are safe and kept out of harm’s way.

At a time of more integrated working among professions, and more personalised ways of delivering services, everyone concerned needs to be clear and confident about the unique skills, powers and responsibilities that social workers have to offer.  As social workers we play a pivotal role in supporting people who find themselves vulnerable and those that require protection.

In a changing world of policies, procedures and political agendas we recognise that this simply can no longer be done on our own and that we must continue to rely on co-operation and action by other agencies and professions.

Working with partners to make a difference

Social work brings core expertise and specialist skills into a partnership with the individuals and families who need us and with the other services from partners that can make a difference. These all remains hugely important for the health and equality in our society and with adequate knowledge, skills, confidence and support it makes a huge difference.

We should continue with a huge determination to make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable people. It is now time to face up to the task, take control of the profession and get social work right for the future.

There are many, like me, who recognise the need for change and are ready to set out on a path of improvement, but social workers need to be involved rather than follow decisions made without their expertise (please read previous blog).

We are needed now more than ever.

By Marisa De Jager