Government introduces ‘vehemently opposed’ change to social work practice in working together guidance

The changes could impact on how social workers progress referrals and how much access they have to managers

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The updated guidance instructing local authorities and partner agencies how to protect children has removed requirements for social workers to involve managers in the handling of cases.

The government has this week published the final updated Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance, and left in changes challenged by the British Association of Social Workers, which include not requiring social workers to discuss with their managers the speed at which a referral should be progressed, or having access to a manager to discuss concerns about cases.

The new statutory guidance has also removed the need for social workers to discuss with their managers the need for further action after cases are reviewed, and said social workers alone should review plans for the child.

One change removes the requirement for social workers to have access to their managers to talk through cases, instead replacing it with access to “colleagues”.

Changes in full (emphasis added):

Before Now
Timeliness “The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgements to be made by the social worker in discussion with their manager on each individual case. “The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm they face. This will require judgments to be made by the social worker on each individual case.
Progressing assessments and reviewing plans “Where the outcome of the assessment is continued local authority children’s social care involvement, the social worker and their manager should agree a plan of action with other professionals and discuss this with the child and their family. The plan should set out what services are to be delivered, and what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose.” “Where the outcome of the assessment is continued local authority children’s social care involvement, the social worker should agree a plan of action with other practitioners and discuss this with the child and their family. The plan should set out what services are to be delivered, and what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose.”
“The plan should be reviewed regularly to analyse whether sufficient progress has been made to meet the child’s needs and the level of risk faced by the child. This will be important for neglect cases where parents and carers can make small improvements. The test should be whether any improvements in adult behaviour are sufficient and sustained. Social workers and their managers should consider the need for further action and record their decisions. “The plan should be reviewed regularly to analyse whether sufficient progress has been made to meet the child’s needs and the level of risk faced by the child. This will be important for neglect cases where parents and carers can make small improvements. The test should be whether any improvements in adult behaviour are sufficient and sustained. Social workers should consider the need for further action and record their decisions.
“Effective professional supervision can play a critical role in ensuring a clear focus on a child’s welfare. Supervision should support professionals to reflect critically on the impact of their decisions on the child and their family. The social worker and their manager should review the plan for the child. Together they should ask whether the help given is leading to a significant positive change for the child and whether the pace of that change is appropriate for the child. Any professional working with vulnerable children should always have access to a manager to talk through their concerns and judgements affecting the welfare of the child. “Effective practitioner supervision can play a critical role in ensuring a clear focus on a child’s welfare. Supervision should support practitioners to reflect critically on the impact of their decisions on the child and their family. The social worker should review the plan for the child. They should ask whether the help given is leading to a significant positive change for the child and whether the pace of that change is appropriate for the child. Practitioners working with children should always have access to colleagues to talk through their concerns and judgments affecting the welfare of the child.
Attending strategy discussions “A local authority social worker and their manager, health professionals and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the strategy discussion.” “A local authority social worker, health practitioners and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the strategy discussion.”

In a response to the consultation on the new guidance, BASW said its members were “vehemently opposed” to the move listed as a “minor” change when it was first proposed. The professional body for social workers said this was due to managers being “crucial in terms of accountability and shared responsibility”.

It added the government had given “no reason” for making the change and it would be a “high risk strategy”.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services likewise said it would be a “significant amendment” and said there should be “further discussion about the drivers for this change”.

‘Overexposed’

However, the only acknowledgement of the concerns in the government’s consultation response was in the “general comments” section, which said: “In addition to the specific questions included in the consultation document, a number of other important points were raised over the course of the consultation – for example, removing references to ‘managers’ in the section detailing social workers’ decision-making processes, and the potential impact this change would have on shared accountability in frontline practice.”

Outside of the changes, the guidance does stress the importance of supervision, saying it can play a “critical role” that there should be space for professional judgement and that practitioners are expected to act within locally agreed protocols.

Responding to the final version of the guidance, Maris Stratulis, BASW England manager, said it was “very disappointing to see the amendment has remained in the final guidance”.

“We repeat our concerns, that this change leaves social workers overexposed, especially inexperienced social workers. During referrals, the best interests of the child needs to be at the centre of any decision making process and this may be put at risk without experienced, managerial oversight and supervision,” Stratulis said.

She added BASW would canvass members on the guidance to issue a full response.

New local safeguarding arrangements

Other changes to the guidance strengthened the legal requirements on local police, councils and health services to make joint safeguarding decisions to support children and families, as part of the government’s replacement of local safeguarding children’s boards.

Local leaders will also share responsibility for making plans to keep children safe. There will be 17 ‘early adopter’ areas of the new safeguarding arrangements, including 39 local authorities, before they are established across the country. There role will be to “produce clear learning” to be shared among other areas, which have a year to publish local arrangements.

Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, said the law changes would create a stronger safeguarding system which places “greater accountability on the key professionals involved”.

“The guidance will bring health agencies, police forces and councils together to work more collaboratively, making effective decisions that put the needs of local families at the heart of their work,” Zahawi said.

12 Responses to Government introduces ‘vehemently opposed’ change to social work practice in working together guidance

  1. Paul July 6, 2018 at 12:20 pm #

    I would see one of the advantages of this change is that it will combat managerialism in social work practice which ironically New Labour instilled into social work with a vengeance and effectively led to a dark age in social worker accountability and decision making. The new guidance soesnt atop Social workers consulting with managers and I am sure that they will continue to do so – but it could also allow social workers tk become more accountable for their decision making, focus on the primary client rather than the needs of the local authority and make the profession more professional.

    • Emma Tong July 8, 2018 at 6:55 am #

      Totally agree

    • Barry John Michael Clarke July 8, 2018 at 9:33 am #

      Dear Paul,

      You have hit the nail on the head.

      My experience with children’s services, from two Adjacent LAs reflects what you say. All well trained social worker’s in my experience have been initially very cooperative, objective and competent. In isolated cases few are hopelessly incompetent even to the extent of not being able to read a Child Arrangement/ Contact Order. The competence level changes when reigned in by LA higher management and legal functions.

      I am hopelessly optimistic that the changes will alter matters for the child(ten). On the other hand the controlling culture currently in place will continue. Doctors will continue to decide not to make referrals because many regard the whole business as incompetent and wrong for their patient.

      There is also a sex and ageism bias that needs addressing as well as judiciary’s over reliance on investigative reports of social workers many of whom make simple situations over complex. Local Authorities gain access to Judiciary including high court ex-partie meetings with the intent to make applications fail as “without merit”. In my opinion, either this practice needs to end, my preference, or other parties should have the same access. The Pro-Forma method of applying restricts the applicant’s ability to properly explain complex situations Evidence provided without request at this stage being frequently returned unseen.

      My current concern is medical neglect by one parent and a Local Authority who consistently denies that the child has health needs. His appearance and photographs make his kin and neighbours cry. The Local Authority’s positioning simply encourages the child’s mother to continue to jinx all the arrangements the father makes for the child. In my child’s case this has continued since early 2014 and the cumulative damage through lack of diagnosis and treatment is said by some that if the behaviour continues in the next four to five years outcome will be “unspeakable”.

      The LA’s actions in this case validate the monkey business of the mother and encourage her to keep on jinxing arrangements for the child.

      The remedies against the LA are limited because of its investigative powers. The remedies for the child are potentially huge. Of course my only concern is to get the child the medical attention he needs.

      I welcome these changes.

    • Dr Steve Rogowski July 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm #

      Well said, Paul. Couldn’t agree more and it looks as though most/all social workers agree with you. I have been arguing against managerialism for many years, as should all those practitioners who claim to be professional.

  2. Diane Cooke July 6, 2018 at 1:10 pm #

    This just ensures the blame for any mistake/complaint rests solely with the S/W and management are even further removed from accountability.

  3. Dotty Isaac July 6, 2018 at 8:25 pm #

    I agree with Diane Cooke.

    This is going to stitch up a lot of well meaning SWs in time to come. With rules and regulations changing very frequently in addition to this added responsibility, I guess fewer people would become weary of working with children

  4. Ana July 6, 2018 at 8:30 pm #

    This guidance gives the necessary autonomy to practitioners and will hopefully at least reduce if not eradicate micromanagement!

  5. Andrew W July 6, 2018 at 9:53 pm #

    Ah, so good to see the hand of the Chief Social Worker representing social workers……….

  6. sw111 July 7, 2018 at 2:17 pm #

    The aspect relating to the manager is replaced by the colleagues removes the added appendage and bureaucracy that is present within the current practice of manager’s consultation and decision making. The draft in a way is giving value to the social worker’s judgement and care plan that is formulated in consultation with other professionals.
    These days the managers are fairly inexperienced and they have managed to climb up the ladder not by experience or skill but pleasing the higher management and by being bureaucratic.
    In some cases, the managers are guided by the more experienced social workers but in respect of support, financial or otherwise, they become the gatekeepers to ensure money is not spent “needlessly”, (support social worker advocating is Genuine).
    I commend the guidance will increase the professionalism of the workers who will justify the action; the workers who know the family/child better but they have to comply contrary to their judgement with the senior management decision that may have been influenced by financial reasons.
    The guidance is a welcome and I hope this will reduce bureaucratic processes and honestly some of the managers are doing the tick box, simply covering their backs.
    The guidance does not merit to be opposed; an experienced and skilled worker would uphold the draft guidance.

  7. LS July 8, 2018 at 1:23 am #

    I disagree Diane sorry as managers we are often solely accountable for the practice of our social workers and often SW do not have to take responsibility for their own professional actions . I never understood this fully and to some extent had your view until I became a manager and realised that no matter what I always end up accountable for what my social workers do , which I bellive is wrong as SW themselves should be accountable for their actions / decisions etc it is not appropriate to land all responsibility for case management on management which many do . I would agree with Paul in that is doesn’t stop management consultation but provides Sw more accountability and autonomy within thier role

  8. Teddy t July 8, 2018 at 1:41 am #

    Why call the document ‘working together’ if it now implies that social workers are the key decision makers without managerial accountability? This will further perpetuate a blame culture against social workers. We get it from the public, other professionals etc and these changes do not help matters. Honestly the bureaucracy in this career is stifling, I am so done and am only a few months in.

  9. sw111 July 8, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

    In response to the comment by Diane, when have the managers been accountable for their decision – the onus rests on the frontline social workers who are sanctioned and referred to hcpc. Managers have never been the focus when inappropriate decision is flagged up – and if and when that occurs, the organisational structure, instability and other fluffy issues are highlighted.

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