How social work could help transform the lives of Troubled Families.

How social work could help transform the lives of Troubled Families.

The purpose of social work (the profession) is to promote social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Social workers utilise theories of human behaviour and social systems to intervene at the points where people interact with their environments in ways where change, problem solving, empowerment and liberation are essential if poor outcomes are to be avoided.

The ethics of social work are rooted in the protection and promotion of human rights and in the achievement of social justice. The quality of social work is directly affected by the ability of the individual social worker to commit ethically. The social worker needs to be able to balance the role of helper and controller, manage conflicting interests fairly, protect the interests of the people with whom they work and the demands placed on them by society to achieve utility and efficiency. In short social workers are change agents, advocates, irritants and agitators.

In reality social workers have become agents of social control, interpreters of moral standards and social values, bureaucrats, scapegoats and victims. The ethical dimensions of the profession have been eroded as the role of social workers has evolved in response to perceived failures (no social worker to my knowledge has every killed a child during their working day but many have been accused and found guilty of doing so). The social work role has become overwhelmed by regulation and prescription. Risk aversion drives decision making and behaviour. Accountability to the system has become more important than accountability to the user and the values and ethic of the profession (pessimistic but true).  This “failure in social work” is part of a wider failure in the multi professional system. The notion that social change and problem solving is possible and could help families has been replaced by professional fear and an over dependence on the system of control.  This “model” for the delivery of social work is fundamentally flawed. How can the systemised application of procedures and processes designed in response to child deaths protect children? How can social work of this type improve outcomes?

In the vast majority of cases vulnerable children at risk of poor outcomes live in environments (families) were dysfunctional human relationships are the reason why poor outcomes are occurring.  If there is no attempt to understand these relationships to a point where social change, problem solving and empowerment becomes possible then how will children in these families be protected? The answer is (and we know this is true) we can stop children from being harmed most of the time if the social worker is present. We can also take extreme steps to protect children by replacing their carers with other carers (bringing them into care). Neither of these approaches has a sound evidence base but at least it makes us feel better! The alternative is to let social work happen. Let social work and social workers do the things that we know work but will not allow the rest of us off the hook when things go wrong. Let social workers use their skills in solving problems in human behaviour and balance the role of helper and controller in an informed way. Let social workers speak out about the things that cause poor outcomes (poverty, exclusion, and disadvantage) and influence policy makers locally and nationally in ways that are currently not tolerated.

Why not give it a go.

S. Ollies

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