‘A game which compels you to jump through hoops’: a social worker’s experience of resource panels

A social worker writes about the work involved in presenting cases to resource panels, and how pointless it can often feel

Photo: Kelly Marken/Fotolia

by J. Afterthought

In any average day in a children’s social work office there is the usual crisis management and mayhem taking place, but on one particular day of the week there seems to be a heightened sense of tension, and worry, which is visible on the faces of the workers.

It can only mean one thing; it’s the day when the access to resource panel is held.

Although I’m not fully au fait as to how this process is referred to in other local authorities, through a bit of intuitive research (phone calls to friends) it is also known as an ‘access panel’, ‘resource panel’ and ‘a bloody joke’ by some.

The overall notion of the access to resource panel is quite simple: it consists of a social worker presenting their case to the panel and making a request for the most appropriate resource, which may be a residential placement, specialist intervention, funding towards housing costs and so on.

However, this level of simplicity is so very far from the actual truth and most definitely should come with a warning sign to any worker walking into these panels naively.

Navigating the panel

The first step involves a case discussion with both the team manager and service manager, which seems simple enough but occurs only after you completed the case discussion form, received an agreement for the discussion, and navigated the complex calendar invites.

So once this is complete you’ve made it to the next exciting stage, which is to complete a panel form which requests the ‘basic details’ of the case. But under no circumstance be tempted to only provide the basic details, or it will be promptly filtered out for its lack of detail by the business support worker who holds the magic key to get you to the panel.

There are deadlines introduced at this stage to make the game (process) more exciting for all those involved. So by 1pm on the Wednesday before the next panel the form must be submitted to the magic key holder. But before this may happen you just need to make sure the team manager, service manager and IRO have completed their section of the form. On occasions I’ve been tempted to suggest that maybe one form will do for the whole process, but decided that this suggestion may not be embraced.

Because I’m not the most organised worker I’ve developed a ingenious tactic of befriending the magic key holder in an attempt to negotiate some leeway on the process. Despite our complete lack of similarities in our characters (organised lunch box vs bag of crisps, desk tidy system vs chewed up pen, neatly blown hair vs scruffy bun look) I have successfully managed to earn enough points through the subtle compliments to on occasions get a panel time before the form is complete.

Nerves and apprehension

Next you are allocated a specific time slot on the day of the panel which could be at any time they choose. At this stage any negotiations of time slots is not permitted and you are directed that you must wait outside the door prior to your time to ensure that the panel timetable remains prompt. So there you are with your manager, feeling nervous and apprehensive, waiting to be hollered in. However, the panel has never run on time and you could be expected to wait for hours, loitering around the building with others also waiting around asking ‘you in panel too?’.

In an endearing kind of way it feels that we are all in this together, awaiting our fate to be decided by the higher gods.

Once you make it into the panel room, you recognise a few familiar faces but some completely unknown ones too, although its quickly apparent that all parties hold a senior management position.

The atmosphere feels serious, with the usual jovial office characters struggling to even send a smile your way. The panel displays some similarities as to how Dragons Den may feel, but I truly feel that you may have much more success in there then than in this room.

Introductions then take place and you are asked to give an overview of the case by the panel lead. You manage to blurt out some random facts while all the time wondering why you are even doing this as all the information was provided in the panel report, but again, it’s probably not overly wise to mention this at this point.

Intimidating surroundings

For anyone familiar with the game show Countdown, the questioning begins fast and furious with even a timer helpfully introduced on special occasions to keep within the timescales. So quickly, under extreme pressure and in intimidating surroundings you are required to recall all the things you have done prior to coming to panel to address this situation and the justifications for your actions. For many workers who are dealing directly with the children and families, and presenting their case, this often becomes too much to bear with managers required to intervene in order to protect the emotional well-being of their worker.

If you are extremely lucky – or have presented a watertight case with no room for manoeuvre – you may actually be granted what you request. But this is a very rare occurrence, with many workers sent on their merry way to either explore other options or produce more evidence, with the kind offer to return to the start of the game the same time next week.

At the end you’re struck with how tiresome the whole experience is and how, for even the most experienced workers, it can leave you feeling undervalued and frustrated.

More so it’s a saddening fact that many less experienced workers have been seen to leave the panel in tears, with their confidence shattered and feeling incapable.

You can’t escape the feeling that any potential outcome for the panel was predetermined before you even walked in, and you feel like a pawn in some sort of game which compels workers to jump through impossible hoops to get decisions made while some of the most vulnerable children and families are left waiting longer for essential services.

There’s no doubting that services are strapped for cash and there is a need to stringently monitor their expenditure, but again this appears to be done to the detriment of the frontline workers already at their peak level of stress. In a service which should be working in the best interest of all individuals, the introduction of processes such as the access to resource panel continually evidences a clear lack of empathy, care and consideration towards its own workforce.

J. Afterthought is a pseuodnym, they are a children’s social worker. 

This year’s Community Care Live 2019 boasts over 30 free learning sessions to equip you to face the key challenges in social work practice today. You can also sign up to any of our eight legal learning sessions to help ensure you have the legal literacy your role requires. Register now to ensure you don’t miss out. 

More from Community Care

23 Responses to ‘A game which compels you to jump through hoops’: a social worker’s experience of resource panels

  1. A. Stounded June 21, 2019 at 11:14 am #

    What does a nation have to do to get government , parliament to face reality as to what is actually happening in this country.

    How many times does it need highlighting????

    It needs to look after its vulnerable families and frontline staff in this country as a priority and stop burying it’s head in the sand and effectively seriously neglecting children and vulnerable families!!!!

    The government is seriously failing and should be made accountable for their actions/policies when tragedies occur which have been highlighted and blatantly disregarded time and time again.

    Great Britain really is no more.
    Time for a BIG wake up call!!!

    • Pascale Dutton June 21, 2019 at 4:06 pm #

      Stronly agree. Until the goverment is made accountable nothing will change except making SWs guilty. The only thing is certain is that the risks are increasing with the ongoing reduce funding and services for decade !! I am not sure if people have noticed we no longer hear best value for money for services !!!

    • Abigail Sims June 22, 2019 at 9:59 pm #

      I agree I could be a mother right now and I have ” learning disabilities” and they said I would ” Neglect” my unborn child with no evidence to back there story up.

  2. Ex LA SOCIAL WORKER June 21, 2019 at 11:48 am #

    Cracking piece of writing which certainly reflects my experience…and they wonder why social work is such a mess… approximately 200k of salary sat on a panel to justify what is needed… top heavy management structures making themselves look like they are doing something and justifying their jobs…. social workers have no autonomy and no decision making permissions unless, of course something goes wrong and then it’s totally acceptable to accept responsibility….

    • LA worker Hull June 26, 2019 at 9:07 am #

      Fantastic description of how front line workers feel at panels. Soul destroying experience and another pressure on frontline workers.

      The job is becoming impossible to meet the standards and this is impacting on SW well-being and home life’s. Its never enough for senior managers, ofsted and the government. So just put front line workers in the firing in the firing line because with the austerity cuts it’s impossible to meet the expectations of the LA unless you invest in workers and provide the staffing requirements and resources needed. It’s not rocket 🚀 science!!

  3. sw June 21, 2019 at 11:53 am #

    I actually like panel because of the fact i can talk i have had experiences where the panel does not agree with my recommendations which is frustrating, on balance i win more than i lose. I am naturally confident which helps and i can back up what i am saying. A key skill to navigating panel i feel is preempting what you will be asked and being clear if the support is not provided where this will leave the child/family.

    You need to be assertive and not afraid to challenge the panel, if a challenge is made make sure that is recorded.

    • Ex LA Social Worker June 21, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

      I don’t think the article is about being confident attending a panel. The point that is made is the inefficiency of them and the bureaucracy which surrounds them. The time spent preparing and waiting would surely be better spent working with the families?

      Social workers should be given the responsibility to manage and spend individual budgets. I have seen cases escalate because of delay of resources which is unethical and morally wrong. It is one of the reasons why I am now ex authority.

      • Geoff June 23, 2019 at 6:20 pm #

        I also think these panels border on the illegal. I am old enough to remember the DSS being taken to task for “Fettering their Discretion”. That is making all sorts of hoops that must be gone through before a decision can be made even if the hoops have no relevance to the decision. Given your description and my own experience, they are designed to slow down decision making rather than enable it.

  4. Fog June 21, 2019 at 12:28 pm #

    A good article which I could not agree with more. Perhaps senior managers who run these panels should be required to go back into front line practice – holding a caseload – every 5 years for a period of time so that they understand the challenges and remind themselves of the need ti put service users before the needs of the local authority they work for. .

  5. Tom J June 21, 2019 at 12:42 pm #

    Good article which I and I bet many social workers can relate to.

    When I go to Resource Panel like Oliver; ‘Please sir, can I have some more?’ despite the resource not being personally for me, and despite me writing a really clear case for why a resource is the only viable option.

    I also feel stumbled with the cutting financially based questions such as ‘do you really think it’s worth £200?’ and ‘do you want us to pay for a stairgate for every single family in the city?’ Arguably here there is conflict with the Children Act and other guidance which focuses on need and safety of the child, as opposed to delivering a balanced budget.

  6. exhausted SW June 21, 2019 at 2:07 pm #

    Great article and I couldn’t relate more if I tried!

    This exhausting abuse of power is something I see day in day out and watch newly qualified leave before they complete their first year. What a waste of 2 / 3 years training to do what should be an AMAZING job.

    I see social workers who have brilliant potential to become excellent managers, drown in the bureaucracy not to mention the impact that its having on their personal lives; loosing out on vital time with their own children / separating from their partners / weight gain / loss not to mention the anxiety levels!

    Why-o-why is this level of power needed to agree something so basic as a SAFE home for a child!!

    Well done to the writer for making me see that this isn’t just the life I lead day-in-day out!

  7. nathalie Lee-Francis June 21, 2019 at 2:49 pm #

    Having experience the funding panels determination in what appears to be an exercise in saving money.

    All these panels should be renamed gate keeping panels of the local authority purse and stop pretending they are there to release funds for clients needs, (memories of the Care Act)

    Then many social worker’s may not end up feeling they are facing a firing squad as evermore ways are found to mess with our mental state.

  8. JBarrett June 21, 2019 at 3:12 pm #

    Resource led approaches v Needs Led is here to stay , suck it up . Skill full practitioners have nothing to fear and everything to gain from these processes.

    LA, Nhs Trusts need to work to manage budgets and resources while responding to client needs and risks. No LA or NHS wants front page head lines for the wrong reasons. Knowledge of legislation and skill full evidence based writing crafting cohesive and succinct reports will secure your outcomes every time. That’s what old school practitioners call Social work .

  9. Old locum June 21, 2019 at 4:44 pm #

    This ‘ old school practitioner’ cannot agree with J Barrett. The cumulative dread, stress and sheer waste of valuable professional practitioner time is a scandal. No competent sw wastes public money, after all it is us who contribute to the pot too. Exactly as stated when the s*** hits the fan the only one in the room is the social worker and I’ve had since 1990 watch this unfold. These hoops are also on fire! Please do not publish my name – just old Locum please as I’d like to return to work if I can!

  10. Town R June 21, 2019 at 7:17 pm #

    Legally, in some circumstances parents can attend these meetings. If you all feel so overwhelmed, imagine how some of the vulnerable families might contribute and uphold their own rights and civil liberties.

  11. April Lauriston June 21, 2019 at 10:03 pm #

    Typical example of limited time, limited resources and lack of communication from one side.

  12. Clair Drummond June 22, 2019 at 12:05 pm #

    My first and only experience of the dredded pannel was terrible. I was in the ASC team and was reviewing a mans care package. The first words out of the pannels spokeswoman was “this is an expencive care package”. I said this man has a name (……name inserted….) and his wellbeing is the best it has been in years. This guy had autism and lived alone with carers 24hrs a day, as in the past he had been agressive in a group home setting. All his staff had to be MAPA trained and the pannel head told me to explore community options to look after him during the day to reduce the care budget. Community options such as education, voluntary services etc… she boasted that the LA had built up a host of volunteers that would love to take him walking (his fave passtime). However, this man lives in a rather rural area and the volunteer would be expected to drive to his home to take him out. The suggestion was stupid to be quite honest. Who wants to volunteer and get not comprnsation for their milage? I think its asking a bit much of these nice volunteers.

    I left the LA after 8 weeks in the team. The team had no supervisors (all off sick) and the team manager was managing the hospital team too, as that manager was off sick. The manager did not attend the pannel with the social worker at all, it should have been the supervisor.

    The experience made me feel dejected, i felt i had done some really good work to understand thisans position and gather the feelings of his family and support staff.
    I was fuming when I was sent on my merry way to pull reasources out my ass.

  13. A Man Called Horse June 22, 2019 at 4:42 pm #

    The Emphasis of the Care Act is not about not asking for more of the same costing Local Authorities more money, it is about strength based working.

    These are the questions

    What does a good day look like to you?
    What can your Family do for you?
    What can Tom Dick and Harry do for you?
    What free stuff can you access in the community.

    Austerity has ended growth in Council Budgets to meet increased needs. You have to look creatively at what can be done by the community. This is not business as usual as you have previously known it. Austerity continues and budgets may get even smaller still. You must have noticed services being hollowed out, staff being let go, constant restructures. Shared Services, Increased Council Tax and Business rates being hiked upwards putting many out of business.The Government does not want to fund Social Care, they believe it is the individuals responsibility and their family to provide all support necessary. The Council Tax payer and Business is being bled dry to pay for these services. This is the collatoral damage of having a Tory Government, you want this to stop then get rid of the Tories running Local Authorities.

  14. frustrated June 23, 2019 at 5:02 pm #

    thank you for writing such a brilliant article. I never understood why the panels had to be so adversary. I worked for a LA where it was done through the computer where the IT added to the stress.

  15. Former Adult Services worker June 24, 2019 at 8:26 am #

    We all know that social care funding is in a mess but panels are probably the least person centred way of trying to make ends meet the demand out their. From an Adult Social Care perspective panels seem to be the “return to Go do not collect £200” square on a monopoly board. Yes some workers are more skilled at navigating the panel than others but that misses the point – why are they having to waste their time jumping over hurdles when they should be spending more time with the people they support?

    Another key question is why we should expect a commissioner, finance manager or other senior manager (often panellists) to have a better insight into the person and how to best support them when they’ve never met. Funding for care is not a prize to be fought for and won, it’s a human right.

    If Local Authorities want to manage their care budgets better perhaps they should focus on the other end of the work, at prevention and on connecting people with resources in their community to delay the point at which formal care packages are required rather than putting all their focus and controls on those for whom these options are no longer sufficient.

  16. Lesley W June 24, 2019 at 1:34 pm #

    This article reflected my own experience of attending panel and although the subject matter is no laughing matter, seeing the process written down made me smile, because it reflects the absurdity of the system, so thank you for that.

    Re: old school practitioners, I’ve been in practice for 45 years and this role bears no resemblance to the job I was employed to do.

  17. Disillusioned June 24, 2019 at 5:43 pm #

    I believe these panel members are social workers, registered with HCPC.

    The money would be better spent if they were managing cases rather than scrutinising reports and determining who should be sanctioned services/funds.

    It is such a waste of money and unfortunately they perpetuate more waste making workers spend time on paperwork when in reality it is so meaningless – most of the decisions are made well before the panel.

  18. Mandy Ming June 30, 2019 at 12:08 pm #

    Back in 2007 Community Care printed one of my comments/responses to becoming a social worker and trying to find work ‘Social Work the Musical.’ Over twelve years later I would like to share my experiences:

    One of the worse choices I have ever made in my life and I deeply regret it to this day. Having worked both in frontline child protection and fostering I slowly released that it is one of the most toxic environments whereby senior managers, heads of service and council leaders fail to take actual responsibility of key failings and blame actual social workers. Money is wasted on schemes such as ‘the Hertfordshire Family Safeguarding Model’ which is half arsedly implemented by other boroughs really as a means to message there figures. One borough I worked in the service manager told the social workers that there wasn’t enough money to hire new staff but then spent money on buying flat screen tvs to give us daily messages but then these broke within the first month and then there was a huge arguments with facilities about who the TV belonged too and so they could not be used! In the same LA we have to pay for own parking which costs us upto £8 a day.

    More and more we are having to take cases to resource panels or continuing CP cases to legal planning only to be rejected on the basis that it does not thresholds, only for a serious incident to take place a couple of weeks late and which point we are told why didn’t we take the case to panel?!?!?!

    I currently hold over 30 cases, I am on a front line CP and CIN team, but I also hold LAC cases because the LAC team did not have the capacity. Each week instead of direct work I get asked to focus on audits, or reports. When these are done I get asked why aren’t my CP visits upto date? Because I have been focusing on audits and reports and having to travel across country to visit LAC cases and also have to sort out PEP meetings and arrange invites for LAC reviews.

    How are social workers meant to cope in a fundamentally flawed system run by individuals who are more focused on running a business model or meeting political requirements instead of actually effecting any beneficial change?

    Furthermore, why isn’t the news doing more to cover the fact that councils are increasingly asking social workers who are leaving or who they attempt to report to HSPCC and fail, to sign NDA’s so as to keep quiet and hush hush about the councils failings?

    I know no one will pay attention to this and will write this off as a rant but there are serious issues with Local authorities up and down the UK usage of NDAs in order to prevent their workers from whistleblowing.

    And at the centre of all of this, are vulnerable families being let down.