Social policy writer Paul Michael Garrett outlines some of his corecriticisms of the direction of ‘transformation’ within children’sservices and explains why he has dedicated his third book to LisaArthurworrey.
Last week it was revealed that the UK is currently in the midst of itslongest ever recession, after figures showed that the economycontracted once again between July and September. As this crisis seepsinto personal and professional lives, therefore, it is of the utmostimportance for social workers, social work educators and students tobegin to think much more critically about the direction of changewithin children’s services. My new book aims to provide to a series of ‘signposts’ which direct readers to examine the way that the sector is being ‘transformed’ and more generally calls for a new and more critical, politically engaged form of social work and social work education.
Architects of ‘transformation’
The New Labour administration has, of course, been keen to emphasize its expenditure on children’s services. Yet spending patterns – and the lauding of ‘new’ initiatives and programmes – often fail to reveal (and may even conceal) – some of the more significant aspects of the changes under way.
Here key questions might include: how is the private sector beginning to play a more substantial role? How is the case for ‘transformation’ being made and orchestrated? Which groups are operating as the primary definers, providing a critique of the ‘the way things are’ and mapping the ‘way things should be’?
New Labour politicians have obviously been the key definers of the ‘change agenda’ since 1997. However, perhaps one of the key themes which have emerged is that academics, as well as politicians, are playing a leading role in articulating ‘change’ and in providing an ‘expert’ and (contentiously) ‘independent’ foundation for policy departures. This is reflected in the plan to privatize social work services for ‘looked after children’ – in the shape of ‘social work practices’ – and in how this has been promulgated and promoted by Julian Le Grand (2007) and others.
Social work futures
Many of the solutions to the problems being faced by families proposed by the government remain, despite the sheen of ‘newness’, intensely backward looking. This was apparent once again at the recent Labour Party conference in the keynote speech of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. His vision of a ‘new society’ included populist attacks on ‘teenage tearaways’ and plans to ‘slash welfare dependency’.
Other retrogressive measures included plans to set up a ‘network of supervised homes’ for pregnant 16-17 year-olds and other US-style ‘tough love’ strategies. For example, seeking to expand the quasi-penal family intervention projects for ‘chaotic families’. This is not to suggest, that the return to government of the Conservative Party is likely to be preferable.
Indeed, given the emphasis which David Cameron is placing on the role of philanthropy and charity, in providing what are now public services, it is clear that the opposition’s own vision of ‘transformation’ is even more socially retrogressive. The 10-point plan published by the trade union Unison (2008) provides a more convincing foundation for more progressive policies and practices within Children’s Services.
A gesture of solidarity
My book is also an act, or gesture, of solidarity towards Lisa Arthurworrey, the former Haringey social worker for Victoria Climbié. I decided to dedicate the book to her after listening to two moving radio interviews which she gave to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme five years ago.
Lisa has been unfairly vilified for her errors in dealing with the child. For example, early last year, the Care Standards Tribunal, whilst deliberating on her case confided that to ‘blame everything on Ms. Arthurworrey is…to make her a scapegoat for the failings of a number of people’, yet it went onto casually assert – without recourse to any evidence – there that there was ‘no doubt that Ms. Arthurworrey was seen as a monster by many people as a result of Victoria’s death’.
However, Lisa has articulated the problems being encountered by many social workers and illuminated how children’s services are being eroded and stripped of ethical purpose because of neo-liberal priorities. Unfortunately, her ‘message’ has largely gone unheard.
Garrett, P. M. (2009) ‘Transforming’ Children’s Services? Social Work, Neoliberalism and the ‘Modern’ World. Maidenhead: Open University.
Paul Michael Garrett is director of social work at the National University of Ireland, Galway in the Republic of Ireland. For a number of years he has also been the adviser on social services to the All-Party Irish in Britain Parliamentary Group in the UK Parliament.