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 firstname.lastname@example.org or @weareparticiple.