Social work needs support now more than ever

The impact of the recession, financial hardship and job losses on families and individuals all adds up to more need for social workers, writes UNISON gen sec Dave Prentis.

Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of UNISON, Britain’s biggest public sector trade union with more than 1.3 million members

It’s only a matter of time before another tragic and preventable child protection case hits the headlines; that’s what my members in social work tell me. Last week, Professor Eileen Munro published her interim findings of yet another review of child protection, set up by the government last June.

Choruses of ‘tell me something I don’t know’‚ rang out from social workers at these findings. They know only too well how much paperwork and red tape gets in the way of them doing their jobs – they’ve been sounding alarm bells for years about the mountainous burden of bureaucracy they are buried beneath.

Of course, tackling paperwork is welcome, but social workers know this alone won’t be enough to give child protection the boost it desperately needs. The basic fact is still being ignored that impossible working conditions mean social workers can’t protect all children.

In review after review over the past ten years, social workers have spelt out loud and clear what needs to be done, so they can be forgiven for thinking that no one has been listening.

The Laming review, after the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, made more than 100 recommendations. The Social Work Taskforce, set up after baby Peter Connelly’s death, brought in hundreds of social workers, who pinned hopes on the process delivering real change. These reviews are set up in a blaze of publicity, there is righteous indignation from large parts of the media, with public anger harnessed and directed at the social workers. Yet, once the hysteria dies down, the media spotlight moves elsewhere and social work slips off the radar, it’s no longer a story.

Together with Community Care, and after much consultation with our members, UNISON has brought together the top ten priorities for boosting social work, into a ‘social work contract’‚ and we are campaigning for the government and social work employers to implement these measures as a matter of urgency.

The perennial issue of huge caseloads is top of the list. Reports after the tragic Khyra Ishaq case revealed one social worker had 50 cases. An impossible workload. The right to training, to raise concerns when workloads spiral out of control, and support to deal with stress and the trauma of tough cases, all feature.

You can add your voice to our campaign, by signing our online petition, which hundreds of social workers have already signed. Social work needs support now more than ever before. The impact of the recession, financial hardship and job losses on families and individuals all adds up to more need for social workers. But they will not escape the huge cuts hitting councils.

How ironic that just as Professor Munro shines a spotlight on the need for social workers to do less paperwork, many councils are making cuts of 25 per cent or more to administrative staff, who provide vital back-up so social workers can be out in the community. For every tragedy, there are tens of thousands of children and adults out there who owe their life chances to the diligence, support and professionalism of social workers. Social work and social workers deserve our support, too.

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