Fewer meetings and pointless rules, please

Rod Ballard says that Quality Protects has only succeeded in
delivering more bureaucracy.

In the Community Care/Department of Health publication
A Chance in Life, chief social services inspector Denise
Platt describes how she was impressed by the words of children in
the care system who told her that they want to be “treated as
humans beings, not objects” by their social workers.

Platt says: “If you talk to young people in care, they say they
want their social worker to be their advocate, manoeuvring them
through the system, acting on their behalf and making things happen
for them.”

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s I was a lecturer in social work,
drawing on the literature which suggested that what distinguished
social workers from other professionals was their ability and need
to “care”. The idea was to build what was known as a casework
relationship: to help someone better understand themselves and
others so as to reduce their behavioural and other difficulties,
and help with practicalities. As a lecturer I regarded myself as
training social work students to be effective advocates, able to
treat their clients as human beings, not objects.

When I returned to practice from a period of living abroad I
found that the social work scene had changed utterly. Children and
families were being brought together with professionals in large
child protection case conferences where private details of their
lives were being aired in what was almost a public setting.

Our professional job title of social worker had, in some places,
been eliminated and replaced by such terms as “care manager”, where
the administration of cases seemed more important than the
relationship between worker and client.

It is sad to hear Platt say that children seem to regard social
workers as uncaring. It is clear that she believes that the Quality
Protects programme will help to change this.

I recently spent six training days funded by the Quality
Protects programme learning how to fill in an enormously
complicated and lengthy form. Its aim is to help us carry out
better assessments of children at risk of significant harm.
However, the questions did not match the vital issues confronting
the children we struggle to help.

The only visible sign to social workers in my district that
Quality Protects has offered anything to children so far is in the
kind of activity such as filling in forms which ties us to our
desks more than ever.

How are social workers going to find a way back to their once
distinctive role as professionals, able to form helpful, empathetic
relationships with children?

First, reduce unnecessary meetings. We should abandon those
aspects of our bureaucratic role which sap our energies into
complex and largely pointless procedures. Only thus will we become
more human, better able to relate to children as people and not
objects, in the way which Platt so rightly desires.

Rod Ballard is an ex-lecturer in social work and now
practices as a children and families social worker in south west

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