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BASW: Demos is right to encourage parents to seek support, not avoid help for fear of being judged

BASW has welcomed a major report which calls on the Government to examine social work’s often conflicting role as both the key player in helping families to stay together and the enforcer of child protection laws.

Responding to the Demos report, Ties that Bind, BASW said the think-tank was right to pose a question to ministers about whether reform is needed to encourage more parents to seek support, instead of avoid social work services for fear of being judged inadequate.

BASW said the report added weight to a view the Association has been developing about the potential for Social Work General Practitioners, offering the first point of access to social worker expertise outside of specialist child and adult protection services.

While praising the report, the Association criticised Ofsted's Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw who claimed social workers and teachers should tell families off for bad parenting. Chief Executive Bridget Robb said such language was off-putting and showed a lack of understanding of the complexities of child protection.

The Demos report stated: “Many families’ biggest fear is that they will lose their children after being judged inadequate parents. The consequence is that parents can be reluctant to ask for help.

“The UK Government should consult local authorities, the social work profession and vulnerable families to explore whether splitting the enforcement and support functions in social care would be feasible and desirable.”

Ms Robb said: “BASW is very well placed to support an informed debate on the issues raised by Demos from the perspective of front line social work.

“There are very important considerations in this, not least the opportunities to promote early intervention and more ready access to preventative social work services, instead of only becoming involved when families have reached crisis point.

“We are clear that the current trend to use more unqualified staff in assessing risk is not the solution, and that this increases the potential to miss instances of neglect and abuse that better trained social work professionals might detect.

“This is just one reason why we want to explore the potential for a GP-style approach that would ensure that initial interaction between families and social services is centred on highly skilled and experienced professionals.

“Although ultimately the best interests of a child must be paramount, it is important for social workers to be able to build trust with parents as this offers the best chance of successful interventions, which is why the questions posed by Demos are so pertinent.”

Demos described the Ties that Bind report, authored by Duncan O'Leary and Jo Salter, as an exploration of how to build on the increasing emphasis of tailoring services to the individual by doing more to recognise the importance of people’s relationships with others.

It drew on what services look like in practice for 24,000 families in Scotland facing multiple disadvantages, including low incomes, inadequate housing, worklessness and ill-health.

Read the report in full