Skip to main content

Louise Casey is wrong about social workers – the professionals who go where others fear to tread

Commenting on Louise Casey’s speech to the Local Government Association about social workers “colluding with families”, Ruth Cartwright, England Manager for the British Association of Social Workers, said:

It is very unfortunate that in these comments Louise Casey reveals a lack of understanding of what social workers do in working together with families, sometimes on a short-term basis, and sometimes over a longer period, but always with the aim of helping individuals to make sustainable changes to their lives.

Social workers work with people who often have incredibly complex and chaotic lives. Dealing with issues such as abuse, mental health problems, domestic violence, addiction and enormous debts does not always mean quick fixes. It means staying with people and supporting them to lead better lives long enough for them to be able to make real changes – not just to meet spurious politically driven targets.

Louise Casey needs to understand this is absolutely not collusion – it is about securing results that do more than satisfy the simplistic demands of the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Social workers are the last profession to shy away from challenging families and being honest with them about behaviour that harms them or the people around them. They know how to do this assertively and, at the same time, respectfully, which prolonged experience shows us can secure better results than simply demanding people to change the way they live.

It is social workers who, day-in and day-out, are prepared to enter the homes and the lives of people most of society would not to think about. It is social workers who are willing to confront these individuals about the way they live and the changes they need to make to turn themselves around successfully and keep their families together. It is social workers who are prepared to do this as a core part of their job, for months and years on end if that is what it takes.

The Troubled Families initiative has some interesting ideas, but they aren’t new. Social workers want to have more chances to work together with families over sustained periods of time, and are no strangers to the common sense perspective on which Ms Casey and Mr Pickles seem to think they have a monopoly.

It must also be made clear that the sums involved in the Troubled Families initiative are a drop in the ocean compared with the cuts being made to local authority budgets, while the evidence of the programme’s success remains, at best, opaque.

Eric Pickles casually suggested last month that 120,000 families have now been "turned around" and that many more will follow, but the case has simply not yet been made for the efficacy of the initiative.

Such statements, and the project in general, lack detail and evidence, which must be presented to the public if this scheme is to be regarded as a legitimate and effective means of supporting families living chaotic lives.

Cuts on top of cuts mean social workers can expect fewer resources to deal with an ever-rising demand for their services. So while Ms Casey trumpets the potential of Troubled Families, so social workers will be given fewer resources with which to help transform people’s lives over the long haul.

We can expect more closures of Sure Start facilities for struggling parents, fewer options for referring children to specialist services and fewer administrative staff employed to enable social workers to leave their desks and make all-important home visits to potentially vulnerable families.

Social workers used a poll by the British Association of Social Workers last week to warn ministers that they were already struggling to properly fulfill their safeguarding responsibilities. More than 94% of respondents to the weekend survey said more cuts would put the lives of vulnerable people in jeopardy, coming on top of already unmanageable reductions in spending since 2010.

Louise Casey may know a thing or two about how to help "troubled families" and her scheme may have something to offer those in need of support, but her use of such pejorative language to describe brave and determined professionals does her little credit.