Open Forum

Social work practice has become so geared towards meeting targets that many of us are no longer clear about the point of it all.

In 1971, social services departments were created in a climate of optimism, and social workers and their managers believed in the value of social work. The social work task was seen to be a professional activity, and recruitment was based on the premise that integrity was at the heart of the task. Society placed significant trust in professional people.

Successive governments have created a culture in which professional skill has become less and less valued. In its place we have a culture that is based on the measurement of activity. The nature of that activity is defined by performance indicators. In the health service, the true power of performance indicators can be readily observed as the service being offered is no longer based on professional knowledge and skill but rather on government targets. Welfare services are also moving rapidly towards that position.

The point of a social work service has now shifted. I want employers and workers to acknowledge the nature of this change. Councils should discard the title “social worker” and create titles that reflect current tasks.  

Social workers could then make realistic decisions about their careers. Employers would then acquire staff who accept the philosophy of welfare provision and workers could discard those social work principles that bring them into conflict with their council employers.

Having created congruence between the needs of the organisation and the workers’ understanding of the task, a great deal of the dissatisfaction among social workers would be eliminated.

Being clear about the climate in which they work would allow workers to either join in or to seek employment in settings which respected their professional values. Councils could then make sure that users understood what was on offer – that is, meeting government targets rather than local need.

Joyce Brand is an independent social worker

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