Prevention skills must be defended

Carter argues that social work values are in danger of being marginalised by
initiatives such as Sure Start.

the government increasingly directs funds away from social services and into
initiatives like Sure Start, social work risks becoming exclusively about child

While social services departments are
struggling to resource even child protection work, more than £500m is being
invested in Sure Start to work with families with children younger than four.
Sure Start aims to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of
pre-school children in areas with high levels of poverty and social exclusion.
Despite this, there is a paucity of social workers within the multi-disciplinary
teams nationwide. This will have serious consequences for families and for
social work.

If preventive work is delivered exclusively
by health and education professionals, families are denied the wider
perspective that social work brings to the party. Assessments are more likely
to be dominated by the medical model without reference to factors such as
poverty, discrimination and family background. Projects are then in danger of
discriminating further against families as solutions are directed towards
"individual failings" rather than the wider issues.

Sure Start gives social work the opportunity
to change the public’s perception of the profession. Initially apprehensive
about using my social work title, I have found that families are surprisingly
receptive to support once the community has got to know me as an individual.
Without social workers on Sure Start projects, families will increasingly come
into contact with social workers only where preventive work has failed and
statutory controls such as care orders loom large on the horizon. This can
serve only to worsen the already poor image of social work in the public
consciousness. It also means that we as a profession are losing our preventive
skills. Conceding such valuable ground is dangerous at a time when a review of
the roles of health and social care professionals is high on the political

So what can we do? The partnerships that set
up and run Sure Start projects comprise those agencies locally that are willing
to become involved. Social workers need to ensure they are part of these
partnerships. Only then would they be in a position to fight for a social
worker on Sure Start teams. Unless we as social workers are willing to stand up
and defend our profession, we are in danger of losing our voice, and of failing
in our duty to children who could be helped by preventive social work.

Shona Carter is a family support social
worker for Sure Start in Cauldwell, Bedfordshire.

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