Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/559/6677
Comment: overworked, underpaid, undervalued
Social workers demand proper resources
I agree with the comments of the social worker in issue 557 of The Socialist ('Social workers say: Investment needed'). However, I feel that a number of further issues need airing, particularly with regard to this New Labour government's attitude to child protection in light of the horrific death of 'baby P'.
A south Wales social worker
As a social worker, with over ten years experience in childcare and child protection, I would like to draw attention to changes brought about in public law proceedings and other polices that have had a detrimental effect on child protection.
On 1 April 2008 New Labour introduced the Public Law Outline (PLO), a Ministry of Justice publication with the snappy title: The Public Law Outline - guide to case management in public law proceedings.
One of the clearly stated objectives of the PLO is saving money. This is to be achieved in a number of ways, including changes to the pre-proceedings (preparation for court) requirements of local authorities (LAs). Clearly the intention is to reduce the amount of applications for care and supervision orders (court actions to protect children). Basically this means that social workers and LAs have to jump through many more hoops to get an order.
The changes through the introduction of the PLO mean that, in all but single issue cases, the LA is forced to engage in a long period of investigation. This has significant implications for LAs in terms of resources and cost. The consequences of the PLO are that LAs have been reluctant to take a case to court unless they are very confident of success.
According to the Observer, social workers considered taking baby P into care twice, but were advised the case did not meet the requirements for court action. In other words, social workers' ability to protect children has been undermined by government policy.
Since baby P's death, applications to court to protect children have increased significantly according to the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service.
Child care teams are overworked, underpaid and undervalued. In inner cities social work teams are staffed by a high percentage of agency workers (which LAs pay an arm and a leg for) and there is a large number of vacancies.
Often there are not enough social workers to cover child protection cases. According to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) some inner London boroughs have 40% vacancy rates for child care professionals. The emphasis is placed on hitting performance indicators set by Westminster, and in our case the Welsh Assembly.
Social workers have to complete assessments within a given timescale. Their performance is monitored by the Integrated Children's System (computer software). Local authority managers dance to the tune of Westminster and the Assembly and put pressure on social workers to hit targets that have very little to do with protecting children.
Little emphasis is placed on the quality of work. If it is, then management want to have their cake and to eat it. Something has to give when social workers are under so much pressure and it is usually quality, despite our best efforts. In order to hit the performance indicators, the ESRC found that many social workers were spending 60-80% of their time in front of a computer.
The New Labour government is considering privatising the 'looked after' children's system (children in care). The Care Matters white paper summary concludes that: "The private sector has much to offer children in care." This government is incapable of protecting children.
In 2006 Polly Toynbee reported on a venture capital investment offer from a company called Valley Care. "They had bought twelve houses as homes for three children each, at £150,000 per property. The prospectus said the children each brought with them a fee of between £3,000 and £6,500 a week. Staff would be paid just £12-15,000 a year - not highly qualified. So each home would make between £150,000 and £300,000 profit a year: the worse the children, the higher the profit." New Labour would rather line the pockets of their big business friends than properly finance protecting children.
It would take a fraction of what was spent propping up the banks to properly resource LAs to protect children. Social workers demand the resources to do the job.
In The Socialist 3 December 2008:
Environment and socialism
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party LGBT
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news