Sunday, December 07, 2008

In defence of social work

So I admit it I am a social worker, a senior one at that and a Practice Teacher for social work students. And after the past few weeks the steam has finally stopped coming out of my ears.

Like everyone else I have shaken my head at the press reports about the torture and death of Baby P and even shed a tear for the wee mite but I haven't got caught up in the social work baiting.

In the current climate we need to defend social work and social workers. I am not trying to defend incompetence or anything like that but there are procedures for that and there is also employment law. But you cannot sack people just because The Sun newspaper calls for them to be sacked, there must be due process.

Being a social worker is a hard and difficult job but can also be the most fabulous job in the world. There are many good times in social work as well as bad and even sad. There are so many difficult decisions to make every day you are at work - everything is a dilemma. Unless you are one it is hard to explain the difficult decisions you have to make from day to day - you have to make relationships with people whose lives you might ultimately destroy.

Have you ever written a report for someone and the consequences is that they will go to prison - they go to prison and then you have to visit them the next week to plan for their release?

Have you ever had to support a woman whose third child is being adopted and you are the one making the recommendation but have to hold her hand when you are sitting in court with her whilst she's breaking her heart?

Or assessed that someone should be sectioned in a psychiatric hospital against their will but you have to then run back to their house to get the cat, Ginger, to take to their Auntie Jessie's house.

Unless you are a social worker you will never have done any of these things, they are unique to social work.

I could tell you tales that would curl your toes , make you weep for a week and make your ribs hurt so much from laughing - social work is a unique profession.

Particularly in child protection the decisions that need to be made on a day to day basis are very difficult and sometimes the right thing is the wrong thing for someone.

The problem also is when it comes to child protection most parents do not want a social worker as they have to say and do difficult things and it is intrusive, there is little privacy and a family is turned inside out. Social workers alongside their colleagues in education, health, police and the voluntary sector have to balance children's attachments to their care givers and the the risk they may be at from them or because of them - and that is very, very difficult to do particularly now we know how children's attachments happen and the ripping and tearing of affectionate bonds is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.

And not there is a discource that is different that the past when the joke "What the difference between a rottwillier and a social worker - you get your kids back from a rottweiler!" was common - nopw everyone wants all the children on the Child Protection Register to go into children's homes!

There is a lot being said about Baby P and Shannon Mathews but people should be careful for what they wish for - it could lead to sharing of information without consent, children taken into care who might not need to be in care and a whole lot of other things most socialists would disagree with.

It is easy to call for the sacking of Baby P's social worker or the workers who didn't think Shannon Mathews needed to be on Child Protection Register and I am not suggesting that they should not be but only after an investigation and the correct legal process has gone through and only if it is the right thing to happen.

The issue for me about social work is that it moved from a community development model that was predominant in the 70s and 80s to case work. This is due to cuts and attacks first from the Tories and then the latter squeezing of local authority funding. Seeing "clients" as individuals and not in relation to their community, for me remains an issue.

Social work is one of the last "professions" which is under democratic control i.e. local authorities.
Of course there is an argument whether this is democratic or not but all major policy changes are decided by local councillors and not by boards or quangos and I think we need to defend that.

There is much more effective practice out there in social work than poor practice.

Social workers support thousands and thousands of adults and children every day, the problem is lack of resources and workers - it is common to freeze vacancies to pay for over time, not to fill posts to keep budgets in place - look around Britain and there are many cuts to the social work budgets.

I also think some of the attacks on social work and their clients, Baby P's mum and Karen Mathews come from a misogynist framework.
70% of social workers are women and in reading some of the blogs about social work in relation to Shannon Mathews and Baby P there have been quite lumpenised comments about social work as a profession and the work social workers have to do.
But there is a sort of sexist undercurrent to the discussion too (though I hope it is not intentional) Socialist Unity comments about "over-professionalising" social work, teaching etc - professions dominating by women but there would never be such remarks made about steel workers or car factory workers.
There are also comments about the salaries of social workers - electricians, plumbers etc. get paid more than social workers. And do I need to remind comrades that the majority of socialists supported Fire Fighters to have a wage of £30K a year a few years back?
Is it because social workers are women and their work is done with people usually children and vulnerable people that their value is not recognised or is it that working with women like Karen Mathews and Baby P's mum is seen as worthless despite being chastised and criticised for doing it wrongly or badly?

Dave Osler had a sensible post on his blog in my opinion however chaos broke out on Socialist Unity and one of the contributors got himself in a right pickle and did a 180 degree spin particularly once Michael Rosen contributed (he was very sensible) but I did think to myself "What is it that made the comrade change his mind after reading the internationally renowned author Michael Rosen's comments?".

The same old argument about the middle class and the working class came out in regards to social workers - I actually find this quite a boring argument.
I know working class social workers I wouldn't cross the road to talk to and one of my favourite social workers is a Laird, and he is lovely and very well liked in the community he works in.
The issue is a class one, however, because the majority of social work "clients" are working class and very poor working class families at that and they don't protest or complain, they don't demand better and the consequences is shoe string budgets.
If social work was universal like education and the NHS then I think there would be more resources but it is not.

Social workers are common whipping girls and boys but they are the last effort of the welfare state to try and have a collective response to problems in communities and families, you cannot make it safer by more regulations - social workers need more time, resources and support in order to do a very difficult job. Are you brave enough to defend the pariahs that are social workers?

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