by Emma Maier
Sadly, I often expect to see frontline social workers scapegoated inpapers. But this week it has been particularly painful. Seeing thetabloids do it is one thing; seeing letters and quotes from social workleaders perpetuate negative perceptions of frontline social workers isquite another.
Yesterday was a case in point.
Local Government Association chair Margaret Eaton, new Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Kim Bromley-Derry and Derek Myers chair of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives wrote a letter to the Guardian setting out their priorities for children’s services – a good opportunity to set the record straight.
What shocked me was the implication of the letter was that the priority was sorting out frontline social workers who weren’t up to scratch. “Poor performance needs to be driven out and where good support does not result in improvement it has to be dealt with firmly,” they wrote. Only later do they mention “examining whether social workers are properly supported”.
Nobody is pretending that all social workers are perfect. But to focus so heavily on performance management at the top of the letter risks giving the impression that the problems are mainly at the frontline. Of course this could be down to the way that the letter was edited by the Guardian. Either way, the damage is done; negative perceptions of frontline workers perpetuated.
Meanwhile, Haringey Council put out a statement saying that it “took immediate action” and sacked an agency social worker and disciplined two staffers after finding that about 1,000 referrals had not been dealt with.
But were three people were responsible for 1,000 cases? And who were these social workers – were they on the frontline, or where they managers who had failed to allocate cases properly?
The public has a low level of understanding of how social work works. When they see the words ‘social worker’ they think of frontline practitioners. So the impression left by the information provided Haringey’s statement is that three frontline staff were at fault. I don’t know what the real story is, but I’d be surprised if it were that simple. In the meantime, yet again, the impression is that frontline workers were to blame.
The papers are fond enough of mudslinging. Does the profession itself really need to help by providing the ammunition?