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Louise Casey is right but social workers won’t welcome being “taught to suck eggs”

BASW has welcomed the recognition by government adviser Louise Casey that many so called “troubled” families need to be better understood and worked with, rather than lectured, but questioned why she needed to tell social workers what many professionals had long been urging the government to understand.

BASW agrees with Ms Casey, in her report for ministers, that social workers should be “on the sofa” with such families, working through their problems, and has been urging government and local authorities to take urgent steps to free practitioners to spend more time in people facing work. The sad reality, however, is that deep cuts have hampered the ability of social workers to spend more time with families on therapeutic interventions.

The report highlights 16 case study families with whom Ms Casey spent time, detailing the extent of the chaos many were experiencing, including frequent examples of welfare dependency and sexual abuse dating back generations. The report, Listening to Troubled Families, suggests the need for a new approach to working with the 120,000 families identified as causing significant levels of anti social and sometimes criminal behavior within communities.

BASW England professional officer Nushra Mansuri responded to its publication by saying: “Although we are glad to see a more enlightened approach to working with complex issues presented by vulnerable families, which is infinitely better than the rhetoric of, ‘it’s just common sense, pull yourself together, you have only got yourself to blame’ approach, social workers do not need to be patronised and taught to suck eggs.

“We could have told Louise all of the things that she has found out in her fact finding report. We would add, however, that one of the endemic problems in children’s services has been the policy in the last decade of limiting the impact of frontline social workers by weighing them down in bureaucracy and reducing the time that they could be spending with children and families, and building relationships based on trust.

“Like Louise, we also believe that families have the capacity to change but that means enabling social workers and others to provide sustained support to work with them effectively. Again, she is right to celebrate the small changes that individuals make in their lives and she is very welcome to come and shadow social workers on her journey of discovery about the kind of challenges this work presents.

“The case studies Louise presents patently scream out for early intervention, a range of parenting programmes, therapeutic support and, essentially, time – time for professionals to spend with children and families. Many community based services, such as children’s centres, youth work and voluntary sector projects, are being cut back, which can make all the difference in the lives of children and families.

“We would suggest the government joins its thinking with the Munro reforms, Graeme Allen’s review of social deprivation and Dame Clare Tickell’s. Otherwise, how can we have confidence in the powers that be knowing that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing?”