Management culture still lacking in social
Your article “A qualified success?” (10 May) raises, in my view,
a core issue demanding serious professional consideration in social
services. Have social services departments finally achieved a sound
management culture? It was not until the early 1990s that this
issue started to be addressed. In my own experience, spanning
almost 30 years, higher social services management has often been
viewed as elitist, remote, concerned with position and status.
Effective communication has been badly lacking. While I have known
and currently know a number of excellent individual managers, has
sufficient progress been made?
Over the past 10 years or so, social services departments have
at least attempted to address issues around management and even to
consider creating a management culture but is there any evidence
this has become a reality? In my own experience, in-service
management courses have figured prominently but we do not know how
effective they have been. These courses were bought in by local
authorities and management consultants or whoever would put on a
one or two-day course. But were the organisations who contracted
them clear about what they wanted staff to train for? Were the
trainers really clear about what was expected of them? Is there any
evidence these management courses have been successful? Was there
any follow-up in the work situation?
Many authorities have been seconding staff to management courses
at university but are these courses an integral part of a
continuous management development programme in the workplace? In my
own experience I have to say a definite “no”. A sound management
practice and culture is essential for an efficient output in social
services. Towards achieving this, should local authorities
seriously consider setting up management development units, jointly
funded by all departments? Such units would actively address the
needs of individual managers and aspiring managers by constructive
feedback on development and performance which would then determine
the next developmental stage.
Profiting from human misery.
Your article on the postponement of the launch of the Criminal
Records Bureau (News, page 4, 17 May) contains a sinister note in
the last paragraph when it speaks of “a plan showing how the full
cost of setting up and operating the service could be recouped
within five years”. Presumably thereafter it would show a
Clearly, therefore, the government’s intention is to reap a
financial dividend from human misery, discrimination and social
This will clearly be the effect of the jobseekers criminal
certification plan. As many employers operate a blanket exclusion,
it will close the labour market to ex-criminals, condemning them
and their children to a life of crime. The public would be better
protected if work remained an option for ex-criminals.
No longer will it be possible for young offenders to find work,
grow out of crime and then make restitution to society through
parenthood supported by work. Exclusion will apply to the violent
and sexual offenders who will be unemployable under certification.
We want violent offenders at work, not wandering the streets. We
want sex offenders at work, not wandering the parks.
Perpetrators of (relatively) victimless crimes will also be
excluded. For example, prostitution convictions will now trap women
within prostitution. At present, attempts to get women and young
people out of prostitution are moderately successful, relying on
the fact that they do not carry a degrading and stigmatising
“prostitute certificate” in later life.
It is patently dishonest and hypocritical to oppose social
exclusion while making money from a new form of discrimination.
Care model passed away long ago
Polly Neate (Perspectives, 31 May) seems to think that the
coming of care trusts may lead to the loss of the care model.
Unfortunately, for both service users and staff alike, the model
passed away when care agencies embraced managerialism in their
desire to seem professional to successive government ministers.
Having played the game according to New Labour rules and lost,
it seems a bit fatuous to argue for social services to be brought
centre stage without defining what this centre stage might be.
Those of us ridiculed for bringing “politics” into social work
may be marginalised; it’s not quite the image “social care
professionals” seem to aspire to these days, but we are not wrong
in wanting to debate whose interests our services are really
There are plenty of practitioners who embrace contract culture
on the spurious ground that it offers “user choice”. If there is a
decline in support for New Labour among them, it seems it is
because they are disappointed New Labour policies haven’t been
“good” for their “clients”. They might want to ask themselves what
perpetuating welfare dependency actually means.
What does social work having a “central role in community based
programmes” mean when a sham policy like social exclusion is seen
as a “brave” attempt to redress disadvantage and poverty?
When governments and commentators talk about reform without
challenging vested financial interests, it is a certainty that the
poor will continue in hardship and professionals will justify
shameful compromises in their name.
When I trained there was a commitment to the right to
self-determination and the eradication of poverty and
discrimination as fundamental aims of social work.
Statements like “an ambitious programme of public sector reform”
remind me how far we have gone away from that. The cynical
collusion in manipulating language to appear empowering, “Best
Value”, “Quality Protects”, when our aspirations don’t go beyond
service delivery within pre-determined budgets and the avoidance of
being seen to “fail”, is proof enough.
Making New Labour listen to these “social care values” will not
make a jot of difference because these values accept privatisation
and management systems as inevitable realities in the so-called
“mixed economy of care”.
My end of term report to the government would be to value people
more than profits, but then I am one of those boring political
ones, so I probably don’t understand the “real world”.
Focus on health rather than illness
I would like to hope that mental health promotion can be
achieved (“Promotion drive”, 3 May).It requires staff from
community mental health teams, primary care teams, and other
agencies to stand back and reflect on what they are doing, and what
else can be done. We need to focus on health rather than an illness
Community psychiatric nurse
Springfield Hospital, London
More than a place to come and die
I applaud the work of the team featured in your article on a
children’s hospice (Ideas in Practice, 24 May).
However, as a social worker in a hospice providing palliative
care for adults, I would take exception to the final paragraph
which states that “adults enter a hospice to die”.
This is simply not the case. As a cohesive multi-disciplinary
team we have worked long and hard to change this false but commonly
held view of the hospice.
Although of course some people do come here to die (as their
choice of place to end their lives), many of our patients attend
the hospice for day care, medical consultation, alternative
therapies, or as in-patients for symptom control or respite
Our philosophy matches Veronica Phillips’s own words, quoted in
your article: “Patients have a lot of life to live before they
die.” It is our aim to maximise that time for them and their carers
Social work team leader