Steve Goodman has been campaigning to reorganise social work based on changes he helped implement in Hackney. Molly Garboden reports
Steve Goodman (pictured) has spent the past three years travelling the UK with his Reclaim Social Work campaign and is now on a mission to bring one particular progressive model to the rest of the UK.
The Hackney model has seen the east London borough replace traditional children’s social work teams with small networks of professionals known as “social work units”. Each one is led by a consultant social worker, supported by a social worker, a children’s practitioner, a clinician and a unit co-ordinator. So far, paperwork has been cut and services streamlined.
Goodman, deputy director of children’s services at Hackney, plans to spread the word through his social enterprise company, Morning Lane Associates. Springing out of the Reclaim Social Work programme, the company aims to act as a vehicle to share good practice between local authorities and work with them to develop better services.
“Over the past 20 years, we’ve had a lot of initiatives and changes that have strangled good practice in social work,” he says. “A lot of that has been relatively easy to implement, but hasn’t really brought about positive or significant change. We’re hoping to change that.”
Goodman says concerns about the cost of the model from some local authorities that are interested in it, such as Birmingham, are unfounded: “There may be issues you need to deal with to implement the model, but the result will be long-term and positive. Social workers will be doing more direct work with families. As a result, you find they’re better able to keep families together and decrease the money you’re spending on children going into care.”
The model is cost-neutral if councils budgeted differently, he claims. “We’re not saying you need more money – the money just needs to be used more wisely.”.
Spending more wisely includes more training for social workers and an investment in supervision.
While acknowledging the value of early intervention and prevention, Goodman argues that money is better spent on social workers and the Hackney model because it balances prevention and safeguarding.
“The problem with early intervention is that people are doing things with families, but they aren’t necessarily safeguarding the children in those families any more effectively. I think the most important focus for departments is giving social workers the right tools to change what needs to be changed in a family.”
Goodman has high hopes for Professor Eileen Munro’s review of children’s services. Not only was Munro supportive of the Hackney model after she conducted the yet-to-be published evaluation but, if her review cuts bureaucracy and legislation, children’s services will be freed up to try new approaches, such as Hackney’s.
“Munro’s appointment was a masterstroke by the government,” he says. “That kind of attention to what the sector is saying is certainly not the sort of response we’ve had from previous governments.
“Munro’s review is a great opportunity to get social work on the right track. We need to move away from step-by-step instructions and need more professionals doing more direct work with families. Whether the Hackney model becomes the way of doing this, we need to leave to Eileen Munro to decide.”
Regardless of the result of the review, Goodman says social work practice cannot continue as it has been: “To change what goes on in a family and change the way that family considers themselves is a hugely complex and difficult task and at the moment it’s just not happening. We need to re-think the way we provide social work services.”
This article is published in the 22 July 2010 edition of Community Care under headline “Give social workers the tools to change”