Debate on whether senior managers take responsibility for service failures

We asked for people’s views on whether senior managers
take responsibility when services fail:

These are the responses we received:

no they do not


I think that social workers are hugely
vulnerable to accusations of incompetence or having failed “to do
the right thing at the time”. This is then dressed up and dealt
with by way of the ‘disciplinary procedure’ and we are then
‘shafted’ and labelled to have been guilty of misconduct or gross

Having been round the block in child protection teams for many
years I feel immensely sorry for naive and/or inexperienced workers
(not always one and the same thing), who don’t believe that local
authority management, structured as it is, will look for someone to
blame. Within the ‘business’ of social services
activity, social workers and their managers struggle with an
inability to define what the the priorities are or should be
……… in a climate where everything seems to have
‘priority’ stamped all over it.

Audits, LAC stuff, and other ‘rituals’ seem to be
linked to funding or grants to the authority, and failure to
complete or participate attracts more ‘flak’ in our
authority, than anything else …………..short of the death of a
child. These are often distractions that simply sap energy, and
take your eye off the ball.

I simply don’t know how ‘our trade’ has gotten into
this awful predicament where we have to justify our existence and
explain what it is we are doing, and how we see the world.

It seems that social workers could effectively complete the
mountain of required paperwork, “present a case/family situation as
tidy as pie”, but will have done nothing to ameliorate the strife
of some abused child.

We seem so remote from our senior managers and local councillors
and their ‘reality framework’. They eternally struggle
to understand what we actually do and how we see priorities from
our perspective.

Furthermore notions of workload, work that is do-able, realistic
time frames etc, etc are a management quagmire and best avoided.
Management denial of stress, and the elements in social work that
cause it, are equally an anathema. Management understanding seems
as distant from those who “work the frontline” as ever. (even
though the authority has the most wonderful array of policies,
(including one on stress), in christendom and beyond).

So often the art of social work is how to say difficult things
to a person who wants to knock your ‘head off’.
Encapsulated therein is the issue of fear, and these departments
have somehow got to construct an arena of safety in which one can
conduct these rituals. One is lured into tempering the difficult
truths on personal safety grounds.”


I worked in a south coast patch office during
the early 90’s where the CSM and team manager would not speak to
each other.
Work piled up and cases were unallocated. The team alerted higher
management, but nothing was done. Eventually and indirectly a child
The office was closed and social workers disciplined and dispersed.
The CSM left after a year, bored with uninspiring
‘projects’. The team manager was

It is my belief that all departments should
have clearly defined tiers of responsibility drawn up so that
management decisions that later are called into question can be
traced back to the individuals responsible.
Very few, if any, social services departments seem to operate in
this way and this must change. If a worker is being supervised,
management has an ability to monitor developments. If things then
go wrong that worker is, in part, covered. This should work all the
way up the tiers. If workers are not getting supervision this is
another failure of management, and they should be the fall
This is not rocket science just common sense.”


My manager, just a few weeks ago, wrote in an
email to our area manager that ‘ for no real reason, Karen stopped
visiting this family’. This was despite my clear statement over
many months that I was so overloaded that I was unable to visit the
children on my caseload often enough to ensure their safety (the
child in question was in foster care and was one of the safest
children, in my view, on my caseload. Although I agree this was a
child with complex and a high level of need.
He wrote this even though our team had written to him (copied to
our area manager) outlining our fears for the safety of children on
our caseloads due to serious overload. We also expressed extreme
concern about the levels of stress within our team. Even though we
highlighted causes of concern and some ways of relieving these
difficulties nothing was done.
I have been scapegoated and no longer feel safe working for
children’s services. Should a child on my caseload die can I be
confident that this won’t happen again?


Inquiry after inquiry state virtually the same
thing, social work generally is in a mess and something needs to be
done. Unfortunately the public, bless them, know nothing about what
we do, our fault not theirs, so accept the standard knee-jerk
reaction of ‘sacking the frontline staff’.

People who are already familiar with some of my work know that I
have strong views about the way an ever increasing move to
‘business management’ processes in social work
management has led to an increasingly separated structure with
managers becoming less aware almost weekly of what is actually
happening at ‘the coal face’.

What is more, because they see themselves as more and more
responding to ‘objectives and key output areas’, rather
than actual need, the whole thing is inevitably going pear-shaped
at a rate of knots. I am ashamed to say that I was one of those in
the States in the mid to late 70s who was promoting a more focused
approach to public sector management, out of which grew the current
fascination with ‘model-orientated’ everything, to the
point where no manager actually chooses an applicant for a post on
merit and whether they would fit well in the ‘team’,
instead they have a list of ‘criteria and priorities’
that means effectively anyone actually any good at doing the job is
eliminated pretty much straight away. There are no real
‘crisis managers’ left in social work, except in a few
isolated places, and so the process of disaffection between social
workers and their managers continues its downward spiral. Everyone
has learned to pass the buck and watch their back.

The only way to change this is for managers to actually stand
up, as should have been done right at the start of all the current
cases and say, ‘look, we do the best we can with few
resources and virtually no respect from public or government. We
cannot do the impossible, and if you want the service you demand
then give us both the money to do it and the respect to get on with

All the media and commentators totally ignore the thousands of
problems resolved every single day by social workers up and down
the British Isles, and what is more, mostly they are not even
thanked by the recipients of their services. It is time that social
work took an aggressive stance and started to tell it like it is.
Social work is a vocation and one of the most honourable
professions in the public sector. Staff do not do it for the money,
that’s for sure! Let’s hear it for the brave, selfless
and hardworking blue chip company employees, the staff of social


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