‘We’re starved of resources and then people come in from on high telling us to try harder’

A Norfolk social worker speaks out in the wake of Cameron's announcement about moving failing children's services into trusts

Photo: David Hartley/Rex Shutterstock

When I heard David Cameron’s announcement that Norfolk was to have a commissioner come in to tackle failings, I swore mightily.

I heard the news from home, having been signed off sick. I was driven away in part by the feeling of constant failure that comes with working in this authority. The atmosphere has been so poisonous agencies have been struggling even to recruit locum staff.

‘Incredibly dispiriting’

While off sick I’ve received several calls asking if I’m available, or if I know anyone who might be interested in a locum post.

After the original inadequate Ofsted inspection,a restructure to tackle failings in 2010 saw the whole old senior management removed and a temporary management team come in, which was incredibly dispiriting. And what’s worse is it has not brought us the change Ofsted is looking for.

When Ofsted came to re-inspect, they said they found morale to be good but that just has not been our experience. Social workers feel browbeaten, their caseloads are excessive and layers of support staff have been peeled away meaning we don’t have anyone to refer the cases on to.

Starved of resources

We have been starved of resources and then we get people coming in from on high saying “you’ve all got to do better and work harder”. What do you think we’re doing? Sitting here twiddling our thumbs?

The re-organisations don’t make a bit of difference. The last restructure in 2010 was more brutal and at the time there were lots of redundancies and people crying in corridors. But at least it was done reasonably efficiently.

This time it has dragged on for the last two years without people knowing what’s going to happen and whether their jobs are safe. It’s left us with huge uncertainty. Meanwhile we seem to be returning to a structure much like it was before 2010, but with fewer people in the teams.

Huge staff shortages

At the front line we don’t get to hear much about what special advisers are doing. All I know is there are huge staff shortages and we are relied on to work way over our hours to make the service work.

Meanwhile new layers of reporting structure have been introduced meaning when you need approval for the emergency accommodation of a child you are left scrabbling around for an assistant director. And you may not even know who fills that post anymore. We’re not clear whether that’s part of the improvement plan because no one tells us.

The appointment of an independent commissioner at a time when the service is trying to move forward from a damning Ofsted report seems more about party politics than trying to make the service better for children.

Surely a better way would have been to make the appointment after the first Ofsted report, rather than a number of years later.

It might bring in some welcomed expertise but giving the commissioner six months to decide the fate of the department which is already labouring under the heavy burdens of staff shortages, poor morale and budget cuts is hardly a positive contribution.

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5 Responses to ‘We’re starved of resources and then people come in from on high telling us to try harder’

  1. Mick anderson December 22, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    The synical side of me thinks that the government has set up children’s services to fail in order to privatise it under the guise that it’s acting in the best interests of children. Of all the ofsted reports has anyone thought to do any research into child protection social workers actual working hours, the extreme demands, deadlines and goodwill given? No!
    I am a locum child protection social worker and I’ve worked in enough teams to know that on a weekly basis social workers are giving 20 hours of goodwill to the service…for what? To be told they’ll go to prison if things go wrong? Despite these efforts they’re not good enough?
    Here’s a thought…hold case loads at a maximum of 14 so that social work can be affective. Recognise the disparity between child protection and other social work and pay a premium to child protection workers who deal with the thick end of protecting children up to 60 hours a week on average.
    This won’t happen because the government wants to turn in into a commercial, competitive business…a very dangerous move that will put children at greater risk. We know this from the scandals of adult residential care, learning disabilities etc…the list is endless

  2. Dev December 23, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    When any prominent personality makes comment about children services and working hard they need to be mindful of what actually they are saying. Can they show us to do this job in a different and efficient way other than saying that we should be working harder.
    What is the praise for already hard working staff??? NOTHING.
    Request is that when you dont understand the sector fully….pls do not comment to make our working situation more difficult. Instead come with a plan which works and not change things constantly.

  3. dreamwaverider January 7, 2016 at 6:12 am #

    This will only get worse. I don’t believe the governments secret plan is privatisation. I don’t believe they have a hidden plan. George Osborne is dramatically underfunding care services nationwide with no plan how the outcome will restore the service. Services are already failing and will soon cease. Their is no plan for an alternative and certainly no funds. We are heading into very stormy waters.

  4. Graham January 12, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    I think the fact that you are off sick says a lot. Until social workers refuse to do more work than they are paid for and to take more cases than they can handle this situation will persist. We need to be organised locally, through a trade union or association if necessary, to oppose poor practice and overwork. This happened when I started in the profession 35 years ago but has gradually been undermined by anti-union legislation and staff apathy.
    I repeat my suggestion that there should be a national caseload monitoring system with published league tables and fines for employers who overload staff. We cannot continue being martyrs to our own ideals society’s unrealistic expectations.

  5. Peter Durrant January 12, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    Good to hear what I hope will be a beginning debate on resources which enable social workers, operating in a cooperative and inter-interdisciplinary way with others who have considerable resources such as teachers, doctors, lawyers and others, to reflect on how impossible it is to operate without them. As a long retired post-Seebohm generic social worker, still operating on the community development periphery of considering how neighbourhoods might become more inclusive, I’m always surprised that that this has not become a major issue until recently. Looking back over my career with three local authorities there was, of course, foster parents, children’s, disability and older people’s residential homes, day centres of various sorts, legislative authority to compulsorily apply to take distressed children and people with emotional health issues into short and long-term ‘care et al. But these are largely negative approaches which largely ignore the concept of prevention but which, in turn, lead to often years of negatively visiting out-of-county placements. Whilst small amounts of ‘Section One’ money, always closely guarded by top-down line managers, was simply a paternalist nonsense. I understand that it’s now been transferred to the 1989 Children’s Act and would welcome news of whether it has now become a ‘real resource’ to prevent admission into Care? But do remind me, contemporary practitioners, whether my twenty years of retirement has simply blurred my then optimistic memories? Whilst although I’m impressed by the development and potential of social enterprises, family conference groups, post-credit unions and community banking, Asset based Community Development and, hopefully, a re-appraisal of the Barclay Report it still seems to me impossible to really explore how to effectively enable, challenge and facilitate community social work without creative and complementary machinery. Working ‘with’ people and neighbourhoods as opposed to ‘for.’ Am I mistaken as I stumble into a sometimes lonely ageing process which, again, also seems to me to be on the receiving end of largely dismissive, unimaginative and institutionalised services? Comments welcome and I also have the time, in my dotage, to think with others about some real alternatives…