There is a narrative developing among those who govern public services. A narrative that seeks to displace the blame for negativity that runs throughout the education, health and social care sectors.
In education, this way of deflecting blame has been seen most recently in Nicky Morgan’s appeal for teachers to stop being negative about the profession. In social work, it has been seen in the allegation that those criticising fast-track training schemes are vicious.
In essence, those of us working within public services are being told that we are putting people off from joining our professions. Instead of moaning about the issues we face, we should be focusing on the positive, in order to help the recruitment that we need.
Tell them about all the good you see, but please leave out the bad.
My answer to this is that if we are being asked to stop moaning by those in power, they need to give us something to cheer for.
How can people who work ten hours of unpaid overtime every week advise their friends that social work gives you a good work-life balance?
How can we advise family members that social work is a lifelong career option when we know that the average person lasts only seven years before changing careers?
How can we shout about job satisfaction when budget cuts have seen our early-intervention services decimated to the point where we are often becoming involved when it is too late to effect any meaningful change?
I love my job and I could honestly never see myself doing anything else, but that doesn’t mean I am going to hide from the reality that it is a damned hard career; a career that increasingly sees me battling against the barriers of government support, not being supported by it.
‘Belittling our opinions’
I have lost count of the amount of food parcels I’ve applied for, housing appeal letters I’ve written and countless hours I’ve spent on the phone to chase up benefit delays.
In my first year as a student I remember being told “social work is about working both for and against the state”. With an increasingly shrinking welfare state, that statement rings as true now as it ever did.
Of course this gloom is occasionally punctured with rays of sunshine – the girl who thrives in foster care, the boy who you turn away from a life of crime, the family your effort keeps together, the man you get back into the community, the woman whose world you make more manageable – but simply telling these stories and not the difficulties would be unfair, unjust and unchallenging to the powers that be.
This call to be more positive and stop spreading negative messages also belittles those of us at the coalface of social care who are voicing our opinions; an attempt to make our arguments appear glib and pessimistic.
But it is not fear-mongering or left-wing activism that drives our negativity. We share our views out of a hope that somebody will listen and see the impact that current policy is having on service delivery.
Asking us to speak more positively of our profession will not make these issues go away, it will simply hide them from view. In a profession where we are all too aware of the impact of hidden harm and brushing things under the carpet, peddling this narrative of false hope ourselves is extremely dangerous.
Give all of our students, not just our heralded fast-trackers, a commitment to bursaries and we’ll share positive stories. Curtail the council budget cuts that go too far, too deep and too soon, and we’ll cheer for our services. Bring back the early intervention services that kept communities together and we’ll show you our optimism again.
Give us something to cheer about and we will, but don’t tell us to hide the truth because it just isn’t palatable.
The author is a child protection social worker (@socialworktutor)