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Inquiry into the State of Social Work report

Social workers are among the most essential yet maligned of public servants. They are criticised to such an extent that their work is often discussed and their profession roundly disparaged by the public at large.

In contrast, little, if anything, is ever heard of their successes. The reality, however, of social work in the United Kingdom, is far from the commonly held public perception.

Social work is one of those rare professions where, if you make a mistake, vulnerable children and people suffer, even die. And tragically it happens.

But social work is difficult, complicated and time consuming. It is about as far from an exact science as it is possible to get. There is no formula and there are an infinite number of variables compounding the difficulty of every task.

While this report does not seek to excuse bad practice or downplay serious errors and mistakes made by practitioners, it does seek to stand up for social workers and look, on their behalf and on behalf of the vulnerable people they serve, at finding ways of improving practice, reducing failings and ensuring everyone can be better served.

Reports suggest there are presently three serious case reviews every week in this country. This means social workers and their managers are increasingly spending their time looking backwards, instead of focussing on the vulnerable people they are trained and committed to protecting and assisting.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Members of Parliament from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work conducted an inquiry drawing on the experiences of social work professionals from a range of different fields.

In doing so we are seeking to allow for reflection on the broader practices and procedures social workers follow. We seek to offer an objective, informed and constructive insight into social work, but to do so beyond the bounds of individual cases, which sadly is often the only context in which social workers reflect on their practice.

We want to enable local authorities, their social services departments and the practitioners themselves to move forward and improve the vital service they provide to the most vulnerable people in our society.

At a time of unprecedented cuts to public spending and massive reductions in the funds available to local authorities, the work done by social services departments is more than ever under pressure. This is on top of the more natural, the more usual, pressures that exist within such departments.

One witness who gave evidence at our inquiry spoke of new social workers being “cannon fodder” with a shelf life of “six months before they burn out”.

It is the hope of MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Work that this report can demonstrate to social workers, and the public at large, that not only is their work valuable and valued, but that there is a recognition, within every strata of our society, that where there are better, more effective ways of working and serving vulnerable people, that social workers have support and should have the confidence to embrace this and improve the state of social work for the benefit of everyone.

As officers of the APPG and members of the inquiry panel we are confident that this report can be a first step forward in enhancing the role and reputation of social workers.