Damned if you Do, and Damned if you Don’t

"It sometimes seems that social workers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t."  This was our response to Charles Pragnell’s last article. We have come across people who complain that the social services have not intervened early enough or with sufficient decisiveness, as unhappily evidenced in the Victoria Climbie case. But we have also come across cases where people feel that social work intervention has damaged – or even ruined – their lives and those of their families.

Perhaps, we suggested, the cases which we have seen and that Charles referred to are those that social workers got wrong, while we hear no more about the ones which went well. Maybe they are the exceptions which, like Victoria Climbie, hit the headlines. Charles responded.

I think that this is the debate which has been studiously avoided by everyone in social work. This defence does not explain anything and closes the door on open examination of what has gone awry. Yes, anyone can and does make mistakes and I’ve made my share in my time on watch. But the level of error has now reached gigantic and unacceptable proportions and has exposed deep flaws in the entire child protection system.

Flaws in practice, flaws in training, flaws in management and supervision, flaws in inspection (where it exists), flaws in maintaining records and statistics, flaws in attitudes toward children and their families, flaws in the legal system etc.  In fact the whole system is now seriously dysfunctional, and children and families are suffering serious system abuse as a consequence. Nothing less than a Royal Commission (despite its limitations) could untangle the mess and point toward a more efficient and effective service to children and families.

Half-baked theories of child abuse have caused most damage by adversely influencing government policies and social work practice, and in some instances social workers have been the victims of such influences. The zealots of social work have now infiltrated Government Departments and are wreaking havoc. The endorsement of the theory of Fabricated/Induced Illness in Children which is based on junk science and setting annual targets for numbers of children placed for adoption are but two examples of how they have caused chaos.

Management now seems completely focused on risk-evasion by the managers and social workers, such that they are not willing to risk themselves in any situation. The At Risk Register is now not about the children but how to evade risk for the social services.

Of most serious concern is the gradual erosion of caring and compassion in social work, which have been replaced by hard-nosed and punitive attitudes and actions.

And of course, the behind-the-scenes insidious manipulations of insurance companies is grossly underestimated. Their mantra is that local authorities must never be seen or shown to be at fault, and every means must be employed to prevent them from admitting errors and apologising for them, and thereby learning from their mistakes. These manipulations were very apparent in the high profile enquiries of the last decade and have made Complaints Procedures and other forms of accountability totally obsolete. Few in social work, however, are aware of these behind-the-scenes manipulations by the insurers.

Sharp criticism, with major implications for social work practice if Charles is right. Do you agree with Charles? Which way does the evidence point?

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