By an anonymous social worker
The concept of the “scape goat” is biblical in origin. The High Priest would select two goats; one to be offered as a blood sacrifice and the other to be sent away to the wilderness. The belief was that the exiled goat would carry away with it all of the community’s sins and the people would be absolved as a result of this action.
Consider this premise alongside the punitive management culture that exists in many local authorities. Recently Ofsted identified that many children’s services departments are wholly inadequate as a result of under resourcing and poor leadership. Deep cuts to preventative services mean acute services are coming under increasing pressure.
The profession is undoubtedly constrained and influenced by the public reaction when a child dies or is seriously harmed. Of course, in these circumstances, decision making should be challenged and scrutinised through investigatory processes. However, it is my experience that the duty and desire to safeguard can be manipulated in another, less altruistic manner.
The following scenario is becoming depressingly familiar and is indicative of the bullying and scapegoating culture unleashed on any worker who dares to speak out. I call it the “retrospective trawl”. Here is how it works: the social worker/team manager in question is likely to be a permanent employee and one who works long and arduous hours with minimal support. This is necessary to cope with a high, complex caseload, which is unmanageable within the contractual hours. The social worker rightly becomes concerned about the impact this working pattern is having on their health and wellbeing, relationships and general ability to function.
If the worker decides enough is enough and submits a complaint of bullying or grievance, then the retrospective trawl is likely to begin. Usually the complaint will be acknowledged, but not acted on. A number of weeks later, the worker will be suspended on the deliberately vague allegation that their “practice/decision making has potentially left children at risk”.
Management will state the need to launch an investigation into the worker’s practice, sometimes going back a number of years. Cases will be trawled through and decisions scrutinised for “evidence” of poor practice amounting to gross misconduct. Often the case decisions in question will have been known about, just never properly considered in supervision.
If the worker does not mount a robust defence, they are likely to be dismissed and referred to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) or equivalent regulator. Internal investigations tend to be riddled with hindsight bias and often confuse the chronological order of events, sometimes deliberately, sometimes due to incompetence. Once the worker is dismissed, the original grievance is never actually properly heard. Their concerns regarding workload, lack of support and bullying remain unchallenged. The exiled worker literally becomes the scapegoat in the vain hope that in removing the troublesome employee the problem of an overloaded, failing service will simply go with them.
We all know it will not.
The practice using a scapegoat to banish sins may date back to the Old Testament but unfortunately it is alive and well in many children’s services departments today.