Social workers feel frustrated at a “misrepresentation” of the profession by the children’s social care review, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has warned.
Feedback submitted in response to the care review’s first major publication – the “case for change”, released in June – said just two in five (19%) of 235 members consulted by the association felt able to “meaningfully contribute” to the review.
This was despite well over half (57%) saying they were well-informed about the exercise – in contrast with 80% who said they believed families they work with do not know about it.
Many practitioners, who either took part in BASW workshops or completed a survey, said they did not believe that either social work, or the lives of families involved with children’s services, were being fairly portrayed by the care review.
Rebekah Pierre, professional officer for BASW England’s children and families group, said the association’s response “reflects the strength of feeling from members, who expressed concern that the social work role was misrepresented and devalued throughout”.
She said the report showed insufficient understanding of social workers and the impact of the wider recent policy context on their work.
“[It] framed practitioners as incompetent and unknowledgeable, rather than acknowledging the highly skilled and complex work they undertake on a daily basis,” Pierre said. “Members highlighted that the term ‘austerity’ did not feature once, which for us shows a complete disconnect from the harsh realities of a system where resources are non-existent, families are blighted by poverty, and caseloads are increasingly unmanageable.”
The care review, which is headed up by former Frontline chief Josh MacAlister, calls the case for change “an early attempt” to synthesise its conversations with people with lived experience of care and working in the sector, and to set out its view of children’s social care’s biggest problems.
It invited interested parties to respond to the document – including around areas they felt it had not focused on sufficiently – in order to inform the next stage of the review and its ultimate recommendations.
“This report poses a number of questions that we need to discuss and answer together,” MacAlister said in his foreword to the case for change. “Whether you are someone with lived experience of children’s social care, someone who works with children and families or a member of the public, we need you in this conversation.”
Asked about their ability to contribute meaningfully to the review, 48% of respondents told BASW they did not feel able to, while 29% were unsure.
Social workers provided a range of reasons for their responses, ranging from simply being too busy to having concerns how over the review is gathering information.
“There seems to be no transparency about how the evidence-gathering process ensures diversity of opinion and reaches children and families without their voices being filtered through organisations,” one social worker commented.
Eighty percent of respondents said they did not believe the case for change fairly represented the skills and knowledge used in everyday social work.
Meanwhile 52% of people consulted by BASW said it did not fairly represent the family lives of children who need support and protection.
BASW’s response said members felt “unfairly scapegoated” by the case for change, which highlights the rapid increase of “acute” interventions such as s47 investigations and criticises risk-averse practices. Many complained that the report did not adequately consider the past decade’s austerity policies and the impact these have had both on local services and on factors such as people’s housing conditions and income levels.
“This kind of narrative entrenches mistrust of social workers from families and individualises the structural issues in children’s services,” one said.
Some also criticised the case for change for not understanding the profession’s grounding in social justice and human rights, which they said it risked diluting in the name of reduced bureaucracy.
Others commented that the document presented as new concerns with the system that had in fact been voiced for years by others – including around procedure dominating practice – while sometimes oversimplifying or distorting them.
Despite this, BASW said social workers welcomed wider recognition of the pressures that administrative tasks place on them, and how these limit the time available to spend with families.
The case for change argues that social workers are being “staggeringly misused” because of the lack of time they have for direct work and career pathways that take too many away from frontline practice.
The association said all members consulted “broadly welcome a review that acknowledges that the current care system is not working for some children”.
BASW is one of a number of organisations to have issued detailed feedback specifically relating to the case for change, the deadline for which passed on 13 August. Community Care will compile some of the common themes from within responses in a report later this week.