Social workers have raised concerns that there is a pre-existing agenda to the independent care review, and warned of the difficulties they have experienced in terms of being able to meaningfully engage with the process.
BASW members described the perceived pre-existing agenda of the independent review as “minds being made up”, “just another cost-cutting exercise”, “opening the door to further privatisation” and a “Big Society Version II”.
BASW’s response to the independent care review’s Case for Change said: “BASW members also highlighted difficulties in finding the time to engage with the Review due to their busy roles and the inaccessibility of contributing via online methods.”
“When it came to children and families themselves, an overwhelming majority of practitioners felt most of the families they work with neither knew about the Review nor were they proactively engaged in contributing meaningfully to the Review at a national/regional/place level,” it added.
There were concerns that the review's methodology did not adequately allow for the views of the marginalised to be heard with an over-reliance on large charities and the well-known 'usual suspects' to represent the complex, sometimes conflicting views of the marginalised. This was again linked to members' feeling that the review was not thorough enough, had an ever-expanding scope, and had an inappropriate timescale.
Almost 48% of BASW members said they do not feel that they can meaningfully contribute to the review. Just 19% felt they could contribute and a further 28% replied ‘maybe’.
The response highlighted that:
However, 23% had heard via national media and 23% had also heard through BASW. Nineteen per cent heard through social media, nine per cent heard from a local authority or employer and 4% heard from Social Work Union or another union. Four per cent heard via word of mouth and 9% cited ‘other’.
Furthermore 80% did not feel that the children and families they are working with know about the review.
BASW members also felt the complex and multi-faceted social work role was neither understood nor fully appreciated within the Case for Change. Many of the BASW members also felt that not only was social work practice misrepresented, but also their specialist area of social work was inadequately covered.
There was concern that despite being “peppered with a few platitudes,” the Case for Change explicitly mentions social workers acting too soon, being unskilled, unknowledgeable, not understanding the "profound impact of change and loss” and having poor decision-making skills. Most of the consulted members felt that their role was undermined, which raised fears about stoking public distrust. This will ultimately harm children and families.
Several indicated that the document unfairly scapegoated front-line workers for the sector's failings. It did not appropriately acknowledge the impact of governmental policies after a decade of austerity, which has left social workers with no option but to practice in chronically underfunded conditions.
The professional association also highlighted how overall, the BASW consultation respondents felt that the anti-oppressive practice, the bedrock of all social work, and the tensions and continuous learning required to apply it in practice was inadequately covered in the Case for Change. For example, there was only one paragraph that mentioned anti-racist practice and relatively little mention of children with disabilities. There was also no mention of feminist theories or the gendered nature of social work at all levels.
Some members interpreted the "30-year-old tower of Jenga" comment as referring to the Children Act 1989 and it was felt that this key legislation was misrepresented and hard-won over decades and protects the fundamental rights of children.
All the BASW members who responded said they broadly welcome a review that acknowledges that the current care system is not working for some children, with many families not receiving the help they need and have a right to.
There were concerns that the review's narrative reaffirms public mistrust of social workers.
BASW members also noted the following omissions.
Not enough attention in addressing recruitment and retention issues.
• Most felt that the omission of structural issues and government agenda over the past ten years, for example, by not mentioning austerity policies on housing, income levels and community facilities, failed to capture the realities of practice.
• Very little mention of children with disabilities.
• Insufficient attention given to the impact of poor mental health, the lack of mental health services or appropriate placements.
• Very little attention given to anti-oppressive practice.
• Very little attention given to a child's right to be protected from harm – Children's Rights must explicitly be at the heart of any review.
• Insufficient attention and misrepresentation of research (especially that conducted in Schools of Social Work to which students on qualifying and post-qualifying programmes contribute) and also practice-based knowledge.
• Very little attention given to the realities of social work practice, including long hours and the emotional impact on workers and their own family lives, especially during COVID-19.
• The weak proposal to only "curb profits" from large organisations that benefit by providing care for children.
• An over-reliance on neighbours, family, friends, many of whom are from increasingly impoverished communities. It was also noted that many families that require help are often also isolated.
One respondent said of their fears for the care review: “Social workers will be scapegoated again for the negative impact of government ideology and policies.”