Saturday, 7 October 2017

Health and Care Professions Council - important research

I have made numerous posts over several years about the way in which the Health and Care Professions Council (the HCPC) deals with social workers. Too often, it seems to me, people who have made mistakes while otherwise acting in good faith, or people who have cut corners to get a job done in difficult circumstances, have been hauled up in front of the Council and punished, when reflection, learning, support and perhaps retraining would have been more appropriate responses.

In December 2016 I outlined a particularly dire example of an inappropriate referral to the HCPC. I drew the conclusion that that case had all the hallmarks of a blame-the-victim culture, in which people are left unsupported to struggle in impossible situations for which they are then held accountable. I asked how long it would be before the powers-that-be realise that blaming people is a very poor way to achieve greater safety or higher quality? And I pointed out that safer services are brought about by people feeling able to talk openly about the difficulties they have in coping with challenging situations, which does not happen if they think they will be punished for doing so.

So, I am very pleased to see in Community Care that the HCPC itself has now recognised that there is a problem in the way in which it deals with social workers and has commissioned research from the University of Surrey in order to try to understand what is happening.

It is reported that the research found that referrals concerning social workers constitute an unduly high proportion of the HCPC’s work and that they are often inappropriate. Social workers account for less than 30% of the HCPC’s regulated professionals, but more than half of all referrals to the Council concern social workers.

The researchers argue that social work suffers from a ‘blame culture’ and from ‘defensive practice’, with employers regularly referring concerns to the HCPC in order to maintain public credibility and protect themselves by “… ensuring ‘misconduct’ or ‘incompetence’ is seen to be dealt with at an individual level”. The researchers conclude that many social work referrals to HCPC would be better dealt with by employer support.

This is all music to my ears. I congratulate the HCPC on commissioning the research and look forward to it being taken forward in changes to practice and procedure.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Rushing to judgement

Back in August I wrote a brief post in this blog about an article in the Times alleging that a child had been placed with Muslim foster carers ‘inappropriately’.

At the time, I cautioned that the full facts of the case were not known and that much of the kind of comment I expected to see in the tabloid press would be inappropriate.

Now we have something approximating a factual account of the case. The Guardian reports that the Family Court judge has concluded that the child had a ‘warm’ relationship with the foster carers and is quoted as saying that the foster carers had not behaved in any way that was inconsistent with providing warm and appropriate care for the child.

To my mind all this goes to show that the press (especially the tabloid press) is not an appropriate place to determine the best interests of any child. Sickening and reckless comments by right wing columnists and ‘exclusives’ which appear to have stood the truth on its head have not helped this child or any other. Rather they make the whole process of trying to help children and families in need that much harder.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Accreditation - take a bad idea and make it dafter

You only need to skim Community Care’s account of a presentation on the vexed subject of accreditation for children’s social workers by the Department for Education’s Deputy Director of Social Work Reform, Sam Olsen, to appreciate the extent to which policy makers seem to have completely lost the plot.
Hardest to swallow in the report of Olsen’s speech is the claim that introducing the accreditation test would result in children’s social workers receiving better supervision. She speaks as if nobody in the profession had hitherto realised the importance of supervision and that all they need to introduce it is a kick from behind.

The phrase ‘utter nonsense’ springs to mind. Anybody who has actually practiced social work with children knows the value of high quality supervision. But the problem is how to deliver it in organisations which are under huge resource pressures and plagued by instabilities due to staff shortages and high turnover. If you have a high caseload, you have a lot of cases to discuss with your supervisor. That requires more time which you don’t have because you are so busy managing too many cases.

I have to say that I am getting more and more fed up with people who are not professional social workers, pontificating on things of which they appear to have only a slender grasp. Excruciatingly, Olsen is reported as arguing that her Department’s truly awful accreditation scheme will be “empowering” for social workers and constitutes an important step towards professionalising children’s social work.

An important step towards professionalising children’s social work would be to support the profession in further professionalising itself, instead of trying to impose half-baked schemes devised by management consultants and policy wonks. You don’t need much insight to realise that a silly check-box test, which represents an arbitrary hurdle for social workers to clear in order to keep doing their jobs, is most likely to result in more social workers deciding that the profession is not for them. That will result in even more vacancies and higher turnover and less and less time for supervision.