News Views : March 2007

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including consultation, means and ends, giving clients money, bureaucracy, dancing in cinemas and cricket.

The Views of Young People

It is one of the strengths of the British approach these days that children and young people are consulted regularly as a matter of course about developments. This does not mean that their views will necessarily predominate in the decisions taken – by adults – after consultation. One understandable reason is that – like adults – different groups of young people may have differing views.

Some think that foster carers should be better trained, while some think that there is the risk that training makes them suspicious. Some want foster carers to be better rewarded, but many are keen to have unpaid adults in their lives whose only concern is their welfare, and not their pay. The survey we are quoting was undertaken by a National Voice, and the results – which are fascinating – can be found on their website,

When the Means becomes an End

Keith White raises some very fundamental issues in his piece this week. In his recent book on residential child care, Jim Anglin wrote about the pain children in care had suffered, which they expressed in their lives, often passing on their discomfort to the staff who work with them or to the other children in the homes. Keith contrasts the frontline work to address the pain with the bureaucratic materials and policies which are produced to underpin the work.

This is a problem which has beset humans in organisations since Hammurabi. We think about what we do; we write down our conclusions to be clear about them; we elaborate to spell out their implications; and before you know it, you have a system which becomes an end in itself, and which may distance you from the realities of life, when it was intended to help.

It was with the best of intentions that all the laws in Leviticus were written down, that cathedrals were built to aid worship, that detailed legislation has been passed, that Health and Safety requirements were laid down… and yet, such structures, for all their value, can also stifle initiative and freedom as well, and risk strait-jacketing and dominating life rather than aiding and enabling it.

As for Keith’s proposal of giving money to people who need it, well, the idea of it! All those feckless antisocial people who don’t bother to work being given tax-payers’ money, which they will only spend on drink and drugs. One can hear the massed ranks of Daily Mail readers stirring to reach for their pens, and the Sun headline writers dreaming up a damning one-word dismissal.

The idea was actually tried out, in Canada we believe, about thirty years ago, and a sizeable percentage of the clientele, once they had the money, solved their own problems, and did not come back for more. Perhaps they were the deserving poor.

Bureaucracy as a Barrier

It has been suggested that social workers should be subjected to an exercise to free them from bureaucracy, as teachers have been. The time no longer being spent on filling in forms could then be spent with clients. Which would be good news for good social workers, but would remove a time-filling barrier to protect bad workers from client contact.

Our view is that it would be very revealing to identify the cost per hour of actual client contact for workers in different settings. Even those with most contact such as day and residential workers have to complete records and undertake other support tasks so that they are out of client contact working in offices or attending meetings.

It was Chris Beedell who pointed out that every child needs at least a minimum amount of regular individual contact with residential child care workers, if only to ensure that attention is given and the child does not need to behave antisocially to get noticed, though Chris’s aim was more positive and therapeutic.

In terms of time-wasting, though, it has to be Government systems which take the mottled oyster, (as Bertie Wooster used to put it). If funding and regulatory systems were simplified, a massive amount of senior and middle management staff time could be freed up. It is not just that these people are well paid and their time is expensive, but they are largely the cream of the profession, and if they were not having to make complex bids and justify claims or answer inspectors’ quibbles, they could be resolving operational management problems or even working with service users. There is a finite number of good professionals, and fulfilling bureaucratic requirements is a criminal waste of their time, experience and training.

Then and Now

In 1957 Bill Haley and the Comets took Britain by storm. It was the beginning of teenage culture. Before then, there had been crazes and fashions in which young adults played a role, but it was fifty years ago that teenagers first asserted themselves, and they have been seen as a threat by sections of the population ever since. Mods, Rockers and Teddy Boys may have been superseded, but the concept of teenagers having their own tastes (and spending power) has not changed.

Police were called to cinemas up and down the land when Teddy Boys started jiving in the aisles of the cinemas to Rock around the Clock. Such behaviour had never been seen before, and the Teddy Boys were duly ejected for their improper behaviour.

A few weeks back, Happy Feet was showing at the local cinema, attended mainly by families with little children. When the penguins started dancing, the three and four-year-olds – without prompting – took to the aisles to dance with them. And they weren’t thrown out. Some things do change for the better.

A Story from Down Under

Last week a young boy of 14 years appeared before Melbourne Children’s Court as his parents had been beating him.

After hearing all of the evidence the Judge said to the boy that he could go and live with his grandparents.

“No! no! no!”, said the boy, “they beat me too”.

“Well then, you can go and live with your uncle and his wife’, said the Judge.

“No! no! no!” said the boy again, “they’ll beat me too.”

“Well, where do you want to live?” said the Judge.

“I want to go and live with the England cricket team,” was the reply.

“I’m afraid I can’t arrange that’, said the Judge, “but why do you want to go and live with the England Cricket Team?.”  he asked.

“Well, they don’t beat anyone”  answered the boy.

This story was emailed to us from Oz before England had won the one-day series. A short shelf life for this joke. If it was lifted from some other publication, we apologise for failing to acknowledge the source, but doubt that they would want to be named.

From the Case Files

The Principal Officer  telephoned about paying for Shaun’s placement at Barbados.

Out of country as well as out of county? Amazing what a difference one letter makes.

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