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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Vatican’s ‘Just Petty Gossip’ statement highlights the problems with investigating child abuse and safe guarding children.

Posted on April 6th, 2010

This is not an attack on the Catholic Church or the Pope, although we do not support the actions of the individuals involved in representing the Church’s interests.

The situation demonstrates that child abuse is not just an issue for British society, as the cases involving Catholic priests abusing children occurred in America and Germany. These incidents of abuse by adult males in a position of power reinforce information found in many pieces of research. The children who suffered these traumatic acts of violence by adults were vulnerable due to their age, their disability and there were in turn isolated from society.

The Church’s acts of ‘covering up’ abuse reflex the behaviour of families and other sections of society, who choose to deny that child abuse takes place. The investigation into child protection allegations by Social Workers can be hampered by a partner who refuses to communicate their concerns to Social Work professionals, due either fear of physical violence or the risk of losing their partner. This leaves Social Workers in the situation were families in a similar manner to the church refuse to report incidents of abuse to Local Authorities.  This allows children to be sexually exploited for years not just by Catholic priests but by other powerful members of society, who destroy the lives of children and affect their adulthood.

These children need the Catholic Church and the Pope not to blame lower ranking officials for the decisions of people with the responsibility to protect them from harm.

Within our own society neighbours refusing to report incidents of domestic violence are colluding with the perpetrator of the violence and should been seen supporting the actions of the aggressors.  There should be a consequence to the lack of actions by the Pope and other adults who fail to protect children from abuse.  Children rely on adults to make them safe and secure.

The Catholic Church acts as a role model to society and its current crisis highlights how difficult it is for Social Workers to investigate incidents of child abuse when met with a wall of silence and lack of co-operation. The abuse of children will continue if adults in power refuse to accept their responsibility to protect children, particularly those who are disadvantaged through poverty or disability. These issues and others keep some children on the edge of society and they become targets for adults, wishing to hurt them for their own gratification and pleasure. Whether it is the Catholic Church, the Pope, a partner or a member of the public that walks past a small child being hit hard by an adult, they are all failing to protect children from harm. The abuse of children can be reduced if adults control their inappropriate actions and people report child protection concerns to the authorities, supporting and  respecting the role of Social Workers whilst they investigate the complex issue of child abuse.


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Independent Social Work – Be the Difference

Posted on February 16th, 2010

The Children’s Workforce Development Council’s ‘Be the Difference’ Campaign has received mixed reviews from Independent Social Workers at Avocet.  The campaign highlights the need for more Social Workers, more funding, and more training – but is it sufficient?

The campaign has had a large amount of publicity, with Television and newspaper advertising alongside a well constructed website.  The public side of the campaign aims to recruit more Social Workers, and offers help and advice for those who want to ‘Be the Difference’.

The campaign takes testimonials from current Social Workers, and career advice to help prospective Social Workers in their decisions to start a career in Social Work.  It offers information for graduates, undergraduates and people looking to return to Social Work.

‘Be the Difference’ has also highlighted the need for a Social Work College, a view also carried by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).  The aim is to build a UK College of Social Work around the BASW code of ethics.  The subsequent training provided by the National College is intended to raise the standards of Social Work across the UK.

But is a Social Work College enough?  Avocet Independent Social Workers recognise that there is also a pressing need for more support for Social Workers post qualification.  If the CWDC and BASW could advocate for an equal commitment to helping those who already work in Social Work then they could make a real difference.

The problems faced by Social Workers, such as unmanageable case loads and inadequate systems of work need to be addressed with as much importance as recruitment of new staff.  Improving the working conditions of Social Workers across the UK will prompt an increase in the effectiveness of Social Work staff.  This, in turn, can only lead to an increase in the standards of Social Work.

Avocet offer a variety of Independent Social Work assessments including section 7 reports and Kinship and Viability assessments.   Avocet can provide the most suitable Independent Social Worker for your needs.


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