via Flickr user dr pavloff

I’m a social worker. Things need to change, but please not another review.

This post was submitted by user LilyTrent to Guardian Witness under the question “Should there be changes to children’s services in the UK?” We thought what she had to say was so important that we wanted to share it here.

As an experienced frontline practitioner I have tried to master, what now seems to me, the impossible task of providing a service that I know I should provide. I set high standards for myself in terms of the relationships I want to build with children and young people. I want to spend quality time with them to get to know the people behind the ‘cases’ and to help them make positive changes.

High case loads mean there’s just enough time to cover some basics…which are only things that are measured and not the work that leads to better relationships, more trust, learning and growth in children and families.

I have worked in a number of local authorities in London and, with a single exception, have found that it is almost impossible to achieve these standards. Case loads are usually high and leave just about enough time to cover some basics – of course, these are mainly basics that are measured and not the work that leads to better relationships, more trust, learning and growth in children and families. Reports, action plans, minutes, decision sheets, outcome sheets and court statements need to be completed and reviewed in time. Processes, such as child in need meetings, child protection conferences, core group meetings, looked after child reviews, also need to be completed in time. There are statutory timescales in place for many processes and they need to be complied with. A change placing greater emphasis on QUALITY rather than process is happening, however, the change is often slow and not significant and bold enough.

We have had several serious case reviews by Lord Laming following child deaths, many other serious case reviews by other local safeguarding children boards, Eileen Munro’s review into child protection and the child protection task force set up after the death of baby Peter. Many recommendations were made following these reviews and many were made repeatedly over the years. They were often good recommendations, but unfortunately, on many occasions, they were not implemented. This seems to be one of the problems with children’s services.

The other big issue I see is funding. Many recommendations come with a price tag. For example, social workers are encouraged to spend more time with children and families they work with, however, this is very difficult to achieve if the processes remain complex and time-consuming and the workforce is not increased. If the number of workers is not sufficiently increased, then this means social workers will often revert back to doing the things that are measured most frequently.

I currently work in a local authority that sees an exodus of social workers in frontline services. The authority finds it difficult to recruit workers. Speaking to the workers who left, they revealed that they’d left because …

- they could no longer work 50 or 60 hours a week,

- they felt that, even though they put in extensive hours, they are still not providing what they consider a good service.

- they want to work in an environment where they can do what they have trained for – work with people in ways that are meaningful, therapeutic and life-enhancing.

Change can be achieved in many ways. I am however sceptic of the use of yet another review. Reviews do not necessarily translate into the change required.

I would however strongly support a campaign to …

- reduce bureaucracy in frontline services (less reports, less meetings)

- ensure that every council provides the funding for sufficient therapeutic services in order to drastically cut waiting times for these essential services for families (CBT, family therapy, specialist therapies for personality disorders)

- reasonable caseloads for social workers so social workers can focus on what they do best: direct work with children and families

- independent psychological support for social workers to ensure their practice remains reflective and to provide opportunities to explore workplace dilemmas and the emotional impact the work has on them.

Thank you very much for sharing, LilyTrent. From what we’ve seen on the frontline, you are not alone. If by any chance you read this, we’d love to speak with you to get your input about starting exactly the campaign you suggest. You can contact us via or @weareparticiple.  

View the original as well as other fascinating stories submitted at the Guardian Witness site. Well worth a read.

via Flickr user Betty Tsang

A fair advantage?

Networks, old boys clubs, nepotism, looking after your own, the family……. These are a variety of terms used to describe using  connections to gain something. Something like insight, information or a favour, usually in relation to a job you have your eye on.

At Backr, we  actively encourage our members to examine their own networks to find job opportunities. This network is often composed of people they spend time with socially, ex-colleagues and professional acquaintances. Through our online network and events we encourage members to build new connections. The premise is fairly simple: to find and connect with people who are doing what you want to do, and then to exchange support and information with those people. In a job market where four out of five jobs are unadvertised, this works well. [1] But it’s not always easy to convince people it’s a strategy they should use to find work.

This split between American and British attitudes about making use of connections strikes at the heart of our work. But the sort of networking we’re proposing isn’t at all at odds with the British idea of fair play.

One of the main objections I’ve encountered when working with Backr members has been the idea of networks providing unfair advantage. Aside from being a worry for the individual, I believe it’s somewhat of an expression of British culture. The idea of the old boys network, smoke filled rooms and the clubhouse, are all concepts which (in Britain) are tied to an understanding of aristocracy, or a feeling of an unassailable position in society closed off to the common man.

I contrast this feeling with that of my American coworkers. For them, I see the idea of using connections for the benefit of career or job pursuits provides no conflict. There is no fear or apprehension in the belief that a strong social network has the benefit of providing opportunities, insights and recommendations. For them, building networks is something you do. It goes without saying. Even the modern networking breakfast feels very American in its formation.

This split between American and British attitudes about making use of connections strikes at the heart of Backr’s work. To embrace something which one may, at a core level, consider unfair can be quite a challenge. Applying for unadvertised jobs, building connections, or seemingly gaining an ‘advantage’ perhaps brushes against the British sensibility of ‘playing by the rules’.

In building services which are truly relational in nature, what we’re actually doing is asking people to reframe the way we’ve looked at the various resources that have always surrounded us: The local community group who’ve been meeting for years, our neighbours, our families or even the variety of small businesses that are on our high streets. These aren’t necessarily high society types. They’re the people you see everyday, the people with whom you share a cup of tea or have a moan with over the terrible weather we’re having.

In starting Backr we recognized the world of work has changed, employers have changed and in many ways, so have we. The time calls for a fresh approach. But the great thing is we need not buy or pay for anything new. It’s just a case of making use of things we’ve already had access to, or where necessary, creating new options among old friends. It’s time to harness the power of our own local ‘old boys network’ – a place where we recommend people we’ve worked with, ask for introductions and build up our list of our key contacts. Our kind of network building is about hard graft, using good manners to make others feel at ease, and teaching everyone from all walks of life to tap into the power of connections – in other words, fair play. And what could be more British than that?

Gosbert Chagula is Opportunities Lead at Backr.


1. For example, research conducted by the Federation of Small Businesses over the past decade shows that SMEs advertise in the job centre approximately 20% of the time (top two methods, done every time: word of mouth & existing employees). Data from many sources including this government indicates that somewhere between 84-88% of new jobs come from small businesses.

Kensington party

Community building in the Wine Section

It was just a wine and cheese evening in a fancy part of town. Why was this community building?

Being one of those annoying East London people, I pretty much never go to Kensington. There’s just nothing there that interests me enough to take the hike across town, I had thought. I’d been to Harrods when I was 17, and afterwards had mentally closed the book on West London. It’s just one of those silly prejudices one accumulates.

But Burcu had done me a favour, keeping me up to date on what was happening with the former members of the Kensington and Chelsea Circle. Circle is a membership service for people over 50 who want to stay active, meet people and get occasional help around the house as needed. It’s a simple concept, but the service has worked well in terms of what it’s done for members and the impact it’s had. There are still Circles going strong in Rochdale and Nottingham, but the ones in London have recently closed. That’s why I was so thrilled to hear that in each of London areas Circle operated (Southwark, Havering, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham), former members are keeping the spirit alive. They couldn’t provide everything that the formal service had been doing, but they had built a robust community and there was no desire to see it dissolve. They’re all still meeting up regularly for coffee mornings, wine tastings, games nights, and outings around London and beyond.

This is both mildly remarkable to me and, because I know Circle members, unsurprising. What other service, having ended, would still have everyone show up, month after month, and do it anyway? It demonstrates both how much people loved Circle and how important it is that the organisation is member-owned and driven.

When I finally got there, it wasn’t at the all the sedate evening I had (rather stupidly) anticipated it might be. It was a table in the middle of the wine section of a grocery store. People were whooping it up, chatting animatedly. Even though I was clearly under 50 and no one there had ever seen me before, a glass of wine was immediately put in my hand and I was drafted into about three simultaneous conversations in progress. I had to go see the lecture series on Soho bohemians at the Westminster Library, someone said. As a former New Yorker, what did I think about NY-LON, which is playing now on London Live? Had I seen Comics Unmasked at the British Library? Did I know how to play mahjong, and if so, why not come along and play Friday night, and if not, why not come anyway and learn?

Around me, I heard others trading notes on who the best local window cleaners were, and debates over whether it’s best to spend your twilight years where you have a lot of friends or where the rest of your family live. Off to the side of the table, people quietly discussed their experiences of dementia in loved ones, where the best resources in the borough were and what terms to google. Everyone seemed to be getting a lot of enjoyment out of the evening, but they came away with helpful information too. It’s a fun get-together, but it’s also an inoculation against social isolation and the loneliness that comes with having to make difficult decisions by yourself.

I loved it so much that I’ll be back as soon as I can. The group is now open to anyone who wants to come. I think it might be an especially good thing for anyone who’s moved to London and might be missing their chats with family or mentors back home, like I have. And I can’t wait to see what everyone’s been up to!  I watched A History of Violence like you recommended and I totally have opinions, guys.

Kate Bagley is Campaigns and Content Manager for Participle. She runs this blog, and her favourite part of the job is running around the country getting to meet people like Burcu. You can find her online at @kate_bagley or via @weareparticiple

To learn more about Circle, visit, or read the posts about it on this blog. 



Can we train people to be relational? Yes, but that’s not the point.

Every now and again, the debate of whether it’s possible to train frontline workers (most recently nurses) to act with more compassion in the line of duty pops up again. We understand that building relationships with the people they serve is an important part of their job, but we can’t understand why there seem to be such obvious and consistent failures to connect. Is the ability to work relationally something you either have or you don’t? Or is it something you can foster in people? It’s a big question.

From my experience, everyone who’s willing can be taught to build better connections with the people they serve. I know this because I do it every day. As a coach, I specialise in helping people communicate and connect with others. I’ve seen that when people learn how to be better listeners, empathy follows.

But we can’t expect the individuals to carry the whole burden. If we want our health services, or any other public service, to act with compassion, support is needed from all sides. Sometimes workers can lead the way. But if we want results beyond a few isolated incidents, the skill of building relationships has to be valued, rewarded and encouraged at every level, especially at the very top.

Training is important, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. To create a more compassionate service, you need:

-Messaging: It might sound silly, but management needs to be clear that people have “permission” to work relationally. This should be reflected in both words and actions. When a supervisor sees a nurse trying to work around rules and structures to fit a patient’s needs, is the supervisor’s first reaction to ask why they’ve done it, or to chastise?
-Process: Too much paperwork, huge caseloads and strict time limits mean that even if doctors and nurses wanted to take time to make human connection with a patient, they don’t realistically have that option. The #hellomynameis campaign is a step in the right direction, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
-Culture: Are people recognised and rewarded for working relationally? Is there an emphasis on risk prevention and professionalism to the detriment of getting people the help and support they need?

We’ve been speaking about doctors and nurses here, but the same goes for pretty much all of our public services that work intensively with people. Whether they are staff or service users, it’s about putting people first, valuing their contributions, and helping them build their skills and capabilities. If you want to build a community feeling, you can’t do it alone. To expect frontline staff to do so might hint at a failure of compassion and understanding on our part. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Miia Chambers has over two decades of coaching experience. She supports Backr, training volunteers to help others find their way in the world of work and ensuring the Backr service stays true to its relational mission.  You can find her on Twitter at @miiachambers.


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