Destruction of Social Work
Written by The Guardian Social Life Blog
In a response to the growing number of child sexual abuse allegations, David Cameron has argued that social work interventions and specifically child protection work can be delivered by using “common sense”. Higher education institutions delivering social work education and training have also been criticised for focusing on theory and avoiding practice issues, being too left wing, and concentrating on sociological and intellectual materials at the expense of training students how to be social workers.
These criticisms aren’t levelled at other professions, such as nurses and lawyers, that work with vulnerable groups and individuals. And this leads me to question what these criticisms are really about.
Social work education and practice is distinct from other professions, and is underpinned by a commitment to social justice. Social work seeks to tackle inequality and discrimination by bringing a unique perspective to society and human behaviour. It’s also important for social workers to have a willingness to change and critically reflect on our work. In addition, we are governed by a set of professional values that students and practitioners must abide by.
These critiques of social work education are not new, and are largely ideologically driven, espoused by politicians and commentators who view childcare social work as about rescuing children from wicked parents.
In England, there is a political appetite to remove social work education and continuing professional development from universities, and instead fund private businesses to train student social workers and future social work leaders (such as Frontline). There is, as yet, no evidence that these training programmes work or are effective or able to resolve the issues, such as rescuing children from abusive parents before it’s too late. Nor, as far as I am aware, is there an appetite for privatisation of social work education in Scotland.
Students who attend university are motivated by more than just their course of study. They establish long-term affiliations with an academic institution and access many other developmental opportunities, including sporting activities, societies, community volunteering, as well as making new friends and relationships. In the universities I have worked in, I still meet students who are the first member of their family to go to university. The widening participation agenda is particularly pertinent to social work students, who often enter study through a non-traditional route, bringing a wealth of personal experience as well as a drive to make their world a better place.
Contrary to political opinion, social work academics are not divorced from practice once they are based in universities. There are many ways in which we retain involvement in and understanding of practice – through partnerships with agencies, undertaking research with and about social work services, and people who use these services, including parents and carers. Most social work academics work directly with students and placement providers, supporting students through their practice learning as well as in their academic work.
Social work academics are also willing to fail students who do not achieve the required grades, or meet the standards for social work practice. Student social workers have the same opportunities as other students to retake assessed work, whether that is academic or practice based. But regulation of the profession means that students must achieve specific learning and professional goals in order to register for practice. In a nutshell, social work academics in universities take the training of their students very seriously.
Coming in the wake of horrific stories of neglect in places such as Rotherham and Oxfordshire, the plan is to be put forward by the prime minister at a Downing Street summit. Cameron will say: “Professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure.”
Child sexual abuse is to be upgraded to the status of “a national threat”, so that it is placed on a par with serious organised crime by police chiefs and elected police commissioners in their strategic planning. They will be required to cooperate with other police forces across county boundaries to safeguard children.
Cameron believes his plan to extend the offence of wilful neglect beyond the health service and adult social care sector to a far wider group of public service workers will send out a message that child abuse can no longer be regarded as a second order issue by public service workers. He hopes the reforms will herald a culture change and come close to meaning that public service workers would lose criminal immunity if they failed to report or act on clear evidence of abuse.
The wilful neglect or ill treatment offence was first introduced in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act passed earlier this year. It applies to individual care workers or care provider organisations looking after children and adults in the NHS and adult care homes. Some critics have claimed that the measure is likely to threaten the desired culture of openness in dealing with the problem and could lead to scapegoating, whereby individuals are blamed for organisational failings or lack of public funding. But Cameron will say: “It is about making sure that the professionals we charge with protecting our children – the council staff, police officers and social workers – do the jobs they are paid to do.”
Police and social services in Oxfordshire are expected to be heavily criticised on Tuesday in a report that will conclude that more than 300 young people, mostly girls, have been groomed and sexually exploited by gangs in the past 15 years. One social worker in Oxfordshire recently told a trial that nine out of 10 of those responsible for the wellbeing of the girls were aware of what was going on.
In Rotherham, it was estimated by Professor Alexis Jay in August that at least 1,400 children were sexually abused over a number of years. The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has sent commissioners to run almost all aspects of the council for four years.
Cameron is to order that exit payments be denied to senior staff found to have ignored evidence of abuse. Local health and child professionals, in conjunction with councillors, will be obliged to prepare long-term practical plans to uncover child sexual exploitation and bring more offenders to justice. Failure would incur tough consequences.
Cameron said all the inquiries into child abuse had found a systemic failing and a culture of denial. He has already proposed the implementation of joint official health, police and education inspections and the creation of a child sexual abuse taskforce of professional troubleshooting experts in social work, law enforcement and health to provide support.
Cameron said: “We have all been appalled at the abuse suffered by so many young girls in Rotherham and elsewhere across the country. Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet – often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness. That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated.”
Cameron is aware that Ukip leader Nigel Farage has been trying to exploit the evidence of child abuse by members of ethnic minorities to demand tougher action. Speaking on Fox News in the US last week, Farage said the reason child sexual abuse in Rotherham had not been dealt with earlier was that “the police and the authorities were frightened that because the perpetrators were predominantly Pakistani Muslim men that, if they said anything about it, they might get called racists. So, we have been frightened of our own shadows.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the Cameron plan did not go far enough. “Stronger laws are needed to protect children. The government should bring forward a legal duty to report child abuse, a new specific offence of child exploitation, and new child abduction warning notices. However, ministers voted against these last week.
“Most important of all, we desperately need proper, compulsory sex and relationship education in schools to teach young people about consent and healthy relationships. However, the government is continuing to refuse to bring it in.”
Janet Low: The HPC – Democracy at Work
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Labour)
My Lords, we now move on to another group on the regulation of healthcare workers, and social care workers as well. In debate in Committee, I made it clear that I was concerned about the decision of the Government to abolish the General Social Care Council and to transfer responsibility for regulation of social care workers to the Health Professions Council. I am concerned for two reasons. First, I know that the General Social Care Council had rather a bumpy ride to start with and was the subject of a review, which was critical of the way in which it performed. However, it is right to pay tribute to the tremendous work undertaken in the last two years under its current leadership and the chairmanship of Mrs Rosie Varley to improve and enhance the quality of the regulation by the council. It is very disappointing that the Government have decided that, just at the time when the GSCC is starting to prove itself, the whole thing is to be dismantled and the function transferred to the Health Professions Council.
I also do not understand why the Health Professions Council is considered to be the right regulator for social workers. There is a difference between social work and health work. We touched on that in the last debate. I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said in response to the noble Baroness when he reflected on the value of social care workers but also on the difference in role. The Health Professions Council regulates a number of bodies, but they all have a health basis in the main. Therefore, it stretches the imagination to see how this body will effectively regulate social care workers in the future. The profession of social work is pretty fragile and having its own regulator is one of the building blocks for boosting the status, confidence and quality of the social work profession.
I oppose the abolition of the GSCC and the transfer of social worker regulation to the HPC in principle. If I am unsuccessful in persuading the Government, even at this stage, to change their mind, I suggest that a number of issues would help to reassure me and many social workers about the way in which the HPC will perform. This is why I have a number of amendments, which seek to ensure that there is an appropriate definition of “social worker”. I think that it would be appropriate, inside the HPC, to establish an office of chief social worker. I also think that the name of the HPC should recognise that it is regulating the social work profession. I have not yet had any rational answer as to why “Social Work”, or something of the sort, should not appear in the title of the HPC. We know that the reason is that the HPC has refused to have it. I think that the department is finding it difficult to tell the HPC that it is subject to parliamentary provision and that it is not enough, simply because it does not want “Social Work” in its title, not to agree to it. I refer the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to the Bill before us. It refers, in these clauses, to a number of orders, including health and social work orders. Therefore, there clearly cannot be an objection in principle to the use of “Social Work” in the title. It is totemic, but it is at least a way of showing the 100,000 individuals in the social work profession to be covered that in fact the HPC is not going to continue with a medical model of regulation.
My final point is this. I invite the noble Earl to state clearly that it is not his department’s intention that the HPC should eventually take over the regulation of nurses and doctors. He will know that a review is being undertaken of the Nursing and Midwifery Council and I gather that there are also proposals to change the governance of the General Medical Council. A number of people in the health service have told me that they think the eventual aim is for the HPC to regulate all the healthcare professions. The noble Earl would provide a great deal of reassurance if he would say that it is not his department’s long-term ambition to turn the HPC into the sole regulator of all the health and social care professions. I for one would be very concerned about that. I beg to move.
Source HCPC Watchdog http://hpcwatchdog.blogspot.co.uk/2008_11_19_archive.html
Before beginning to dissect the three and a half pages of text produced by the panel at yesterday’s hearing, I want to take time to consider the phrase ‘struck off’.
It is a little relic from the old days, which referred to the action of a man with a pen striking the name of another from a written register. It has the grandness of ritual written into it. ‘Struck off’ includes a gesture, a performance, and an audience. All this was necessary to invest the meaning of the phrase with the importance of the act and the magnitude of the misdemeanour perpetrated by the offender.
For those professions that have their roots in those old days, it is understandable that they keep the nomenclature, repeat the ritual, recite the words. It is a kind of homage paid to the pioneers who worked hard to establish a practice and who tried to set and maintain a standard. Without the work of these people who came before, it says, no-one would enjoy the fruits of this labour today.
Why, tho, is it within the language of the HPC?
The HPC is new, was brought into being by the Privy Council under New Labour, and is set up on the understanding that old professions are a danger to the public and must be transformed. Leaving aside for the moment the small detail that the HPC does not regulate the old professions, it is worth wondering why they would begin to dress themselves in this borrowed garb.
When the HPC first emerged onto the scene it did so with all appropriate marketing. Four posters from an early campaign are pinned to the wall on the way to the rooms of the hearing. Here is the text of their message:
1. A picture of a man dressed up as Dr McCoy from Star Trek on the Bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise. The Headline: “You can trust me… I’m the real McCoy.” The small print: “Who can say if a health professional is genuine? The fact is that any genuine health professional must shortly be registered with the Health Professionals Council. The HPC is the statutory UK body appointed to regulate and maintain the standards of 12 health professions. To use one of the professional titles below, pretenders have until July 8th 2005 to meet our criteria. If they prove to be genuine, they can join over 150,000 professionals already on our register. Anything less and they’re on a different planet.”
Leaving aside the facile tone of this poster, I want simply to point out the argument that is being put to use. Before the 8th July 2005 the health professionals are pretenders, afterwards those accepted onto the register of the HPC are real.
2. A picture of a woman with a very very very long nose and rouged cheeks, looking a little like Pinocchio. The words on a poster behind her: “The Muscle Management Consultancy PH.one.Y.” The voice bubble: “professional titles? to tell you the truth they’re a thing of the past!” The small print: Who can say if a health professional is genuine? Sometimes letters after a name don’t prove anything. Anyone who is a genuine health professional with genuine qualifications must shortly be registered with the Health Professionals Council … after that telling lies becomes an offence.”
3. Picture of a woman in a spot light, wearing something in very large check. The speech bubble: “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be … a Health Professional!”. The Small Print: “Who can say if health professional is genuine. You don’t become qualified overnight. All genuine health professionals must shortly be registered with the Health Professions Council… after that they are acting beyond the law.”
4. Picture of a man in a white coat and a swimming hat standing in front of a wall of certificates. Speech bubble: “Fitness to Practise? I can show you hundreds of certificates.” He is holding up a certificate got from school days proclaiming him swimming champion 1978. The Small Print: “Some qualifications aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. All genuine health professionals must soon be registered with the health Professionals Council to prove their credentials. … All true professionals have until 8 July 2005 to become registered with us or lose the right to use titles listed below. Those that lie will be in deep water.
In this two-dimensional world there would appear to be only liars or truth tellers, fakers or real things, criminals or innocents, locals or aliens. Invisible in this simple scene is the One in charge of telling the difference, the One whose job it is to hold the scales and to decide. This is the HPC.
Is this a good time to ask: who, exactly, are these people, hidden just off screen?
By Patrick Wintour The Guardian,
Louise Casey, the head of the government’s troubled families programme, is to publish figures claiming her brand of high intensity intervention by a single caseworker has reduced antisocial behaviour by 59%, involvement in crime by 45%, and bad behaviour at school including expulsions by 52%.
The figures to be published on Saturday are based on an evaluation of her programmes from 2007 to 2012 by the government funded National Centre for Social Research, and Casey is using the results to urge local authorities to follow the style of intensive intervention she believes works best.
The figures, likely to be challenged by some social scientists, are especially remarkable since the projects are dealing with some of the most intractable social problems in Britain.
All 152 local authorities in England have since April this year agreed to take part in the troubled families programme, with the government over three years contributing £4,000 per family, about 40% of the total costs of action needed to turn a family around.
The troubled families programme is one of the few social interventions started by Tony Blair, and pursued by Gordon Brown, that the coalition government has been willing to adopt, even if communities secretary Eric Pickles has put his own mark on it by asking councils to run the schemes on the basis of payment by results.
Critics also claim that the funding is inadequate for a programme that is supposed to cover 120,000 troubled families in England over three years, including 40,000 this year.
Other reported percentage reductions in family problems between entry and exit from the project include: child protection issues (36%), poor parenting (49%) relationship/family breakdown (47%), domestic violence (57%), drug misuse (39%), alcohol misuse (47%), mental health issues (24%), and employment/training problems (14%).
The department of communities and local government claims: “The consistency of these reductions … over the five years that these services were operating nationally, is particularly striking. It suggests that scaling-up the delivery of these services nationally did not result in any reductions in their effectiveness.”
The fresh figures on the effectiveness of the programme come from a survey of nearly 5,500 families, but due to difficulties in estimating the impact on families if they had not been on the programme, the numbers are not being classed as official government statistics.
Casey is urging councils on the basis of these numbers to adopt the key components of what has worked in the past – an individual caseworker dedicated to a household “willing to walk in the shoes of the family”; practical hands on support; a persistent, assertive and challenging approach; looking at the family as a whole; and finally common purpose and agreed action between the family and the caseworker.
Casey concedes her approach is not easy. “Having that difficult conversation with a mother that challenges her to understand that it’s her own violent behaviour that her children are replicating in the school playground, or challenging the father that the council won’t repair his leaking roof because he won’t clear the rubbish to let them in, or telling the teenage son that the reason he feels ‘disrespected’ by the neighbours is because he swears at them and throws rubbish into their garden – none of that is easy. To challenge that, to keep the family’s trust and then to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to offer practical help – that’s the huge skill of the family intervention worker.”
The prime minister’s vision for stabilising the lives of the country’s 120,000 “most troubled families” is now backed by nearly £450m of cash. But that sum is not likely to be enough while local authority budgets are shrinking and demands are growing, experts have said.
While the fund appears large it represents a small fraction of the cost of working with troubled families. According to Westminster’s council, which has been running targeted and intensive family projects for years, a “successful intervention” with a family beset by multiple problems, such as drug abuse, poor mental health and domestic violence, costs £20,000.
To get the £450m from Whitehall, local authorities will have to find £675m over the next three years from council budgets, which are already being slashed by 9%.
If all the cash from councils was used to pay for services then only 34,000 – about a third of the country’s 120,000 families – would be helped.
The Institute of Public Policy Research argues that “there is still a big question mark over whether the funding will be enough”.
Enver Solomon, of the Children‘s Society, was more blunt. “Local authorities don’t have the cash and they often don’t have the skills to do this work”.
Geoff Skinner, who until this summer was Westminster’s director of children’s services, says that getting social workers, police, doctors and housing associations to work closely together at a time of cuts would be very hard.
He said: “Every department involved costs extra money. That includes schools, GPs, police. Now some of them are seeing budgets cuts. So, for example, the police cuts mean the Met’s safer neighbourhoods strategy is being lost. That was invaluable intelligence on these families. Now it’s gone”.
Ministers claim that by hiring a “family champion” councils will be able to streamline the process and reduce costs. The government envisages an army of case workers each chivvying and chasing families up – being involved in getting children to school or pacifying neighbours disturbed by anti-social behaviour, for example.
Case workers are not cheap. Westminster hired six in that role and each cost £40,000 a year. At that wage, the government’s £448m would pay for 11,000 family champions – just one for every 10 troubled families.
Beyond the cost, the creation of a surveillance society might be an unintended consequence of the programme’s noble aims.
Rhian Beynon, of Family Action, said: “The government’s system only works if everything is measured, because people only get paid by results. But it’s getting to be an issue. Under this scheme we have four of five things to measure to prove we are making a difference. Things like improving attendance rates at school. In children’s centres there are 10 things to measure.
“For the NHS we need to look at 60 things. Every local authority we work with wants a different set of things to be measured. And all this to get paid. Evaluation is getting very expensive.”
However, David Simmonds, chair of Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said such fears were misplaced. “We are not looking to do this is in a bureaucratic way. Things are tight, but the challenge is to do this without a substantial injection of new money.”