Social workers urged to ‘take risks’

More confidence needs to be placed in child protection social
workers so they can take risks, according to new findings from
independent think-tank Demos.

The research argues that the present system deters child protection
social workers from taking risks – a hindrance that could affect
the chance of a positive outcome.

“The system encourages risk avoidance and there are times when
taking a risk may be better in the long term,” said report author
Rachael Hetherington. She said family cases caused dilemmas for
social workers who could risk intervening or decide not to and
perhaps allow a situation to escalate.

Hetherington said it was difficult to make a judgement on when to
take a risk and called on the government to build social workers’
confidence to help them.

She said it should be accompanied by more professional autonomy as
social workers were too firmly controlled by their management.

Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, would welcome such a move. “We would like to see more
freedom, but with accountability – to be a creative professional
rather than 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 pressures which prevent them working through alternative

Instead, Hetherington said, social workers needed supervisors who
knew what was happening in the area and could help them stand back
from their work, understand how intervention in a family was
working and spark new ideas.

The report also says social workers should be based in
multidisciplinary teams in schools, health centres and the
community – a proposal that could sit well with the development of
the 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

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