Forms obscure needs

article on bureaucracy in social care ("Going through the motions",
20 September) raised some important issues, but did not examine the way in
which bureaucracy impacts on the relationship between social worker and client.

work in a child and family clinic and recently had the experience of returning
to a district office to help alleviate the staffing crisis, having not worked
in such a setting for 13 years. What I found was not just that the increase in
form-filling took away from direct contact but that it also had an insidious
and detrimental effect on the way in which children were thought about and
related to.

experience was that form-filling undermined the capacity of social workers to
think for themselves. A social worker no longer focuses on making his or her
own professional judgement but instead follows the format of the form. With the
forms completed the organisation can rest, assured that what ought to be done
is being done. It reduced anxiety in the hierarchy.

do not think this is unique to any one authority but rather pervades local
authorities country-wide and emanates from central government.

can damage child-centred practice by creating a distance between the worker and
the family.

find it hard to describe the alienation I felt as a social worker sitting in
meetings with families and professionals where the focus was on completing the
form rather than attending to the concerns of the child or young person and
their family. This is not a criticism of those professionals who were all
skilled, experienced and sensitive social workers. It was as if they no longer
noticed that the bureaucratic machinery assembled around social work was
obscuring the needs of the child.


Fear of the racist tag

fear of being accused of racism, in left-wing councils particularly, has
terrorised senior social workers and managers perhaps even more than social
workers ("Trapped by ignorance", 25 October).

judgements made in assessments have often not been subject to as critical
scrutiny as the complexity of the situation warranted.

article tells us that "Black families often have very different
experiences… of what involvement with statutory services will mean…"

from what? From white middle class families called aside at A&E departments
when presenting a child with dubious injuries? Or from poor families referred
by their school to social services because the children are smelly? I don’t
think so. The feelings of these experiences are very similar.

misunderstandings are not uniquely issues of black and white. Multi-cultural
issues and misunderstandings are about inter-personal value systems and social
and family patterns. With this insight, is it admissible to suggest that to
presume that "black" and "white" represent cultural
identities is in itself a racist presumption?


Children’s judges needed

coverage of the Victoria Climbie Inquiry highlights the problems of running
child protection services these days.

am a mental health social worker with experience of child care social work.
Recently, I became involved in a child protection case where there was a lot of
waiting upon events, as caring relatives applied for residence orders. These
applications took a very long time.

is problematic that conferences do not have a firm footing in law. I believe
that we need children’s judges in England and Wales. These should chair
conferences from the outset.

should give directions as to which assessments and enquiries must be made, and
by whom. They could make interim orders. They would hold all the threads in
their hand.

fear that the provision of child protection services will neither improve, nor
be eased for hard-pressed staff, until the gap between agencies and courts is


Lambeth improving

point I made at the National Social Services Conference (News, page 11, 25
October) was that Lambeth needs no help in confronting failing services.

we have actively sought to expose and confront failure, so that we can put
safe, sound practice in its place. We work closely with the Social Services
Inspectorate, we have a robust action plan, we have strong corporate and
political commitment to change and we have good health partnerships. And we can
see improvements in the performance indicators and in feedback from users,
staff and partners.

Milburn’s acknowledgement at the conference that Lambeth was improving fast is
highly significant. For those of us putting in tremendous effort for little
thanks or reward, a little encouragement and support goes a long way.

Judith Brodie
Executive member for children
and health, London Borough of Lambeth

Time to value staff

doesn’t surprise me that councils are having difficulty recruiting social
workers (News, page 6, 18 October). Twelve months ago, I left local government
and was asked by my employer to complete an exit questionnaire. I cited the following
reasons for leaving local government: no decent pay rise for over three years;
attacks on conditions of service, such as reductions in mileage payments; and
an intimidatory sickness policy masquerading as "staff care".

response of the authority I worked for was to invite me for an interview six
weeks after I had left to take up my new post.

shortage of social workers will not be resolved until employers start to make
the job more attractive, which means for most people better pay and conditions,
and employment practices that make you feel valued.

and address withheld

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