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Stay focused amid reform 'pandemonium' in children's services

Social workers must stay focused on being reflective, research-minded practitioners amid the “pandemonium” of Government legislation impacting on their profession.

That was the message from BASW Professional Officer Nushra Mansuri as she highlighted the ever-changing environment social workers have to work in.

Speaking at the Compass Jobs Fair Sharing Excellence in Social Work and Social Care Practice, she said there have been 98 separate acts of Parliament affecting children’s social work over the last 21 years, plus 82 different strategies implemented, 77 initiatives and 50 funding streams introduced. It means on average there were about 20 major announcements made every year.

“It’s difficult to keep up with it,” she said. “Where is the continuity and consistency? In the midst of all this pandemonium it is important to try and stay reflective as a practitioner. It is really important that as professionals we are research-minded. That is a hard discipline, but I would really encourage people to do it because that is where the inspiration to keep going comes from.”

Ms Mansuri said social work must also recognise their worth and the benefit they brings to people’s lives.

“So many of you have done really amazing things and that is what makes you stay with it,” she said.

“So it is really important we celebrate things like World Social Work Day and realise what a great profession it is.”

However, Ms Mansuri highlighted a high level of volatility within children’s social work, with one in three authorities changing their director of children’s services last year.

“There are also a lot of directors that are interim which is not a good situation. Children need continuity and stability yet we have such a vulnerable workforce.”

Ms Mansuri stressed that negative media portrayals of child protection services were a distortion of the truth, highlighting the fact that out of 600,000 referrals in a year, only an average of around 55 children known to services died, less than 0.001%.

“If we were told all the time flying wasn’t safe, we would be less willing to get on a plane. It is a bit like that with how child protection is portrayed by less responsible sections of the media which is why it is important to readdress the balance.”

Ms Mansuri stressed a failure to tackle a target-driven culture within social work was still a concern.

“If you listen to directors of local authorities, it feels as if the goalposts are continually changing. Eileen Munro wanted more qualitative than quantitative work. But there have been about three or four changes to the Ofsted inspection framework. We have seen categories change so we no longer have ‘adequate’ as a rating. The pressure is on councils to deliver good and outstanding services.”

Ms Mansuri highlighted ongoing concerns expressed by BASW members including high caseloads, excessive administrative demands, inadequate support and supervision and a bullying culture and low morale within some authorities.

“There is so much pressure put on the public sector by the Government and the blame culture is very much there,” she said.