Reading Jenni Randall’s comments in Professional Social Work Magazine this week I am reminded that many people perceive difficulties in challenging local authorities in family court proceedings. It is true that a defensive wall can be thrown up in the view of many parents and their attendant supporters. It can feel like an unstoppable establishment tsunami. 

Jenni very clearly makes the point that she always spoke for the child rather than the department and I can’t help feeling that more should have taken that stand. To me a social worker is an independent professional in a corporate environment and that, whereas they have to abide by the rules of that organisation, they should not be tied in to support it at all costs.

Professionally the word ‘independent’ seems to have been watered down in the industry over the years. It’s interesting how in other professions similar arguments rise to the surface – especially in times of austerity. For example I know that in medicine there have been several battles up and down the country between clinical judgement and general management where the prescribing doctor recommends drug A and management insists they cant afford it and insist on prescribing the cheaper drug B. Is this the best for the patient? Not in the view of the prescribing doctor – therefore it could be construed that non medically trained management is insisting on weaker treatment for financial reasons. The social work equivalent may be situations where attempts at keeping families together could be constructed using resources that are deemed unaffordable and so decisions are taken to not conduct such procedures purely for budgetary reasons.

I know that there’s not a bottomless pit of money to bring back units that can take on whole families for months at a time and work intensively with them to try and get to the roots of the problem, but then again a cost benefit analysis of several failed Looked After placements could often show that it was better to spend some more in the short term.

Social workers cannot compromise their ultimate responsibility – to the client. They cannot compromise their advice as to what would be the best support package for that client.

In every situation where there is unmet need due to a lack of resource or financial constraint it needs to be clearly recorded, and in the interest on transparency, be transmitted to the family. In medicine we often hear of families being told that certain drugs are too expensive and patients who have to endure a postcode lottery. Sometimes it’s no different in social work as local authorities are having to make day to day decisions about whether deserving case A gets the funding instead of deserving case B.

People are not stupid, they know that there’s only a finite pot of money but sometimes the information they get doesn’t make this clear. There always will be people who lose out but the ethical and moral argument will be much better made if we tell people the truth instead of having it wrapped up in smoke and mirrors. They might not be happy, but there’s a better chance they will understand and respect the decision. This of course, could be completely sorted by realistic funding for the vulnerable needing care and protection.

I took part recently in an online Guardian forum looking at the varied aspects of the child protection system. What struck me was the number of people who joined in who clearly had a grievance against the establishment. There were so many people who  talked of conspiracy and lack of balance or clear understanding who had had their children removed by Court order and were now fighting and emotional rear guard action to try and reverse the decisions.

There were some whose idea of global conspiracy was very difficult to believe. There were others, though, who seemed to be genuinely bemused by the whole process on top of still being incredibly angry. I just think we can always improve communication skills as well as allowing time to work with families after such dramatic interventions. In most cases it should happen that as soon as a child is separated from it’s family the work should start to look to re-unification and that should be made clear as day.

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