Secret social worker: restructures

Lila Halliday on the never ending restructure

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Social work is a restless profession. We can never seem to get our set-up quite right. Children’s services departments usually get reorganised in some form of the same three ideas under a million different names. These changes often happen so soon after the last one that there was no real way to tell if the previous structure worked or not. Local authorities have a vast array of names for their teams, who essentially do the same thing nationwide, leaving other agencies, the universities that teach us and the families we work with completely confused.

Where I work currently we are in such a situation… again. They’re looking at efficiency as part of this and for a little while we’ve all been a little concerned for our jobs. Every change, no matter what the focus, results in movement. People leave and some people stay but end up in different roles or different teams. It unsettles workers and families, even if the end result is a positive one.

Why do we keep this constant cycle of change going? It’s like we’re trying on wedding dresses and just can’t get one that looks or feels right. We try on every dress in the shop when maybe the issue is the wedding itself rather than the dress.

Social work is hard, lacks resources and is managed at almost every level by social workers. Don’t get me wrong – social workers are great and can reorganise someone’s entire life in a heartbeat, but strategy and efficiency don’t go hand in hand with what being a social worker is. It’s about compassion and communication at its core, not streamlining services and developing processes. We need some of the latter.

Private sector is a dirty word in social work. We fear more than anything our services being privatised, and rightly so, but we do need some of that private sector ideology. My friends in the private sector work in lovely offices, with equipment that works and have people whose job it is to make sure things are set up properly. The public sector is often messy and underfunded.

What we do in this constant changing tide is replicate the chaos we are trying to avoid for the children and families we work with. We know as social workers that the most important thing for a child is stability and sanctuary, yet we can’t as a service provide that for ourselves and our staff. How can we question a parent for having many different partners in their child’s life,when we have provided as many different social workers to go into that same child’s life? Our families see this hypocrisy and they tell us.

Not all change is bad and some authorities have completely turned their service upside down and created something innovative and workable. These changes need to be from top to bottom, they need time to embed and they need resourcing properly. Just as you can’t say a family hasn’t made the changes they need to without giving them what they need to make those changes, you can’t decide that a service change hasn’t worked if you haven’t given it the resources and time it needs.

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