Amy Norris, a child protection social worker who also acted as a media spokesperson for the now defunct College of Social Work, describes in the Guardian how a year or so ago she began to develop reservations about how the College was being run. Apparently a blog she had been writing for the College was taken down after “a prominent government adviser” had questioned Amy’s comments on a report on social work education. She complains that she was being censored.
Despite this Amy remains strongly committed to the concept of a College of Social Work and deeply regrets its passing. She feels that things would have been better had more people joined.
I can understand how she feels but what disturbs me in Amy’s story is that it reveals the ingrained paternalism that seems to ooze from every pore of the children’s services establishment. My own experiences of trying to get people at the top – civil servants, MPs, ministers, senior managers, academics - to listen to new ideas (such as Human Factors training for child protection workers or Critical Incident Reporting as a means of studying error in child protection) has revealed to me just how much of an establishment-enforced consensus there is. Small groups of faceless people sit in offices and decide how it is going to be. They expect that the rest of us will just get on with it and implement their visions. People with different ideas may be tolerated for a short time, but they are not welcomed and hidden hands intervene to silence their voices and quietly rubbish their ideas.
That was what was wrong with the College of Social Work. ‘The great and the good’ set it up for the rest of the profession. They did not want to allow its members to control it. They were interested in telling people what to do. They were not interested in hearing from people working at the front line what their experience is and what they think should be done.
It seems to me to be a bleak vision. Unless we move to more open and pluralistic approaches, driven by information and ideas from a wide variety of sources, developments in child protection will never result in real improvements. They will just reflect a slowly changing establishment consensus that lurches from one disaster to another because it is increasingly making itself immune to unpleasant external influences, such as the facts and the truth.