Letters to Community Care 8 January 2009

Appeals skewed against practitioners

I agree with Judge Pearl that the probable decision to exclude social workers from lodging appeals against decisions of the safeguarding authority on the grounds of proportionality or suitability will amount to a breach of section 6 of the Human Rights Convention (“Judge fears barring scheme could breach human rights”).

However, there is more to it. Restricting appeals to points of law or fact is simply passing the whole business of appeals to the legal profession and making social workers incur huge legal fees for having the temerity to question decisions that destroy their professional standing even supposing they can construct a claim that amounts to a point of law.

It seriously skews the odds against the social worker since the board’s costs, including almost certainly representation by a barrister, will be met by the state.

It also removes the option to argue that the punishment does not meet the supposed crime and that the facts established cannot sustain the decision reached.

Steve Anslow, social care officer, Aspect

No offence but I’m PC and proud of it

I found myself turning from depressed to desperate by the comments in Andrew Mickel’s report (“D’oh! Don’t say that!”).

If only we actually had definitions of PC language from the contributors rather than their hysteria about it all going “mad”? In a different era when challenging racism and homophobia were not seen as the domain of “busybodies”, your contributors would no doubt have extolled the virtuousness of their anti-oppressive credentials. Could this new conservatism have something to do with wanting to distance themselves from the braying of The Sun and the News of the World?

In 26 years of practice I have never felt that I was “putting clients down by using politically correct words”. The problem with assumptions is that without context and historical reference, they have no meaning. The word “coloured” has a resonance if you heard it used to denigrate any of Enoch Powell’s speeches would have helped Professor Pilkington understand that.

I fear that academics and trainers feast as much on caricature as newspaper editors. I defy any sensible debate on the origin and purpose of political correctness to highlight when someone was pilloried and silenced for asking for a black coffee or any other of the fanciful prohibitions implied in the article. I am proud that I am mindful of not offending others and appreciating the dangers words can pose to their safety. That is my definition of PC and I’ll defend it.

Nihat Erol, London

Child protection needle in a haystack

Paul Fallon (“Dropping the ball on child protection”) reminded me of advice I gave social workers in my team two years ago when we were being drawn into the Integrated Children’s System and target-driven social work system.

I spoke about the danger of “taking your eye off the ball” and emphasised the importance of retaining the fundamental social work skills.

I came into social work more than 25 years ago. As a manager I have a responsibility to pass on what I have learned.

However, the current system fights against this. Fallon’s comment on Every Child Matters highlights for me an immediate issue, which I have no doubt is reflected across the country.

The police refer to social care nearly every child who comes to their attention. The rationale for this is that every child they come across falls into one or more of the five outcomes of the ECM agenda. This means that each child joins the giant haystack of referrals awaiting authorisation by a manager. Trying to find the ECM “child protection needle” has been made more difficult and bureaucratic and leaves children at risk.

Steve Kemp, practice manager, Bexley, London

Government role in Baby P blame game

While the blame game continues regarding Baby P, and ministers pass the buck to practitioners and councillors, it is the government’s policy that has exacerbated the situation.

First, the separation of children’s and adults’ services. Even when social workers worked together, there were communication problems between mental health and child care workers.

Second, the dismantling of the Social Services Inspectorate has added injuries to insult. The role of the regional SSIs has been pivotal in gathering intelligence from social services departments, monitoring the quality of services, offering help and ­guidance to departments and alerting the Department of Health. There are no similar agencies with social care backgrounds that perform this role.

Third, the government’s obsession with achieving targets prevents workers spending more time with users face to face and formulating a well-informed plan. The managers suffer from a similar predicament.

Throughout my career in social work, including as a social services inspector, I advocated the need for mental health training for professionals working with children and the need to liaise with approved social workers, or psychiatrists. The assessment procedures must take account of the history of parents with drug or alcohol problems and personality disorders. Social workers dealing with children need to work together with those in mental health.

It is time to revisit the training of social workers and re-examine the government’s social care policy.

Reba Bhaduri, social care consultant, Manchester


We incorrectly said that Suffolk Council placed five children in boarding schools and that John Harris was director of children, schools and families at the council (“Is boarding school the answer for vulnerable children?”).

It is Hertfordshire Council that has placed these children and employs John Harris. We apologise for the confusion caused.

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