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Reducing Bureaucracy in Childcare Social Work

Paper for Minister Edwin Poots MLA

Social work is a tremendously rewarding career. It is fundamentally about relationships and working with people, helping individuals and families make the changes that they want and need to make to achieve their full potential. It is also a challenging job as social workers are involved with people at critical times in their lives and are often, with others, involved in making difficult and complex decisions which will have profound effects on families, individuals and communities.

Social work must balance needs, rights, risks and legislative and policy demands on a daily basis whilst always striving to be person-centred and to involve and respect service users. In recent years, social worker practice has been increasingly influenced by the consequences of high profile tragedies and from subsequent, usually adverse, media reporting and public inquiries. These have fostered a culture, particularly in child protection, of risk averse practice and over-recording of unnecessary information; in turn this has led to the embedding of a regrettable mantra – “If it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen!”

As a result there has been pressure for social workers to record, in detail, every telephone call or home visit, and all discussions of a case – day-in, day-out.

Yet social work recording should be about capturing key information and analysing the facts, empowering social workers to record salient details and important observations, enabling informed decision making.

This is not where we are at present and in our survey report ‘Social Work not Paperwork’ NIASW highlighted an over-bureaucratised system which burdens social workers with unnecessary levels of paperwork, duplication and excess use of proforma. It also revealed a significant imbalance in the amount of time professionals spend directly working with children and families, versus that spent on paperwork.