Frank*, a child protection social worker, says the Integrated Children’s System makes social work “feel like a computer game”, and it needs to be abolished rather than redesigned.
The government is focusing its energies on cutting Working Together guidance, but for social workers on the ground that’s not the main issue – it is mainly guidance for other professionals and has some really helpful information in there. The real issue for social workers is ICS.
ICS is the bane of my life, and I think any child protection social worker would agree with that. ICS has made social work feel like a computer game – you have to complete stage 1 before you can move to stage 2 – and you feel as though you are following a computer rather than being able to use your own professional judgement about children and families.
In the past, I would be on the phone finding out information from a range of people who knew the child, but now when I’m in the office, I’m just on the computer. A phone is a major tool for social workers, but we are now spending more time filling in reports, rather than finding out and sharing information about the child’s life.
ICS needs to be abolished. We need a system where we have electronic records, that’s not in dispute, but in terms of data inputting that should be a separate, admin process.
Admin staff could collect and log relevant information, which could all be drawn on for statistical purposes, but this should be a separate function from what social workers are doing with children.
A lot of the records we write are completely meaningless to families. If we give families a form with all these boxes on it and the information isn’t structured in a narrative fashion, we lose all of the report’s impact. Social workers, not bureaucrats, should be involved in designing these things.
I fronted BASW’s media work on caseloads being dangerously high because its survey findings that cuts to admin staff are putting children’s lives at risk resonated with my own working life.
Since Baby P we have seen a steady increase in referrals and care proceedings. I don’t see that as a bad thing, but if more people are making referrals, we need to be properly equipped to deal with this rise.
Something has to give, and I think we have to have more flexibility in the way we deal with those referrals. We need more autonomy or the system will reach breaking point, which it already is in some areas. I’ve worked like a slave lately to bring my caseload down and it is now 30, but my caseload numbers go up and down like a yo-yo.
People on the street would be astonished to see the amount of paperwork and form-filling us social workers do. Every case is slightly different, but just one of my cases alone recently produced around 30 lengthy reports.
We have a new IT system coming in at work and it sounds as if it is going to be worse than the one we already have.
Using my own initiative – and money
I’m already plotting ahead and thinking ‘how I can shortcut the new system?’. I often buy my own equipment to help deal with my caseload, as the office IT systems can be so unwieldy.
I have invested in a voice-recognition programme that transcribes reports onto my computer just to give me enough time to complete all the reports I have to do. I have bought a headset so that I can take calls while I’m typing up reports. This is all paid for out of my own pocket just to make sure I get through my caseload.
My voice-recognition programme might not work with the new computer systems, so I’ll probably have to bring in my laptop from home, and my wireless dongle, and then drive to the local McDonald’s in search of Wi-Fi, so that I can then email myself a report at the office.
Lots of newly qualified social workers are perturbed by all of the data keeping, and tell me they didn’t come into the profession to do the sort of work they do. As a more experienced social worker, I try to encourage people to do social work ‘in-between the cracks’, to do social work despite the system rather than through it.
*Name has been changed; Picture – Monkey Business Images/Rex Features