Tag Archives: Frontline

Social workers to learn how to earn ‘public trust’ from Politicians … Really!

Politicians to lead task force that will guide social workers in earning back public trust …… Really!

Forgive me, I almost choked on my coffee whilst reading a piece entitled ‘Social work needs to earn back public trust‘ on the Guardians Social Care Network.

The government has set up a task force to guide the social work profession on how to earn public trust. A stellar line up of politicians which include Michael Gove, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith, those well-known advocates of social work and those they work with. When did Politicians earn the right to pontificate on how a profession might earn public trust I wonder? I must have missed this whilst reading about the numerous promises this government has reneged on since the general election, and which clearly must have enhanced the publics trust in them …..

I am a tad perturbed the government seems to have ditched the comprehensive Munro Review, which provided a very balanced approach to reform that focused not just on social workers and their education but also the political and organisational contexts which also shape social work practice, and arguably go some way to explaining the current problems that bedevil the profession.

The piece suggests the new task force will focus on robust assessment of qualifying social workers involving employers, academics and those who use services …. ummm sorry to mention this, but I do not know of a qualifying social work programme that does not already do this. Social work programmes across the land expect students to pass a number of academic theory assignments and law based exams alongside practice based assessments which involve numerous observations of practice and a plethora of meetings and reports provided by employers, those who use services and academics commenting on the student’s performance and fitness for practice over a 2 or 3 year period.

The article goes onto suggest the social work profession needs to ask itself ‘why the college failed’ and ‘why the public mood’ supports changes in the law where social workers can be prosecuted for wilful neglect. In response to the first question, from my perspective, the reason I did not join the college is that I felt it represented the voice of the government not social workers. To the second comment I would hazard a guess that 30 years of inaccurate reporting in the media, oft-repeated by politicians, and flawed serious case reviews have played a part in the general publics perception of the profession.

Just read the book by Prof Ray Jones which looks at why politicians and the media were so keen to blame and vilify social workers and Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey’s then children’s services in the case of Baby P, to gain some insight into why the profession is held in such low esteem by the public, aided and abetted by the media and government I would suggest.

I was surprised the piece did not mention the problems with inadequate IT systems, how social work now operates in a call centre environment where workers hot desk and have limited contact with their peers, or how workers work in their cars, making phone calls in lay-bys on their mobiles because they cannot access secure office space. Nor does it mention the failing court system, or the outmoded model of fostering and adoption which is no longer fit for purpose and in many cases just adds to the trauma of already traumatised children’s lives, it fails to mention the knock on effect of welfare reform, the lack of affordable good quality housing or the deterioration in mental health support services to both adults and children, it does not dig deep into the effect on frontline service provision of high levels of stress related sickness and social work vacancies, or the impact of temporary agency workers in providing important continuity when working with children and families.

I have worked with hundreds of hard-working social work students, many of whom are accruing debts of up to £40,000 to become a social worker in children and family services. Despite public and government distrust, and potential imprisonment, they are committed to being the best social workers they can possibly be …. because of this I believe in social work. Time for another coffee I think …..

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Mr Gove is not just making arrangements to hide problems with ‘free’ schools policy, plans are in place to ensure Frontline is a success…whatever happens…

As Mr Gove’s plan to ensure problems with ‘free’ schools do not become an election issue are exposed, Mr Gove appears to have already put plans in place to ensure Frontline is a success, whatever the real outcome…..

Josh MacAlister has established links with the Civil Service Fast Stream for Frontline participants who decide they do not want to be involved in direct social work practice. So those who do 2 years can go straight into policy/government!

So much for addressing the major issue of retention in social work practice then!

I first blogged on this issue in September last year, since then Frontline has become a reality. None of us know for sure how this will turn out, some, like me, think we have a good idea.

This will be a costly experiment that will do little to address the real issues facing social workers working with children and families.

This belief is based partly on my knowledge of the profession, in terms of practice experience, and my experience of educating social workers and listening to their experiences and concerns. Another source of information on which to gauge the likely success of Frontline has been Teach First, the blueprint for Frontline. Teach First came to fruition due to issues about the quality of teachers coming through the education system and issues around the retention of teachers. Having been in existence for over a decade now I think it’s useful in identifying where Frontline might end up.

Recent reports suggest Teach First high flyers are already leaving teaching due to Gove’s bullying education policies. Interestingly in an interview late last year with a magazine from Cambridge University Josh MacAlister stated he has already prepared the ground for those high flyers who want to fly a lot higher than working with children and families. MacAlister has established links with the Civil Service Fast Stream for Frontline participants who decide they do not want to be involved in direct social work practice. So those who do 2 years can go straight into policy/government! So much for addressing the major issue of retention in frontline practice then! Whilst another report suggested Universities are the best place to train teachers. I wonder if in a few years the same might be said of social work education?

The findings that are beginning to emerge from Teach First are, in my view, troubling for Frontline but not unsurprising. May be it is time to get back on track and focus our efforts and funding on implementing, in full, Professor Eileen Munro’s recommendations, rather than the introduction of another educational route. I do think social work requires change, but I also believe the problems Frontline are seeking to address are not solely related to social work education. For me structural change in the way services are delivered and resourced is far more important. As is tackling issues such as inequality,poverty,poor housing, unemployment and low wages which would make the biggest difference to the lives of the families many social workers are in contact with, rather than having a social worker with a good degree from a top university.

One final note, I rather liked a comment made by the interviewer of Josh MacAlister at Cambridge, after he had made much of the importance of ‘experience’

“Despite this emphasis on experience, MacAlister never trained as a social worker”.

Quite.