In response to your interviews with chief inspector of social
services Denise Platt and chief nursing officer Sarah Mullally (In
Focus, 16 August), I have become confused over who can call
themselves social workers.
Platt says that in the new agenda social workers will not be
working in “social services departments”, and that workers will
need to be confident of the skills they are able to offer as they
work with other professionals. This is something we are already
doing even within a social services environment as we work in a
I now work in the new children, schools and families department
in Hertfordshire. We are attempting to work together with social
workers, education welfare workers, educational psychologists and
family centre workers. There are frequent discussions over “role
and title holding” – each wanting to keep their identity while
saying we are working on behalf of the child.
Social workers have traditionally been client-focused, but so
have other professions such as nurses, counsellors and therapists.
When most of my colleagues qualified as social workers, they
anticipated working closely with families, but statutory work is
taking priority in their daily schedules. They preferred to do
preventive work. This work is now being carried out in family
centres with workers called family centre workers – staff without a
social work qualification. If qualified social work staff were to
undertake that job, their title would change and they might be
over-qualified. Tasks that take them away from clients may be given
to them as a result of their qualification.
Social workers want to work directly with families, but are
increasingly being forced to take up other tasks that are not
client-focused. I have no concerns about my values being diluted or
changing. I consider the values I practice to be useful in every
aspect of work with children.
If we are all working according to the new assessment framework,
shouldn’t we all be called child care workers? This title would
incorporate all the jobs we do with children even though our tasks
may be different according to the agency we work with. The emphasis
would shift from us as workers to the needs of the child and the
tasks to meet them.
Selective hearing of the blowing whistle
You are right to focus attention on the perennial problems of
institutional attitudes towards whistleblowers (“Calling time on
victimisation?” and Perspectives, 9 August).
As one with an interest in the issues – I wrote the original
British Association of Social Workers guidance – I wholly endorse
the content of those articles and the probable advent of a formal
requirement to speak out. This is not before time.
But social interaction and culture are never simple and easy. In
all the time I have spent working for recognition of the legitimacy
of whistleblowing and the protection of whistleblowers, I
encountered, time and time again, corporate denial, managerial
obduracy, even ideological resistance to the recognition that it is
right for people to speak out against injustice and abuse and that
they should be heard even though there might be a threat to the
Reading Alison Taylor’s Perspectives article with an ironic
smile, I find that institutional denial and ideological
recalcitrance haven’t really diminished, they’ve just fluttered
sideways and roosted elsewhere – including on one or two of those
who championed whistleblowers, some of the organisations that
campaigned for whistleblowers and the media that did all the good
work in supporting whistleblowers.
Whistleblowing now seems to be selective – it’s OK with some
issues; with others it remains taboo.
Let me explain. In early 1997 I came across incontrovertible
evidence that false allegations of child sexual abuse take place –
I was myself accused of the indecent assault of a boy in care when
I was a student residential child care worker 30 years ago.
Although it was taken no further, that false allegation and the
police interview had serious effects on my reputation, my peace of
mind, my career and my work elsewhere.
Through subsequent contact and work with organisations for those
who have been falsely accused, I have encountered rivers of
evidence of individuals and families and their children subject to
massive social injustice through false allegations of child
One of the problems is that, for any individual or inadequately
funded voluntary group, this body of evidence is so huge, diverse,
sensitive and from such a kaleidoscope of sources, it is impossible
to collate. And, in populist terms, it would not enhance the
already low reputation of social work institutions to be seen to
support work that might assist “paedophiles”.
There are two or three MPs, a couple of members of the House of
Lords and more than a few lawyers taking the issues seriously – no
social workers. This is just as it was when we began to take
whistleblowers like Alison Taylor seriously and set up Freedom to
Care. And, just as it was then, most social workers and key social
work organisations deny there is any problem and pillory those who
insist there is. One difference this time is that the media also
looks the other way. But, just as there were then, are there not
vested interests in denial?
Residential care staff need more support
The proposed standards and regulations seem to be sufficiently
detailed to cover all aspects of the care and protection of young
people in residential care (“Ready for take-off?” and “Home front”,
However, to state the obvious, it is not legislation that cares
for and protects children, nor is it politicians, elected members,
directors of social services or even inspectors. No, it is the
staff engaged in the task and I feel not enough has been done to
ensure that they have the necessary support so that they can carry
out their duties and responsibilities to a sufficiently high
There has been consultation with young people, providers,
purchasers, practitioners and regulators, and it comes as no
surprise to me that in the face of conflicting demands the needs of
residential staff came low on the list of priorities.
Yet the springboard for any positive change in residential care
is to concentrate on providing sophisticated training, supervision
and support structures for staff. Because of a number of complex
factors, residential staff are regarded as “pond life”, by
colleagues in social work, by managers, by residents themselves, by
neighbours and the wider public. The obvious task of raising their
morale is immense if not impossible, but, unless the needs of staff
and young people are seen as inextricably linked and are acted on
in concert, existing tensions will continue to tear this service
In recent research into sickness levels among different
occupational groups, children’s homes staff top the league. This
trend is unlikely to be reversed by the imposition of these new
Social fund cynicism
The government’s rejection of the Committee for Work and
Pensions’ call for an urgent overhaul of the social fund (News,
page 6, 16 August) is at best a disappointment and at worst reeks
of hypocrisy. In opposition, Labour condemned the social fund and
promised radical reform.
To compound the sense of disappointment, was the apparently
deliberate and cynical manner in which the rejection was quietly
slipped out. The Child Poverty Action Group was unaware that the
government had responded until we saw the article in Community
Care. No press statement had been issued, so far as we can tell no
one who gave evidence to the committee was informed. The CPAG
raised the committee’s report at a meeting with a Department for
Work and Pensions minister in July. A letter subsequently received
from the minister made no reference to the government’s response,
even though we now discover that it had by then been
The committee’s report perhaps placed too much emphasis on
technical matters, but it did not avoid the obvious conclusion:
without an urgent overhaul, the poor and vulnerable will continue
to suffer avoidable hardship, and the government’s policies to
tackle poverty will be undermined.
On the scale of strategies to tackle poverty and exclusion, the
social fund may not loom largest. But if the government is genuine
in its desire to tackle poverty, no issue should be ignored.
For all its failings, the social fund has the capacity to do
more to tackle immediate needs and hardship. We hope the government
will revisit its position. It’s cynical timing leaves a very nasty
Child Poverty Action Group