Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Is it any wonder that child protection social work in England is not a developing profession?

Professionals usually undertake and publish research to advance the knowledge base of their professions – lawyers write in law journals, doctors in medical journals, engineers in engineering journals and, in Britain, social workers are supposed to write in journals such as the British Journal of Social Work. (http://bjsw.oxfordjournals.org/)

There you might expect to find articles on subjects such as how to protect children from abuse and neglect better.

But – and it is a very big BUT – unlike other professionals many social workers work for organisations that insist that managers, and even local politicians, control the ability of employees to publish research and to join in open academic debate.

Just to test things out I wrote to one of the largest local authorities in England, a large county council, and asked them, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, what their policy was on their employees publishing. I wrote:

Dear (County Council),
Please tell me what guidelines, rules and policies apply in your authority to the publication, in academic, professional and trade journals, of articles authored by people who are employed by the authority as social workers in the children’s services department or in a comparable role?

And here is what they replied:

Dear Mr Mills,

(The) County Council’s general stance is that any request for an employee to be involved in any media publication needs to be agreed by their Manager, Service Director, (the Council’s) Press Office and relevant Cabinet Member (although the Cabinet Member would not usually need to see academic articles unless they related to policy issues).

If you want to see the whole Freedom of Information Act response go to: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/publication_by_childrens_social#incoming-503492

Perhaps I am just naïve, but this seems to me to be a recipe for suppressing knowledge and debate. Professionals need to be able to act like professionals and open discussion and dissemination of research findings is vital to any developing profession. Without it knowledge will not develop, professionals will not become better at their jobs and abused and neglected children and young people will be the ultimate losers.