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Care Review needs to avoid a ‘blame culture’ around social workers

The Independent Review into Children’s Social Care needs to avoid reiterating a government ‘blame culture’ and negative narratives around the social work profession.

The British Association of Social Workers has responded to the Case for Change published by the independent review and highlights that social workers have tirelessly worked pre and during the pandemic to deliver support, compassion, kindness to children and families while undertaking assessments and safeguarding investigations in challenging circumstances.

Maris Stratulis, BASW England Director, said the review needs to grasp and fully understand “the importance that social workers bring in supporting children, families and young people”.

“This currently seems to be missing as only 300 contributors to the review are from a registered workforce of over 100,000 social workers,” she added.

One of the chief concerns the review highlights, which BASW has been raising with the government for many years, is the historical and current chronic underfunding of children’s social work and social care services.

The lack of funding, infrastructure and joined up co-ordinated integrated commissioning processes has also, BASW says, negatively shaped the way that services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are delivered.

While the government has said for many years that it is prioritising the needs of children, the under-investment undermines this, BASW’s response added.

The review highlights the impact of cuts, but BASW says “the government has been let off the hook for policy choices and reforms that has resulted in greater hardship for families”.

While the report highlights the impact of poverty on children’s social care and the causal link between income, adversity and state intervention, it stops short of understanding the link between cuts, increasing poverty and year-on-year increase in overall referrals to children’s services since 2010, BASW adds.

While social workers do not ‘investigate’ poverty, they are acutely aware of children going hungry in a country where families are increasingly dependent upon food banks to survive. Furthermore, the racial and intersectional disparities of children and families accessing support and being looked after is no accident and reflects structural inequalities in this country.

BASW’s response adds that it is “concerning” that the Case for Change skims over a children’s human rights-based approach, which would ensure that all children under 18 are subject to nurturing, caring and support whereby their safety, wellbeing and ability to thrive are promoted.

However, the reality is a lack of commitment to eradicate unregulated placements for 16 and 17 year olds, as well as inconsistent commitments to adult care leavers depending on the type of setting they resided in.

“What is needed is both – a recognition of the importance of relationship-based practice (as promoted in BASW’s 80:20 campaign), which centres meaningful direct work as paramount, as well as a recognition that this must be founded on safeguarding hard-won rights,” said Maris Stratulis, who added that looking after children is everyone’s responsibly and this once in a generation review “must not lose sight of that”. 

“Social workers are a workforce of committed individuals and teams working across communities carrying out demanding and often emotionally challenging work – their experiences, voices and needs must be recognised and listened to,” concluded Maris Stratulis.

BASW members have put forward priorities to the review:

  1. Ensure a Transparent Process – an open, honest approach to the review

2.            Place Lived Experience at Heart – the review should be led and designed for and by care experienced people.

3.            Ensure an Anti-racist, Anti-Oppressive Approach - Black and minoritized care experienced voices must be central to a review.

4.            Adopt an Anti-Poverty Approach

5.            Uphold Children and Family Human Rights - the review should be grounded in a children’s rights perspective

6.            Be Independent from government - the review should be independent of government, inclusive, transparent and accountable.

7.            Involve Practicing Social Workers - The vast and wide-ranging experience of social workers of all levels should be central to the review. 

8.            Make Time for Social Work - The review needs to focus on early help, strengths and relationship-based practice.

9.            Consider the Impact of the Pandemic - The long-term impact of the pandemic on children's social, emotional wellbeing, child development, education, access to opportunities should all be considered.

10.         Focus on Existing Strengths.

The Case for Change is available here.

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