Like many Social Workers, I have been desperately holding on to the dream that maybe one day the promises of a ‘different way of working’ will come true. Change, is, and always on the cards within the day-to-day life of Local Authority work. However, ‘Real’ change does not happen as often. When Eileen Munro reviewed the child protection system there were plenty of areas that needed improvement. No one could argue that this was not true.
The level of red tape often meant that social workers were not spending enough time with children and families – this had to be cut and reduced, with more autonomy to be given to each Local Authority. In order to adapt its policies and procedures, to meet the needs of the child in need within its area. Consideration was to be given to the journey of the child through what is and remains complex and often slow child protection system, before a permanent placement could be found either within the family or away from the family.
Sadly, like any other great idea it comes at a cost – one where savings need to be made, ring fenced budgets removed and the consequences higher if mistakes or errors occur. Of course this is really important, Child deaths are completely unacceptable as is any child abuse.
But and there is a but! a big one as well. Is the continuing rise in cases being held by social workers and the one factor that makes a difference to the quality of work being completed. A factor that will stop social workers seeing children, completing their assessments, direct work with families and ensuring that their case recordings are completed. Let alone complete the research they need to keep their learning up to date.
It is easy to see how social workers can ‘burn out’ very quickly as the better you are at understanding complex cases the more you have. Where new procedures at the front door and early intervention work is supposed to be reducing the number of cases needing statutory assessment and intervention. The actual number of referrals continue to rise, as does the growing level of cases being held by social workers.
Whilst this Government feels and focuses on the need to better educate or create super social workers, the reality remains, that this will not resolve the current situation in social work. Even the strongest of social worker can only manage the daily pressures and struggles for so long before the pressure becomes too much. Armed with the knowledge however, that the grass is not greener anywhere else, often social workers are faced with hard decisions when the levels of stress have reached capacity. Meaning often social workers leaving front line social work with their experience and knowledge lost.
So as the number of cases rise so do the numbers of social workers leaving, making it more complex for local authorities to recruit and maintain experienced staff.