I think Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, strikes all the wrong notes in her article in the Guardian at the end of last month.
Focusing on the closure of the College of Social Work and the forthcoming consultation on mandatory reporting and the proposed offence of wilful neglect, she argues that “social work needs to earn back public trust”. She says:
“… we do as a profession have to ask ourselves some very serious questions about why the college failed, and why the public mood is such that the charge of wilful neglect is being discussed. We have to start looking a little closer to home. It is very hard, but very necessary.”
This seems to suggest that it is somehow the fault of practitioners that the College of Social Work failed, when in fact the college failed because it did not meet the needs of practitioners. And it seems to suggest that there is some logic behind attempts to introduce punitive sanctions for social workers who make mistakes. It points the finger at those who do the work and says that it could all be their fault.
That neatly sidesteps the painful truth that the systems and institutions and organisations in which people work are prone to failure. And it neatly shifts the responsibility for failings from politicians and civil servants and senior managers, to those who actually do the work.
As a society we need to build systems and institutions and organisations which are capable of gaining public trust, not blame front-line workers for systematic weaknesses that are beyond their control.