Child protection social workers should “take more risks”

More confidence needs to be placed in child protection social
workers to enable them to take risks, according to new research by
the independent think tank Demos, writes Amy

The research argues that, under the present system, child
protection social workers don’t feel able to take risks so may
potentially miss out on positive outcomes.

“The approach that the system encourages is risk avoidance and
there are times that taking a risk may be better in the long term,”
explained report author Rachael Hetherington using the example of
family intervention work, where a social worker could take a risk
and intervene or decide not to and potentially allow a situation to

Hetherington said that making a judgement on when to take a risk
was very difficult and called on the government to build social
workers’ confidence to help them achieve this.

She added that the confidence boost should be accompanied with
more professional autonomy as social workers are currently too
firmly controlled by their management.

Ian Johnson, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, said he would welcome a move to give social workers more
professional autonomy. “We would like to see more freedom, but of
course with accountability. And accountability to be a creative
professional rather than be someone that does what they are told,”
he said.

The report also calls for social workers to be provided with
non-managerial supervision, arguing that managers are often under
enormous practical pressures which don’t allow them to work through
alternative possibilities for cases.

Hetherington said that instead social workers needed supervisors
who knew what was going on in the area but were able to help them
stand back from their work, understand how their intervention work
in a family was working, and spark off new ideas.

The report also calls for social workers to be based in
multidisciplinary teams in schools, health centres and the
community – a proposal that could sit well with the
development of children’s trusts likely to be backed by the
green paper on children to be published this month.

– The Risk Factor – Making the child protection system work
for children

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