Letters to 15 January 2009 Community Care

How the Integrated Children’s System is failing users and professionals

Despite the objective tone, the research of Sue White, Karen Broadhurst and David Wastell has some of the most devastating findings in child protection (“The shortfalls of IT in children’s services”) .

The findings show many problems associated with introduction of centralised “customer management” services and the imposition of targets. Systems thinkers have understood for some time that introducing targets actually worsens services. A worker’s response becomes “meet the target” instead of “solve the problem”.

A system for a factory with predictable demand is a disaster waiting to happen for a social work team with rapidly varying demand.

Many Integrated Children’s System problems were predicted by experienced social workers. Their concerns were ignored by ICS developers and by ministers obsessed with control.

Social workers received much of the blame for the tragic case of Baby P. But workers are only as good as the systems they have and ICS was likely to worsen problems even if it did tick all those nicely organised government boxes.

Will this be a wake up cry? Or will the workforce again be blamed, for failing to implement unworkable and ultimately dangerous systems?

Roger Backhouse, Ilford, Essex

Government should ignore media hype

Having recently completed the social work degree I find it disheartening to read Maggie Atkinson’s comments that entry requirements for social work are much lower than for teachers and nurses and that sector leaders are now “seeking better recruits” (“Social Work Taskforce: Sector leaders urge pay and training boost”, news, 11 December).

These statements will do little to attract newly qualified workers or those considering a career in social work. I have gained entry into a profession that is vilified and discredited and Atkinson’s comments, along with the introduction of the government taskforce, serve only to exacerbate the situation.

I reached the decision to train as a social worker because I believed that I could make a difference to people’s lives and, naively, I was unaware that social workers are all too often made scapegoats for the problems that are inherent in society. Clearly the events leading up to Baby P’s death need to be scrutinised so that where possible lessons can be learned.

However, it must be recognised that his death was the result of criminal activities and the perpetrators were not the social workers. The media has chosen to focus on what it concludes are the failings of the social service staff involved. Exceptionally high caseloads and increasing bureaucracy leaves even experienced social workers fighting a losing battle. While on placement I saw many social workers raise this issue with their managers only to be told to “get on with it”.

Social workers need to act collectively to ensure that their voices are heard and perhaps industrial action would be the way forward. I cannot imagine any other profession would allow themselves to be devalued in the manner that social workers do. As a new graduate I already feel I should perhaps have considered an alternative degree where I could feel a sense of achievement as compensation for four years of study and over £10,000 of debt. Instead, I am made to feel that the social work degree is much less of an achievement than teaching or nursing and the job itself is a thankless task. My plea to the government would be that they listen to frontline staff and not media hype and undertake some damage limitation and avoid unnecessary public comments which make matters worse.

Diane Darby, Southport

Our language must match our values

Your article on politically correct language makes some really interesting points, but somehow manages to miss the point (“D’oh! Don’t say that!”, 4 December).

Surely political correctness is nothing more than the recognition that words are wedded to power. You ask the question “how mindful do professionals need to be of the language they use?” That is a good question. But the answer given focuses on terms and not language. So often I have seen social workers paraphrase a service user’s words in ways that make them fit the social worker’s needs rather than the service user’s needs. I have often slipped into using jargon with service users, colleagues and other professionals instead of keeping my own language clear and accessible.

If we start from a point of view of seeking empowerment, liberation, well-being, social justice and human rights, our successes will be significant and our mistakes will be correctable and our language will increasingly match our values.

If we start from a point of view of avoiding mistakes and never giving offence our successes will be trivial and our mistakes will be repeated endlessly whatever terms we use. Recognising this allows us as social workers to reclaim a passionately political and moral stance which learns from its mistakes and puts service users at the heart of all we do.

Mark Allenby, senior lecturer in social work, University of Northampton

Do CRB appeals get a fair hearing?

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a fair trial – already seems liable to be breached in matters relating to the use by potential employers of Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks (“Judge fears barring scheme could breach human rights”, news, 4 December).

Where a CRB check has been carried out on a person, the sole recourse for that person, if they wish to challenge its accuracy (and have exhausted the internal CRB disputes system) is through appeal to the information commissioner, itself a government department. We are currently engaged in assisting one of our service users in this process and await the outcome with interest.

Paul Thompson, director of social work, West London Mission

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