It sounds like a film title but sadly it is not. Instead it describes the constant questioning many social workers ask themselves over and over. Working in front line child protection will always raise tensions and frustrations, within ourselves and the social workers we work with inevitably leading to clashes of thought, personalities and outcomes. This is not social work as we might want it to be, although many people may recognise the tensions and dilemmas that are experienced in front line practise. As social work practise and theory changes the aim is to become more logical and systemic in the analysis, removing the clashes and tensions for a more logical thought process. Gathering data and information with the aim to process this more efficiently in order to understand what the concerns are.
But have the changes in social work improved the working conditions for social workers? sadly not. The competing challenges of meeting targets mixed in with overcoming societies social and economic difficulties matched with a combined reduction in services and not forgetting the aim of trying to do some direct work we all trained for. However, the strain of the changes is showing in many way different ways and worryingly it is the capacity to manage the amount of work that is being referred to Social Care for assessment. Strain and pressure on a fragile service that remains high risk for the vulnerable children that need safeguarding and also a service vulnerable to a Government that would be happy to shut it down.
For me and social work this year, I have had to learn and develop a resilience to these pressures. Rebuild my strength and resolve to focus on what I believe is good social work practise and promote positive social work intervention. Often meaning even when I have felt like walking away, I have had to pick myself up and up the social workers I work with. In order to give them the focus and reflection they need to remain focused on effecting positive change. Whilst watching others argue and buckle under the same pressures and for some this has been too much and they have felt the need to move on to different pastures.
Social work practise may have changed and for the better, but its time to be honest and admit that the pressure has not. The expectation that no mistakes will be made with high case loads, lack of resources remain. Furthermore the expectation that as a social worker you will work long hours often unpaid and unrewarded will be a standard expectation and if you don’t do this you will be challenged and criticised for not meeting the expectations put on you. So how can you enjoy positive work with families and children when the one thing you need is time is not available. When even if you find the time and space you need, the ability to reflect and research the information you are given is not there because the pressure the service is under means you have no manager, no supervision, no colleagues to explore ideas with.
This might be what the Government wants, waiting for another major failure to attack and destroy social work. But for you, me and social work we all need to continue to fight and improve the service we provide through better communication and learning from each other.