Monday, 29 December 2014

Filling in forms - the curse of child protection?

A newly qualified social worker is quoted in the Guardian as saying: “… it often seems that the help I can offer is too constrained by risk management and bureaucracy and that rather than actually help people, I spend most of my time filling in forms.”

That must be one of the saddest quotes of the year. And personally I can’t think of anybody who would agree that filling in forms is better than helping people. So why is that being allowed to happen?

Rather than just shrugging, as if this sort of thing is inevitable, policy makers, practitioners, managers and academics should be busily addressing the issue. What can be done to ensure that we are not strangled by paperwork? How can we comply with regulations without destroying services? How can we ensure that the needs of all children in distress are adequately met? How can we give our staff the time and space to care and help?

I might not agree with everything Michael Hammer wrote – in fact I disagree with quite a lot of it – but I can heartily recommend applying his famous injunction to the mounds of paperwork – “Don’t Automate, Obliterate”. (

I would suggest that every children’s services department in England, and the equivalent organisations elsewhere, invest in large wheelie bins into which are thrown every form that cannot be strictly justified and every form that is too complex and every form that takes too long to complete and every form that people hate. And I suggest that managers are charged to take these wheelie bins away and examine their contents and come-up with alternative ways of discharging whatever bizarre and unwelcome bureaucratic imperatives resulted in the creation of all this unproductive paperwork in the first place.

Then we can light seasonal fires or at least feed our shredders.