Tag Archives: Munro

On the Rise.

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.

You, Me and Social Work

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.

‘The one and only one’

For many years social work assessments have been the main focus for debate and questions within the media and social work practise.  First we do the Initial assessment, then if we need more information we complete a more fuller core assessment.  The time scales for these assessments were set in guidance regardless of the need or risk.

A good assessment will lead to good interventions and positive outcomes, with key decisions being made on the basis and quality of the assessment; but a bad assessment will lead to poor interventions and outcomes for the children.  Historically, social work assessments have focused on what has worked well with families and have been rigid in the time scales for completion, with the needs and risks in individual situations being assessed in detail before judgements can be made about what interventions and services would be appropriate.

Therefore there has been some interest from children social workers with regard to how social work assessments in the new ‘Working Together document 2013′  would bring the changes that Munro had explored and described in her papers about child protection.   In essence the new ‘Single Assessment’  as recommended  by Munro has been developed and given the go ahead by the Government to be implemented by each Local Authority as they see fit, after being trialled and developed in eight local authorities.  The single assessment combines and replaces the Initial Assessment and Core Assessment, and has the flexibility of the time scales to be set by the social work manager assessing the case.  Bringing with it a new theory and practise, in order to manage and complete the essential social work assessment, whilst retaining the Assessment Framework Triangle and remaining child centred.  The aim being that the plan is developed and identified right from the very first visit whilst along side this the social worker completes the assessment.

‘Assessment is the foundation for all effective intervention: as such it needs to be grounded in evidence from research and theories’ (Baldwin and Walker)

The single assessment brings with it a new way of social work practise, for social workers to be not only ‘Emotionally Intelligent’ but also have ‘Creative thinking’

A sense of being able to look at familiar situations in a new light.  This is important way of avoiding getting bogged down in routine, standard ways of working that have limited effectiveness’ (Thompson and Thompson).

For me as a social worker I have seen that this has brought a positive change in social work practise, there is now a definitive sense that social work practise is looking at its knowledge base to evidence its work, training is being developed and focused on ensuring assessment skills and theories are relevant to the current pressures and demands being placed on social care departments at the moment.  Quality in social work practise is being sort and demanded from social workers not for the image of social work, but for positive outcomes for families and children and because we are being starved of funding to support all but the most needy.

However, Community Care looked at what has changed two years on from the final Munro report? and whether social workers do feel that there has been any big change since Munro’s recommendations.   We finally have the a slimmed down Working together document, but despite this the paperwork remains incredibly high and case loads remain high.

Despite this ‘Can there only be one?’ is the single assessment a better way forward removing delay between the assessment and the date from when the support can begin, requiring good management over sight to ensure that delay does not happen on the assessment.  It allows the social worker to look at outcomes rather than assessment looking at the services the child may need.  Furthermore it allows the social worker to develop a better understanding of what the risks are and what the strengths are within the families.  Rather than looking at what has worked with other families it allows the social worker to be creative to develop an evolving plan and evolving assessment that changes with each new piece of information to reach the outcome established at the beginning of the assessment.

I think the answer is that there can never be one assessment, but a continuous assessment that allows an understanding that we can never look at a snap shot and that the plan should adapt with every new piece of information.

Urgent Review!

Just in case you were not sure, an urgent radical reform of social work is required for child protection practise, an understatement by a mile!  I am of course referring to the recommendations made by Lord Carlile of Berriew following his analysis of Child Protection in Doncaster .  However, amongst the obvious comments and arguments made after this very serious review of a very violent attack, made by two looked after children in 2009, a very real point has been made.

‘Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the report shows Whitehall intervention isn’t working.

‘Government intervention is not working!’, the drive to make austerity savings and reduce red tape has blinded the government on the interventions that it believes that it is not so effectively making.  Removing ring fenced budgets, cutting budgets and can anyone remember the ‘Big Society?’ have all blurred any effective policy that the government has tried to install, after the Munro Review and now Lord Carlile’s review.

Again I can not help but worry about the comments that Mr Gove has made about social work and its interventions, about a service doomed to the dreaded ‘tick box’ bureaucracy created by ICS – which is ironically a great system to store all the information you need, but just badly! A system that came about as a part of the Laming Review and Every Child Matters – unless we do not have any money then, Mr Gove wants Social Care to find its own solution and to point the finger when it goes wrong.  Of course I can not blame all of this all on the current government after all it was Labour that responded to Lord Laming’s response to Victoria Climbe .  Just to point out that in this document there is a call to drive change in child protection in a positive quick approach and to improve assessments by being able to get information fast – Sounds familiar! (Munro review, Khyra Ishaq)

After all maybe a review of how the Government looks at its own social care policies is needed, I would not want to raise the Jimmy Savile subject and his relationship with the Department of Health that appointed him into a position to carry out this level of abuse!

But to come back to the recommendations from Doncaster and the Urgent and radical reform of child protection practise! Cough how urgent? I recently went for a job interview and part of the knowledge that I had to demonstrate was about the ‘Change Programme’ from Every Child Matters that was written in yes 2004! called ‘Every Child Matters: Change for Children’ which talks about a multi agency front door team that can gather information quickly using a triage system to assess the level of support and when it is needed.

So how seriously does the Government take child protection change, how serious is it at driving through change? Social Work has learnt from its mistakes and Eileen Munro’s review of Child Protection is good evidence of this and I wonder whether Mr Gove has read it? or supports it because the Child’s journey through child protection is very important as is the core principle of the ‘Children Act 1989’ which is where possible to keep families together!

I just wonder!



Room to think!

One thing that is always true in social work is the fact that you continue to reflect about almost everything that happens throughout the day.  And this got me to thinking about where is the best place for social workers to be working to do this.  The picture above is a call centre, but is so close to what my office looks like that it worries me, in fact at least these workers have sound boards to prevent the noise going side ways.
The office space that social workers work in has always been a hot topic to discuss and one I first wrote about in ‘fish bowl working‘  but over the past two years a lot has changed and significantly about social work practise and a time has come that the profession of social work has needed to be taken seriously, regulated and more importantly founded in a culture of learning and research that is respected in the courts and by other professionals.
So here we are two years on, with funding that has been cut to all services and an increase by the public of an awareness of the flaws in the current child protection system.  Which could not be ignored and lead to the Munro Review, which is still to be fully implemented.  We have had along side this with children in care teams a trial of Social Work Practises  which has recently had a review that can be found here.
Which leads me to where I again started to reflect about the location that I work, the office above is neither supportive of reflective practise or one where you can think, learn and share good practise.  But perhaps more importantly it is removed from the community and the children and families that we are supposed to be working with.
Maybe I am not the only one but I certainly feel like that I am where the world has gone mad.  In an attempt to achieve the change needed in Child Protection a ‘Systems thinking’ approach is being used to improve outcomes for the children and their families.  Where the key resource is the social worker for them.  BUT we continue to be hidden in our hard to reach, far removed office location where the council is trying to save money by selling off buildings and cramming all services in to one location.
So with positive changes comes another brick wall, which requires good will of other services to lend the use of their buildings when they are empty in order to deliver the service that is essentially needed by the most vulnerable people who may not always want to make the long journey to County Hall, to discuss their worries and fears in a room that is not friendly or supportive.
Please please if we are going to improve social work, lets not stop half way make the changes count and enable better social work practise at every level of reflection, learning and allow it to be open to inspection from the people that most need it because they can drop in and speak to a social worker whenever they wish.

Safeguarding v Safeguarding


Ding Ding round one! A common theme I always here is that working with looked after children is not the same as working in child protection – or its not ‘Safeguarding’ young people.  It is almost the same as “My team is better than your team” attitude, and one that makes me angry as it shows a real lack of understanding of what Safeguarding is and what child protection is.  With five years experience of both I feel that I have a good understanding of what this means for both a child at home and a child in care.

So I was surprised to here back this week that I did not have enough ‘Safeguarding’ experience.  A comment that I almost choked upon, and had to quickly test whether the person making the comment understood what they had just said.  It was clear that they did not as they quickly tried to further evidence their statement with no real further understanding of social work.  A typical problem for many recruitment teams for Local Authority’s.

So what is ‘Safeguarding’ and what is ‘Child Protection’ a definition can be found on the department of Education’s website here:  But just to be clear

Safeguarding is defined as

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined as:

  • protecting children from maltreatment
  • preventing impairment of children’s health or development
  • ensuring children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care.

and Child Protection is defined as:

Child protection is a part of safeguarding and promoting welfare. It refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering, or are likely to suffer, significant harm.

It is clear to see why some families would become upset with social workers who are working closely within child protection if they themselves can not understand what the safeguarding work is and the child protection work they are doing.  After all the aim is not to remove the child, but rather ensure families can remain together.

Furthermore with the rise in investment of early intervention this is even more important in preventing vulnerable families to fall through the still newly protective services designed to prevent social work intervention and child protection plans where they might not be needed.

It does then worry me, how this can be actioned if the aim of the work can not be understood or for social workers to be able to develop a skill set need to work with vulnerable harder to reach families and young people that require safeguarding and child protection interventions.

Moreover, I can see how newly qualified social workers continue to struggle to find work when social work management are set on finding the ‘right’ type of social workers using the new language of systemic practice and systems thinking that basic language such as ‘safeguarding’ is forgotten.

I hope that this is a blimp and not a return to a school playground scenario of one side chanting my team is better than yours, with the chorus being repeated from the other side.  I know that I will be challenging this view and hope that for those working in child protection or with looked after children that they remember

Effective child protection is essential as part of wider work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, all agencies and individuals should aim to proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of children so that the need for action to protect children from harm is reduced. (department of Education)


feeling valued


Have you ever wondered if you were considering leaving social work what the reason would be? A common theme is the high case load and the pressure spent on completing paperwork rather than the quality time needed with the young people.  Community Care have completed their own research that evidences the strain every social worker is under here.

After all if you do not have the time to do the work needed with families what is the point? Well there is always a point when preventing significant harm, but a short term fix is not a long term solution and having worked with many young people who remain in confused about the reasons they are in care or deeply affected by the abuse they have suffered.  I can understand why and how this can disillusion a lot of good social workers.

But what I do see a lot of is social workers leaving because of change! The change programme that is being designed to bring radical change to social work and allow social work to be redesigned and allow face to face work again.

And it is not that this is a good idea, but instead the short sighted attempts by the Government and the pressures placed on Local Authority’s to make these changes without the funding and systems to do this safely.

Where a basic investment in the staff is low priority, where consultation takes place staff are shouted down and ignored so that senior managers can achieve the savings needed.  It is these changes or lack of that I am seeing on a daily basis, causing greater pressure and a feeling of disillusion.

It is this detail that will have the greater impact on social workers and whether they will be able to continue their work.  The systems that are employed can assist or more often than not disadvantage the social work process.  Which could mean a big difference for young people and their families.

I guess for me I will continue to speak up about the process and how change takes place, and so should everyone else in the appropriate manner.  Hopefully then the change that does happen will be considered and thought out rather than forced upon.

future changes

There is one thing that I can say about social work, and that is you never really know what direction you could be going in. What I mean is that working in a Local Authority you are always subjected to the effects of budget cuts, and in all the years that I have practised the budget has always been reduced.

For some of us in social work especially children services we became excited over the prospect of social work becoming social work again. So looked forward to the next change with a glimmer of hope that it would bring the promise of more direct work.

It appeared that the sun was going to rise upon the social work profession. A new body monitoring and regulating social work practise, The College of Social Work to offer support, guidance and much more. The Munro Review providing the argument and understanding why the change is needed for social work and a direction that it could take.

But like a firework display on a very wet night the hype was there and dampened by the rain it so far has not amounted to much. The promise of reclaiming social work may still be a dream relying on social workers to give more of their own time to offer a small percentage of what the greater public expect of the profession.

The effect is staff that burn out, children and families that stay in distressed states unable to manage and unsure what is happening. The trouble is that often intervention for families does not need to be at a high level, often intervention at an effective level at the right time will prevent stress and separation within families. And the changes that are still promised in social work are geared up towards this work.

The trouble is everyday that passes by leads to the risk of another serious incident putting young people and adults at risk of significant harm. Although serious case reviews take place and learning is applied to professional practise, this does not give the information needed by each local authority to redesign their provision to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Change will happen, I am sure of that but what I am not so sure of is whether it will bring with it a glimmer of hope. A service that can prevent family breakdown where possible. A service that keeps children safe at home and when they are in care, can invest in better quality contact and therapeutic interactions.

But don’t be fooled every day positive work still goes on, social workers going beyond what is expected for the people they work with. It is also important that social work myths are challenged and dispelled and it was good to see the three-part TV series Protecting our children. I hope that more will follow and show all aspects of social work in the same caring positive light.