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When I was a social work assistant some years ago, I considered it vital that service users and staff felt they were respected.

Recently I have worked as a freelancer with many social care organisations. I’ve also liaised with social workers as a relative on behalf of my mother. Most practitioners do care about their service users and work hard for them.

However, I have also been appalled by how poor the standard of communication is between social services departments and their service users, and between departments. Phone calls are not returned, e-mails go unanswered, letters are lost and information is not passed on. Apologies for these omissions are rarely made.

Service users are vulnerable and in need. They are sensitive to how they are treated and need to be handled in a way that boosts self-confidence and leaves them feeling positive about their futures. They come to professionals for help and knowledge and rightly expect to get it.

The basics of courtesy and efficiency are the means by which respect and trust are communicated. If I send an e-mail I expect it to be answered. If I make a phone call I expect to speak to a relevant person or have my phone call returned. If a member of staff has made an appointment with me I expect them to be on time or to ring me to explain their delay – with an apology. If I am to be referred elsewhere I expect it to happen within the time suggested or to be told why not.

I expect most staff members will throw up their hands in horror on reading this, saying they have too much to do. I appreciate their workloads, but I do not accept that it is necessary to drop common courtesies. An automated reply to an e-mail is an acknowledgement, a quick phone call saying that a longer one is coming – such things are possible in seconds, with good time management, good systems and, above all, an attitude that people matter.

Judy Clinton is a creative writing facilitator and worked for many years in care services.

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