I do not think I would be considered particularly radical for suggesting that there is a lack of sufficient funding and resources in early help services and children’s social care. A lack of community based resources and support, a crisis in the recruitment and retention of experienced social workers, and an increase in the demand for high level support and protection for children, young people and their families has resulted in an underfunded pressure cooker.
For me, it is not about how we structure ourselves or the model we choose to use, but about the time and space to form meaningful trusted relationships with children, young people and their families. By giving social workers the time to work with people and manageable caseloads, we allow them to form relationships with people that can really change things, but also allow them to feel capable and proud of the work they do.
This is a longstanding issue, Eileen Munro in this article talks about the need to allow social workers to spend more time with children and families. She comments that “we’ve forgotten…how much the human relationship pervades the whole process of trying to engage and work with a family. Your job is not to write beautiful reports and lovely essays. It is to make life different for children.”
The trick is getting the balance between having enough time to spend with families and how we weave our recording processes into this time. Creating plans and assessments which echo the families thoughts, feelings and worries and then helping them to feel that they have power over these records is key.
My hope is that the Care Review considers the following;
Working with people and giving people power over their own lives
In my most recent positions, the organisations in which I worked have used restorative and relational approaches. As Phillipa Shoesmith noted in her recent blog, restorative and relational practice is founded in the belief that “change, learning and growth happens in the context of relationships”. I believe the central tenants of restorative practice – person first, professional second; doing with, not to; and high support/high challenge – lead to creative practices which focus on people and not processes.
Another approach that echo’s these principles is Family Group Conferencing. By giving people power in their lives, promoting self-advocacy to focus on what they find important, and to find natural support and guidance amongst family and friends, we support the building of meaningful relationships and trust.
Modernising practice and recording systems
I have before, talked about using modern technology to both speed up recording and make it more relevant and accessible for children, young people and their families. By using techniques such as video, voice recording, photographs, voice-to-text software and collaborative case recording we can capture children’s voices better, make families feel part of the work we do, and reduce time spent on repetitive recording.
Considering assessments as interventions and using therapeutic methods
As child protection social workers we too often complete assessments and refer onto other services to “do the work”. I believe that this deskills social workers and takes away from the therapeutic “change” work that a lot of workers join the profession to complete. By using systemic theory and motivational interview techniques we can skill up social workers to ensure each session with a family contributes to the ‘assessment’ becoming an intervention in and of itself. Some of the key principles of systemic practice – talking about the ‘doing’ before doing it, slowing down to speed up, and permission seeking – takes time. A worker has to move away from the pressure of timescales and “taking things through the system” and focus more on going at the clients pace and creating an environment where ‘change talk’ can begin.
“Corporate parents” for life
The Care Review must look at how we support our care experienced young people and adults through their whole lives. One of the key things that our cared for young people tell us is that they wish their social workers had spent more time supporting them to repair their relationships with their birth family members because it is these family members who often have more of a presence in their lives post-18. I hope that by expanding Family Group Conferencing, as discussed above, as well as Life Long Links, we can expand on the family network that young people have once they have left local authority care. I also hope that it will consider expanding fantastic projects such as mentoring schemes by Pure Insight allowing professionals who have known that child and young person for many years to stay involved in that adult’s life. We must #EndTheCareCliff – as if we don’t we will never truly have a trauma-informed and relational system. And lastly, the issues with restructures…
Children’s services nationally spends significant amounts of time and money restructuring. Yet we still have the longstanding issues, such as; poor staff retention & recruitment, lack of consistently high quality work, children & families feeling ‘done to’ & un-supported and a lack of quality time spent with families. Without proper investment through central government in funding, resources and technology, restructuring services is a bit like re-arranging the chairs on the titanic.
We need to stop re-thinking how professionals are organised within systems, stop looking internally for solutions and listen to what children and young people say about how they experience practice: ‘listen to us’, ‘tell us what is happening’, ‘do not make us repeat our story to different people all the time’, and ‘help us stay in touch with our siblings and our families’.
Social workers need to be given space by their organisations to create relationships with children, young people and their families. We need to “slow down to speed up”, and this needs to be valued by senior managers so that social workers feel able to do this. Whether that’s through further funding, creative technology or new ways of training practitioners, the care review needs to give the system the scaffolding to do this.