Letters to the 2 April 2009 edition of Community Care

Laming nails the wrong suspect

Will the latest Laming report have a beneficial impact? Your poll shows that 78% of your readers seem to doubt that it will (poll result, p12, 26 March).

It seems to me that the government and Laming, although well meaning, have it profoundly wrong.

They are in a hole and just can’t stop digging because to do so would entail saying “sorry” and that appears to be unthinkable.

Reading the report seems a bit like playing Cluedo with your aged gran. She artfully elicits all evidence. Clearly it’s Professor Plum in the library with the dagger. But, with a flourish, she announces: “I know, it’s Miss Scarlet, in the conservatory with the candlestick.” What on earth happened there?

The graph on page 12 of the report itself says it all really. Police crime statistics for child homicides where the suspect was the parent (or an acquaintance) show a steady downward trajectory from 2002 to 2006. Then this welcome trend appears to have been thrown into reverse in the years to 2007-8.

Now, I’m no data analyst but it does seem to me (but not it seems to Lord Laming) at least worth asking: “What happened in 2004-5?” Wasn’t there a Children Act 2004? Didn’t we integrate education and children’s social care?

But that of course would involve questioning the current orthodoxy and, it seems, we just can’t go there.

Paul Fallon, children’s social care consultant, independent safeguarding board chair

Caseloads are the key to better care

As a fully qualified former mental health social worker who retired early it is clear to me that the current plight of social work is nothing new.

I practised for six years, having spent seven years at university obtaining a first and second degree plus a few diplomas in the process. I became completely burned out by the sheer volume of clients, all of whom desperately needed support, comfort and help to prevent, in the worst cases, suicide. With a caseload of 50-plus this was by any stretch of the imagination totally impossible. The one who got blown away by it all was me. It was a gradual but insidious process.

To cap it all the social service agencies I worked for produced myriad mission statements, working frameworks and God knows what else in “back-covering exercises”, although, of course, these were never ever suggested as such.

Social workers are then caught in a trap. They are caught between the compulsion of wishing to do their level best for the clients and trying hopelessly to maintain personal sanity.

It’s OK if you do the work tokenistically, but most social workers do the job because they genuinely want to help people.

Politicians’ and senior managers’ belief that more training is required for social workers is complete nonsense.

What is vital is smaller caseloads combined with managerial time to support workers in one the most stressful jobs known to mankind.

Geoff Prater, Reading

Social work must promote itself

Your campaign to improve media relations for social workers faces formidable challenges.

However, the key, as with any media campaign is that you understand there is a need to act.

The greatest threat to any positive media campaign is the inertia of senior management in recognising the value and importance of media management. Social work as an industry may perceive it is the victim of a media witch hunt. The reality is it is no different to any organisation, person or business in the public eye. You have good and bad news.

The challenge is to start handling the media effectively. That means committing resources and senior management time to drafting and implementing a strategy. Senior management needs to understand how the media works, so negative misconceptions are demolished and paranoia is avoided. Any campaign should have two main thrusts.

First, bad news needs to be dealt with quickly. It is vital your side of the story is heard. You cannot stop the media presenting both sides of the argument – that is its job. You can, however, correct inaccuracies in reporting. When doing this there is no need to be nasty, simply robust. That wins friends and respect among the media.

The second main thrust is to promote your positive news. Tell the media about your successes. Social work is inherently newsworthy because you deal with people. The industry needs to use that to its advantage.

Fundamentally the social work industry works enormously hard, doing a huge amount of good in difficult situations. You just need to tell the media about it and manage it. Then your passion will shine through.

Ben Pinnington, director, Artemis Media & Public Affairs

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