By Blair McPherson
I used to say that you didn’t need to have been a social worker to be a director of social services but I have changed my mind. When people at the top don’t share the professional values of those they lead then they don’t get why some decisions are just wrong. They don’t get why 15-minute home care visits are wrong, why outsourcing children’s services is wrong, why replacing social workers with unqualified staff is wrong, why removing the funds for preventative services is wrong, why making eligibility criteria even tighter is wrong, why giving into pressure from hospitals to free up beds is wrong, why bigger is not better when it comes to care, why residential care is not what people want.
A senior manager in housing or libraries has the transferable budget management, performance management and people management skills plus the political sensitivity to manage adult social services, but their decisions and the culture within the department will not be informed by social work values. How long before promoting independence, dignity, respect and choice is replaced by hitting performance targets for assessments and reviews, delivering efficiency savings and freeing up hospital beds?
The importance of values
There is something about social work training or maybe it’s just the type of people who decide to become social workers, but when people come off their training courses they have a strong sense of values. Some will be exposed to the cynicism of experienced colleagues, some will be worn down by the system, but most will still hold to the same values, albeit frustrated that budget cuts, eligibility criteria and workloads make it hard to do the job the way they think it should be done.
In my experience social workers tend to be idealists, often dismissed by other professionals and managers as naive because they talk about how things should be rather than how things are. The best senior managers I worked with never lost their idealism or forgot their professional values. Despite the competing demands and compromises they were forced to make, they never forgot that they were dealing with vulnerable individuals not numbers, data or unit costs.
Now social work values are being undermined by severe budget cuts and an ideology of treating health and social care as a business, there has never been a greater need for senior managers with a strong sense of social work values.
Blair McPherson is an ex-social worker, former director, author and blogger.