Blame in Social Work

Posted on April 6th, 2010

Blame in Social Work is not a new agenda; it is something that most Social Workers discuss on an almost daily basis as the threat of making a mistake sees managers and colleagues taking a step back and leaving an individual Social Worker isolated, in the line of fire from the media and often their own managers. I have worked in Social Work for over twenty years and believe the blame culture is at an all time high or should I say low, as it reaches new depths. With this in mind, I read the story in The Times on Friday 2 April 2010 which reported on Ed Balls allegedly influencing the Ofsted report into the death of Baby Peter to be changed to shift blame on to Ms Sharon Shoesmith’s management.  This claim by The Times will come as no surprise to members of the Social Work profession, particularly those on the ‘shop floor’ completing assessments and working directly with difficult families.

The role of Ed Balls in the dismissal of Ms Shoesmith has been called into question following accusations about deleted emails and re-written reports and the focus of attention being Ms Shoesmith’s management style.  Do Social Workers have sympathy for Ms Shoesmith’s position? It is possible that most Social Workers would feel that Ms Shoesmith’s experience mirrors their own daily struggle to maintain their ability to practice in a profession that is criticised from outside and internally seeks an individual to blame – this time it appears to be Ms Shoesmith.

We wait to hear the outcome of Ms Shoesmith’s claim for unfair dismissal and the potential impact on Social Work in general of this protracted and high profile case of apportioned blame.

I wonder now if the media has a greater understanding of the blame culture within some Social Work management structures, including the voluntary sector – something that is undoubtedly exacerbated by the media obsession for finding and reporting in negative terms on any Social Work story. The Times only needed to look at the Integrated Children’s System  (ICS), which in reality is a management tool that monitors Social Work tasks to ensure Local Authorities obtain the required ‘stars’ awarded by the government.

Target setting instigated by Ed Balls’ government and implemented by senior managers such as Ms Shoesmith has shaped the blame culture in Social Work – interesting that these two are now involved in a public and legal dispute about Ms Shoesmith’s unfair dismissal for poor leadership.

Whoever wins this legal battle can not help Baby Peter now and if the blame culture continues, eroding the confidence of the Social Work profession then children like Baby Peter will continue to be inadequately safe guarded.

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3 Responses to “Blame in Social Work”

  1. warren dillon Says:
    April 16th, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    The blame culture seems to be the routine now. After a poor Ofsted Inspection my senior managers went on the rampage and the bullying of staff who are holding caseloads of 40 + became common place. When I complained about the situation I was suspended 4 days later for allegedly neglecting my duties. Six months later the so called investigation is still ongoing and I’m still not clear about what I’m supposed to have done wrong and this is costing the tax payer a fortune. I would advise anyone considering a career in children’s social care to think again. The stress is high and the rewards are few and if things do go wrong do not expect any support from management.

  2. fred mathews Says:
    July 21st, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Hi Warren, sorry to learn you have been subjected to some form of witch hunt. It is obvious that all this stress is going to make you feel more stressed and have a long term impact on your psyche. If I had advice for you it would be first get your Union Head/Regional Officer – not local rep handle your case. Lodge a formal complaint under your employer’s Anti Bullying & Harassment Policy, refer yourself to the Staff Health Doctor in OHS, send a string of emails to senior management advise that you feel victimised, bullied and harassed. Unless this stops it is forseeabible that you will suffer a stress reaction/ psychiatric injury. Best check Linder Myers Solicitors (psychological injury section) or Irwin Mitchell Solicitors (Psychological Injury section) or Thompsons all deal with these events and your union will be able to refer you to their legal reps at no expense to you. Speak to your GP have it recorded on any of your health recs or doctor’s statement for time off work as a work related stress injury, if your GP will not help you get a new one. Do not give up, stick to your guns, share your information with medics only. They have a higher standard of ethics and will not disclose which will hinder your employer. Lodge a letter with your practice advising they are not to enter nto any discussion with your employer. It may take a long while, but request a copy of any investigation report. Challenge its content for accuracy and objectivity i.e. evidence to fit management’s limited vista. Use outside agencies such as Ombudsman if there is a any delay, MP and local cousellors. Do not expect support from you team members, you have now entered the twlight zone, you are soiled goods. Be sure that if you have been chosen by management for this treatment you are special. You are a threat to them compared to the usual row of nodding doneys which at times we find sitting in our team rooms. Let me know if I can advise further… cheers

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    April 27th, 2011 at 12:36 pm

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