How about a few simplistic, but big questions about social work?
- How do we measure success in children’s social work?
- What is a good outcome for a child and their family?
- Is our role to make a child happy?
Sometimes there is an obvious need to intervene in a situation. Consider the following case study; over chastisement of a 15 year old child who lives with their mother and stepfather. The over chastisement constitutes an assault on the child, the stepfather is the perpetrator. Children’s Services and Police intervene and the stepfather is arrested and charged; subsequently the child goes to live with their father and is therefore protected from the abusive stepfather.
On the face of it, a good outcome for the child as they are no longer at risk of physical abuse, but is that the end of the story? What if despite the physical abuse the child tells you they were happier with their mother and stepfather?
This raises a number of questions;
- Firstly, can we accept that it is possible that living in an abusive home could be a ‘happier’ childhood (perhaps ‘not as sad’ is more appropriate)?
- Secondly if we could accept a child living in a home where they have been assaulted how could it be managed?
- Thirdly I would argue that the best outcome is ‘safe and happy’, but clearly there are degrees of both, is there an acceptably low level of ‘safe’ which is balanced by a child saying they are ‘happy’?
When we consider issues of risk are we always focusing on what is best the best outcome for the child? Or do we have a question about how the situation might look if we took a risk and something went wrong? Are we actually considering what is the best outcome for the child and me (the social worker)?
I was recently involved in a decision which saw a child removed from a placement which were happy and doing well in. We had identified a risk to the child in placement, not of direct harm, but the risk of being accused of something by a member of the foster carers family. I believe the probable damage caused by moving the child far outweighs the risk of living there. However, once we were aware of the risk (a risk which could not be negated for various reasons) we had to act on it. I am still wondering in whose interests we acted? We have protected that child from risk, but it didn’t feel like much of a success.
I have long believed (somewhat sadly) that it is not my primary role to make children happy. I believe my job is to protect a child from harm and sometimes this makes the child happy… but not always! And this brings me back to my case study and the question of acceptable levels of risk. Would I live with the risk to make a child happy?
In amongst this, and perhaps always lurking in the back of all our minds is Ofsted, who’s tagline of ‘raising standards improving lives’ seems ridiculous when applied to social work.
I have never met a child whose life was improved by the timely completion of an assessment. Sure a decent analysis in an assessment helps inform interventions, but to my mind Ofsted inspections don’t even lightly scuff the surface of our work, let alone scratch it. Ofsted’s measurement of success is so narrow in its focus as to render it useless. Sure we need someone to keep an eye on us, but to call a local authority ‘failing’ or ‘outstanding’ on what they find is insulting to everyone, the local authority, the families we work with and the taxpayer .
I don’t think the government have a clue what constitutes success in social work so they came up with some half arsed timescales and a quick look around the basics of what we do and then tell us we are ‘outstanding’.
Surely the answer to the question about what counts as success in social work is with the people we work for… children. And I ask you to consider this: We gain their views as part of our assessments, we act on them when we can, but will we take a risk for a child to make them happy?
Courtesy of Social Worker X via Updates from a Frontline Child Protection Team