Letters to Community Care 22 January 2009

Readers’ letters to the 22 January 2009 edition of Community Care

What’s wrong with social work today

How many more times will things go wrong in social care before the media realise that castigating a particular service is not and never has been the main point. I am not suggesting that people who make mistakes should not be held accountable. However, accountability should be seen in the context of the conditions that people work under, not as an excuse to produce a scapegoat.

Public services have been continually cut at the front line, while the accountability machine imposed by government has developed a whole raft of jobs at middle manager level so the paperchase or back-covering exercise can be seen to be done. This has meant that costs have increased as service has decreased.

Also, fear has been generated to such a degree that it is very hard for many areas to recruit staff, which has left workers in these places dangerously overworked.

Resources are so poor in most areas that there is nowhere to place children at risk or the available places are little better than their home environments.

Communication between agencies also remains poor, although there are some excellent local initiatives. No one has ever taken responsibility for taking managers from all the agencies and making them work together.

There are solutions to all these problems but not the political will. What is needed is to replace two-thirds of middle managers with trained admin staff hugely cheaper and vastly more effective.

We also need to change the way we view services and not just jump up and down when things go wrong. No one in the media bothers to comment on the thousands of times every day that the public access help and support from social care agencies. Why? Largely because the services like to keep a low profile. It’s about time we stopped doing that.

We should not penalise people who are applying to foster or adopt by making them jump through so many hoops that they end up feeling criminalised. Much of the investigation beyond police checks and competency levels is unnecessary and counter-productive.

The fear culture again rules as some prospective carers have been told that if anything goes wrong they are on their own.

Paul Jewitt, Former forensic social worker/assertive outreach, ASW/MHO

Personalising is not a question of size

Oldham director Paul Davies told Community Care that large providers were often “insufficiently personalised” (news, p6, 8 January). The way forward, he said, was to fund small organisations. However, there is no intrinsic reason why large organisations cannot provide personalised support.

There are countless examples from many fields of economic activity where the product is individually tailored to each customer.

The truer statement Paul could have made is that individual budgets – which Oldham has spearheaded – are not the route to bringing about the transformation of mainstream social care services that is widely acknowledged as required.

However, there is work in other parts of the UK that is showing how a major change to councils’ strategic commissioning process, with a major change in the nature of the relationship between the council and providers, has the real potential to bring about personalisation.

Colin Slasberg, Harlow, Essex

A predictable response to a crisis?

I write as someone with more than 30 years’ experience in children’s social care, including child protection.

Following the Baby P case, the general condemnation of social workers by the media and politicians will have several completely predictable outcomes.These will be enhanced by the red top newspapers’ vilification of staff at the London Borough of Haringey. They will be:

● A bureaucratic and reactive response by the government.

● A major exodus of the most talented workers and managers from the social work profession (including potential new entrants).

● A significant increase in the numbers of children removed from the care of potentially sound and viable parents.

The overall result will be that children are more rather than less vulnerable.

Peter Jones, Blackburn

Don’t discount the value of IT systens just yet

I was a little disturbed by what appears to me to be a mixing of issues in a recent letter (“System approach fails users”) – ICT systems and systems theory are not one and the same.

Centralised “customer management” services should be implemented only where they have been deemed to be fit-for-purpose and as a result of demonstrable benefits to service users. The ICT systems used to support its implementation would require the same analysis and decision-making. I would suggest that failings in the Integrated Children’s System do not lie within the use of a systems approach, but in its poor implementation.

In my experience, children’s services and many other public sector organisations, have a long way yet to travel to move away from the ‘command and control’ approach to tackling service improvement to a systems approach. Under “command and control” targets are imposed. Under a systems approach they are more realistically set through collective development. Ownership and buy-in from all is the intended result and deemed the best and most likely way to achieve success.

Under a systems approach targets are also there to “inform”, They are not there to beat the worker or manager as is the case under command and control. This demands a cultural change, particularly from leaders, so it may not be so surprising that change continues to be slow in coming.

Is it too much to hope that Ed Balls’ programme for leaders will have the desired impact and that the government will reflect on its rhetoric of reducing the burden upon local authorities for management information while continuing to ask for more and more? My cup remains, just, half full.

Roy Perrett, Dudley, West Midlands

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