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Social work leaders heap blame back onto frontline staff

emma maier 60.jpg

 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?

About Simeon Brody

Community Care managing web editor

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6 Responses to Social work leaders heap blame back onto frontline staff

  1. rickthrn 12 April , 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Hey 3 social workers…thats 333 cases each…im sure all their case notes and reports are fully up to date…… have to laugh really

  2. Julie 12 April , 2013 at 12:46 am #

    I agree with Emma’s comments- I have started to just ignore what these people are saying- I could not care less let them just say it- I go to work and think ” Woolwich” Mortgage and then think 7 years to go, then I can choose a better job and it will not be social work

  3. Roger Price 12 April , 2013 at 12:46 am #

    For a short while after the Baby P case hit the headlines social work managers were backing their staff, now they have reverted to the old pastime of blaming them.
    I use the example of the social work profession to illustrate the most fundemental failure of leadership, that is not motivating staff and beign disinterested in doign so. It was going on when I started in the profession and 25 years latyer history is repeating itself -not as tragedy but as farce.
    I cna only paraphrase what the Duke of Welllington said of his troops- that they may not frighten the clients but by God they frighten me!


  4. Rachel bramble 12 April , 2013 at 12:46 am #

    And of course the elusive remaining forgotten one [33x 3= 999 when I was at school] is a potential Jasmine Beckford/ Victoria Climbiee/ Baby P or the other non Londoners.
    Isn’t it amazing how the ones that hit the newspapers longest are the ones nearest to the nationals but then if Lord Laming found Stafford too far to come to then maybe the press can’t find it either or at least most of them as they did have a trip to Doncaster. Soz David Rose I know that you made the effort
    I wonder how much Lord L got paid to do his latest stuff as in 2004 he was supposed to be retired.
    All very strange isn’t it !!
    Well you young uns coming into it all perhaps the newbie journos will be more interested than most of the current bunch if they have any newspapers left to work for.
    Strange isn’t it that we will always have folk to work with, thus the 1 in 9 jobs vacant whereas the press are losing papers to the internet so you would think it was in their interest to write some decent stories about us because then perhaps more of us might buy their papers. Perhaps that is just a bit too ,logical

  5. massive reality check 12 April , 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Emma is in real danger (no….not danger, she has achieved it) of being TOO defensive.

    a) “Nobody is pretending that all social workers are perfect” – this is a pathetic comment. There is a real problem with very poor social workers. Managers complain bitterly that they spend a huge amount of time resolving the issues caused by SW’rs. If you don’t know that Emma then time to get back to practice

    b) “But were three people were responsible for 1,000 cases” – are you suggesting this was all at once. Rickthrn should also not joke about this. If the problem existed for a year, 2, 3 then easily any manager could be responsible for 200/300 referrals a year. By pretending we know that each worker had responsibility for 33 cases it perpetuates the “poor me”. Ignoring referrals is indefensible. Just wait till your GP fails to act and refer your relative for further examination and 2/3 years later a brain tumour is found. Inaction of the kind described cannot be hidden or downplayed

    c) “ammunition” – first job of a responsible adult/professional – FACE REALITY. If these people believe they need to highlight poor practice then they are responsible in doing so. That you see this as adding “ammunition” just shows you believe you are fighting a war (not so) and are winging about proper and justified criticism when things go badly wrong

    d) Julie – time to get out. If you don’t have the passion for facing reality and accepting that the profession has been the subject of (some) justified criticism (and some unjustified) then maybe you should jump now?

    e) radiation overdoses of 16 year old girls leading to their death – justified criticism of Health. An apparent ackward but non threatening protestor pushed over by the Police and dies – justified criticism of the Police. Appalling financial problems – justified criticism of Banks. Children, well known to SW and other professionals who believe he is at risk and he then dies – justified criticism of SW. FACE REALITY

    Emma – time for you to stop being so defensive

  6. Philip Measures 12 April , 2013 at 12:46 am #

    I found the letter from these 3 high profile senior figures to be low on detail and unworthy of them.

    Central Government; Elected Members; Chief Execs; Directors of Social Services; OFSTED; LCSB’s; Area / Service Managers and Team Managers all come into the equation.

    How as it possible for Haringey to ‘lose’ 1000 Referrals? Utterly shameful and someone is accountable at management level. How come a Team Manager in Leicester was able to conceal Referrals and lie to her senior managers about what was happening? How come the political situation in Doncaster was allowed to continue for as long as it did – were people blind? Hpow come Ed Balls is unprepared to scrap / call a halt to the ill-fated Integrated Children’s System (ICS) which is neither User nor Client-frindly and certain aspects of the technology are dangerous?

    Most Practitoners and middle-managers daren’t ‘whistle-blow’ as they fear for their careers and have little or no confidence that the legislation will protect them.

    It is all well and good to seek to place the ‘blame’ at the feet of practitioners but where is the ‘accountability’ being accepted higher up the ladder?