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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