‘Project Social Work’ – A Risky Business

Red, Orange, Green

I am grateful for this blog post from one of our regular parent contributors about how lack of realistic appraisal of various risk factors is impacting on society and services in general, and social work is of course not exempt from these pressures and failures.

I regularly need to prepare risk registers in my work. For anyone not familiar with these, a risk register is essentially a document that sets outs all your fears/risks about x, the actions that need to be taken to lessen these risks, the impact if the risk materialises and the likelihood of the risk materialising. A risk register should also identify who is managing each risk (ownership). Risk registers are dynamic – each risk gets a numerical score derived from probability and impact ratings and associated colour coding – green (ow risk), orange (medium risk) or red (high risk) to show what risks are the most and least critical at any one time.

It probably says something about me that I like preparing risk registers. For me they are never generic documents. I’m a worrier and the risk register and the associated thinking behind it helps me get perspective on my fears, think holistically and come up with workable strategies to address risks. I also know that it is part of my job to ensure risks are understood when decisions are made, often by people with very competing priorities and different skill sets to mine and a risk register gives a framework for this.

Risk registers used well also evidence good decision-making. If a decision is made to do or not do something, it should be that decisions address risk in an appropriate way when viewed in the round.

I’ve a superficial understanding of social work processes but I believe that understanding and managing risk is key to what social workers do. In my world risk averse management practice means that there needs to be a discussion at board level about whether I can be authorised to use my own initiative to purchase a biro while strategic risks escalate (e.g. reputational, operational, financial ) because they do not get enough focus. In the social work world, risk averse social work practice means splitting families ‘just in case’, without meaningful consideration of the potentially negative intergenerational impact on families affected and /or their ongoing relationship, potentially of disaffection, with the State thereafter. If resources are spent addressing medium or low risk situations, there is less money available to address the needs of those most in need.

Project UK

I know this is sounding like a very ‘dry ‘post but actually I feel like shouting at anyone within earshot that ‘Project UK ’ – the nuts and bolts of how the country is run rather that ‘Project UK Conservative Government” has a risk register that is overwhelmingly red. I realise that many people, brighter and more involved than I am, know this and hope there will be an opportunity to address some of these issues post-Brexit. Until then normal business in Westminster is on-hold. The only Project UK risks that are being managed are ones around cash flow (Austerity). It seems that these are being managed in a way that is equivalent to requiring board approval to purchase a biro with all the problems that brings.

Here are just a few examples of very serious difficulties with Project UK :-

  • There may be 50,000 children excluded from school being ‘home schooled’ I say ‘may’ because there is no register. There is no meaningful policy or additional resources to meet the needs of these children because to address their needs will mean unpicking many of the ‘reforms’ of the Education system based on survival of the fittest of the last decade.
  • 1 in 8 deaths of learning disabled people results from neglect by those whose job it is to care for and provide services for them. Most are indifferent to this.
  • Our justice systems are crumbling relics from an age when people had rights and those rights mattered.
  • Our prison systems, containing some of the most vulnerable people in society, resemble nothing as much as ‘Lord of the Flies’.
  • We have relied on inward immigration in lieu of meaningful education and workforce development strategies for decades. We do not have enough doctors, carers, scientists, social workers, construction professionals to run our services and this inward immigration tap looks like it will be shut off post-Brexit with catastrophic consequences for service and infrastructure delivery.
  • Commercial markets have been created for example between companies caring for children, between schools and types of school, between hospitals etc so that Government no longer has meaningful control of any of the levers of service delivery. Government departments manage markets to a lesser or greater degree, because they pay for them but no-one in Government is looking at who services are for and what their needs are, unless service users vote for the political party in power. (Think about finance made available to increase the number of school places in selective grammar schools in this context)


What is a crisis?

I think it is fair to say that the contract between State and individual is in very poor condition. Looking at the newspapers today this headline – Au pair shortage sparks childcare crisis for families made me smile. I realise no-one wants an endless news diet of Grenfell fire, Windrush scandal, Brexit omni-shambles but ‘a crisis’ given all of these..A crisis?

So have we always had:-

– A press that in the main focuses on the priorities of the noisy middle classes, ( you will have to work hard to convince me that the au-pair shortage is not a middle class difficulty) divorced from people who need unambiguous and enforceable rights to meaningful support around their needs? ( A safe place to live, protection from abuse and exploitation if vulnerable, Specialist services.)

– Policy-makers who only look to meeting their needs of their voter demographics – currently the middle class and the old or the male and pale unions?

– Departmental remits with narrow goals often a version of a ‘Carry On Regardless’ around what was included in the Election Mainifesto?

My feeling is some of this was always probably true but not to the extent that it is now plus all the ground rules are changing. Voters may matter but so do twitter users. Powerful countries interests have become subservient to those of big business and our policy-makers seem unsure as to what they can or should do in the circumstances particularly if they have spend the last three decades creating markets for big business where there were none before.

The UK is experiencing the last symptom (and it may yet kill us) of a toxic legacy of Empire and are wearing newly purchased Emperor’s clothes. Ridicule, disbelief and pity to follow…

Project Social Work

‘Project Social Work’ seems to have a similarly red hued risk register -for example:

  • around workforce development (red- a major battle between big business and the university sector in progress),
  • stability (red – no-one seems clear on the role of social work and where this fits in relation to working with families, big business and government )
  • retention in the role, (red,-burnout and churn the norm)
  • resources (red – the Local Govt financial settlement means the rich boroughs get richer and the poor boroughs get poorer and with more and more demand on their services. Interestingly though the first Local Authority, Northamptonshire to go bust was one that reconfigured all services around the needs of big business )

On the positive side ‘individual social worker’s values’ would not be coloured red on my ‘Project Social Work’ register because although it is a dreadful time to have the role of providing help on behalf of the State when the State has little if any interest in the troubles or difficulties of those that need help, it seems to me that there are many good social workers who to their credit, try to put people they are there to help and their needs first.

That is some achievement given the big picture. Social workers like these need all the help and encouragement they can get.

18 thoughts on “‘Project Social Work’ – A Risky Business

  1. Angelo Granda

    Thank you for this post which is very informative and i am pleased you realise various risks have to be addressed proportionately to the consequences involved were fears to materialise.
    I am also glad you have mentioned focus.
    Some SW’s continually insist that families should be supported enabling children to remain at home with parents UNLESS there is risk of significant harm. They continually refer to their carrying out risk assessments . However, they appear not to do this openly and honestly; they often don’t show them to parents nor work with the parents and children together towards alleviating the risks involved.
    I have continually done my best to educate them in my comments on the CPR ,encourage them to follow ‘working together’ frameworks and to persuade them that they should never aspire to eliminate ‘risk’ completely ; it is just not possible,it will always be present in life particularly the risk of emotional harm and disturbance which is often due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control in other words down to the conditions in which the family lives and the myriad of life-experiences to which a child is bound to be exposed as a matter of normal course. However, they appear not to be able to accept their false dogma that it is their duty to protect children from ‘risk’ harm absolutely.I believe this belief is due to indoctrination by the LA’s which procure children into care for their own illegitimate motives
    You have written that assessing and planning for risk is key to social work. Where the professionals go wrong ,in my opinion, is lack of focus on their true task. That is to support families and institute safeguards if necessary to minimise risk . They only seem to focus on eliminating risk at home completely by liquidating the families. That seems to be their cure-all for risk! False ideology, of course. In fact pretty pathetic because any intelligent SW or even ordinary member of the public will understand the futility of taking a child from home into a scenario where actual neglect, emotional harm and physical abuse is not only a risk but where it occurs fairly regularly and is known to do so. Also where it is known that professional profiteers,predators and exploiters abound in numbers. I.e. the care system.
    The Law is clear enough ; removal should be absolutely the last resort and should never be ordered when frameworks aren’t followed and that includes correct risk assessment. They should talk with parents,explain their concerns and plan changes with them in order to alleviate risk ( not eliminate it).

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      No, its adoption that is the last resort, not removal. And the legal test there is further refined to say ‘no other realistic option’. Removal at an interim stage should only happen if there is an imminent risk of really serious harm, but at the final hearing, removal may be considered the best option for the welfare of a child. But by that stage the significant harm threshold is deemed crossed.

      So proper assessment of risk should already be built into the process because the legal threshold for removal is high. I appreciate that this doesn’t always seem to translate into real life but I don’t accept your analysis that SW will accept ‘no risk’. I agree that simply isn’t realistic. But equally its not right to put a child at risk if that risk is greater than ‘low’ I think.

  2. Angelo Granda

    Thank you for spotting my mistake regarding removal as against adoption being the last resort according to the LAW.
    However, it is my opinion that for a child ,the liquidation of their family and a care-plan for permanent removal into care is even more INhumane thus less desirable than adoption due to the HIGH risk of institutional neglect and abuse.
    I find it difficult to accept your assertion that the line should be set at anything greater than low on the register .Have you seen one? Do you know which risks are classified as low, medium, high etc? Or does the court merely accept the professional opinions of SW’s and Guardians as with medical opinions? Most parents have not seen them and few are involved in the creation of the registers.
    What I guess happens is that the LA manager examines all the SW’S notes ,then picks out the slightest element of dysfunction or something which can be regarded as neglectful .Then he decides arbitrarily the risk is too high.
    There have been many expressions on the CPR about the realism of LA assessments and appraisals .I have referred to cloud-cuckoo land claims many times as you know but one or two professional posts have also criticised the reality of the ‘stories’ told especially at an early stage. Thus naturally we are all concerned ,as you have suggested yourself ,Sarah, that the high threshold for interim removal is prone not to translate into real life. Indeed , threshold for interim removal is often deemed to be met by ‘evidence’ which is entered in forms by the LA without checking on its truth.
    Thus later ,as we all know that when the court proceeds to the next stage and considers whether to exercise its discretionary power to make a care order or supervision order, the judge may be faced with a particularly difficult problem. The child may suffer harm if returned to a situation of risk with his parents. The child may also have suffered great trauma and harm by wrongful removal from parental care in the interim where, if the truth had been known, the parents presented no risk. Parents who may be wholly innocent, and whose care may not have fallen below that of a reasonable parent, will face the possibility of losing their child, with all the pain and distress this involves. That is a possibility, once the threshold conditions for interim removal are satisfied, although by no means a certainty .
    This problem has been described in Court judgments.
    Sarah, do you think it could be avoided were the interim order opposed at one of the twenty-eight day renewals as and when the evidence re- threshold are proven false? Also, were it successfully opposed , and the child/children returned to parents, how do you think that would affect the Family Court hearing?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      No. Challenging an ICO every 28 days will do nothing. There is no time, no judges, no court space to do this.
      Courts assess the risk after all the evidence is presented. It is not for SW Managers to determine risk. That is the court’s job if a care order is to be made. But I appreciate by the time it gets to final hearing a lot of damage has already been done if the SW initial risk analysis was sloppy.

  3. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, Will the CPR be making a contribution to the public enquiry ( on the news this morning) into the cp system? I believe Lord Munby has retired and the new president is to hold an enquiry. He has asked for parents views as well as those of professionals .Maybe you could select a few constructive posts from looked after child, Sam and others and perhaps helpful (?) comments received over the years and submit them. It might put the enquiry straight as regards institutional malpractices,spanish practices etc. about which they will otherwise be totally unaware.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      That enquiry has now concluded and reported. I was not asked to contribute. I agree with their findings but think it naive to assume the money will be available to make them a reality.

  4. Angelo Granda

    Lord Munby showed the way in that recent ‘blood on our hands’ case.
    They have to supply the money when a judge makes them.Or he can just turn down their application.
    If justice depends on the LA’s or the Government’s budgetary preferences,the system is broken.No wonder Mum’s flee to France, a country where human rights are prioritised over money.How can we complain when they do?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The case Munby was talking about was NOT about handing over money.
      It was the fact that there was not one single secure place in the country for this child.
      Money can’t fix that. Secure accommodation can’t just be conjured up like that. There needs to be a plan, a policy for building it and designating it and staffing it etc.
      You can’t just say ‘human rights are prioritised over money’ – thats simplistic and unhelpful.

  5. Angelo Granda

    I find it very concerning that the penny has still not dropped with you especially when you accept that it is an apparent lack of funds that prevents SW’s from delivering home support and generally humane and less draconian care-plans which allow for family preservation.
    I think you also accept yourself that the pernicious wind- down of the money available to the legal funding commission is not ‘helpful’ to the maintenance of human rights.
    Neither can you possibly be unaware after so long and after it being demonstrated so many times that rather than place children suitably ( as the LA was eventually forced to do by Lord Munby) there is never any shortage of funds available to place them in non-medical secure placements run by private operators who happen to be their political friends too.
    Even SW’s continually complain that austerity and LA budgets are preventing them from following more humane pathways and improving the lot of families. It is easier and more ‘ prudent ‘ budget-wise for the authorities to apply for court orders and to remove children permanently on the spectre of ‘ risk of emotional harm.
    You can sigh all you like,Sarah but you even say above that you agree with the new president’s conclusions on that score.

    It is by no means simplistic to assert that money is often at the root of most evil alongside envy and covetness and this includes inhumanity. Face reality.There was a place for the child all the time but either the LA was avoiding it for largely financial motives of their own or because,for financial reasons, they were not employing enough competent SW’s with the time and ability to seek out and place them child properly.
    We should praise Lord Munby for overruling the inhumane treatment,preventing the clear injustice and saving the child’s life.At least he can retire with no blood on his hands.Not all lower court judges can!
    Sorry if my opinion upsets professionals but it is obvious to parents what the drivers of inhumanity are.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Secure accommodation has to be designated as such. It’s not as simple as bunging your mates a few quid to put a padlock on their bedroom door.

      Nothing will change, nothing will get any better if we cannot agree about some certain core realities here.

      1. Angelo Granda

        As ever we aren’t far apart and I agree we have to agree on certain core realities here.
        The CPR is in the main a moderate organisation and one positive about that we are in a good position and are respected by the vast majority of professionals,I think.Although you were not asked to contribute to the new man’s enquiry,I don’t believe we are regarded as extremists,rabble-rousers or conspiracy theorists along with fathers for justice etc.( I wouldn’t know about them because I don’t visit their site).
        Although the authorities discourage use of this resource, I don’t think it is ignored. Some professionals contribute and quite a lot visit the site regularly and attend the conferences.
        Sarah,do you agree to this core- reality?
        The justice system is broken due to the legal funding being withdrawn and also because of the dearth of judges ,courtrooms and court time. This contravenes our human rights as regards access to justice.
        Parents are aware even if you aren’t that legal representation in Family Courts is almost nonexistent.We are lucky if we get a real solicitor never mind a barrister!
        I know you are a moderate at heart but if we can agree on this particular reality,why don’t we act constructively? You might liaise with the criminal barristers in St.Johns and the CPR might campaign moderately on the issue following their lead.
        We would then be involved in article 6 ( fairness and transparency) and article 10( access to justice if I’m not mistaken).
        I would be prepared to help with leafleting etc.locally if it were part of a CPR measured campaign.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          yes, I agree the system is broken and is currently held together by sticky tape and good will, which will shortly run out as its supply is not inexhaustible. That is the conclusion of the Care Crisis Review with which both past and current Presidents of the Family Division agree.

          But as you will note from my comments here, there is an essential naivety in thinking a) that money will be available any time soon to solve the problem and b)that application of more money will cure all the problems.

          So all I can do is operate within my sphere of influence. I can’t force Government’s to change their policies or allocate more resources – but I can I hope help people come together and talk about it and realise what’s going on and what we can all do to help make a difference.

          Therefore I hope CPConf2018 will be useful – we can at least shine a light around issues of emotional abuse and how it is applied or misapplied.

          1. Angelo Granda

            I would alter that slightly.a) It is naive to think that MORE money will be made available soon to solve the problems and b) more money will not solve the problems and it is essentially naive to think that shortage of money is the cause of them.
            How many times in discussions have professionals used the excuse of shortage of funds and austerity as the reason for system shortcomings and how many times have I said that is not the cause at all?
            A policy of belt-tightening or austerity as it is called actually means there is MORE cash available to spend on essentials such as human rights of citizens.
            Think despotism,the exploitation of the vulnerable and talking of essentials ,the essential corruption which is an inevitable fact of life at the point of ANY interface between Public Authorities,public spending and private commerce.Think of £3000 per week to keep children confined permanently in care.
            Readers,we should think more strategically.
            Ask yourselves these fundamental questions. Why was the judicial system established if not to stand between the ruling authorities and citizens and uphold the Law?
            Why would the ruling authorities break and ruin the judicial system if not to ride roughshod over the Law?

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            There is a 2 billion shortfall in the budget for children’s services.
            Support/services are being cut
            Brexit will further push our economy off a cliff, for at least a decade.
            Just where IS ALL THIS MONEY?
            Please do tell! and then tell the Government where to find it.

  6. Angelo Granda

    I feel I have already spelt it out clearly enough. It is honest answers from above we need and a thorough,independent audit in order to find out where all our money is wasted.
    If there is a £2 billion pound shortfall,where has it all gone and what was the principal sum supplied to LA’s? Which authorities are the worst offenders? Where are all those ‘ troubled families’ bonuses?
    As a barrister you might tell us details of cuts in the judicial system? My guess is that the Government will deny its cuts are so critical.We need honesty and genuine statistics.
    That’s why MORE money won’t solve the problems as you said.Were the LA’s income
    multiplied,there would still be a shortfall.

  7. Angelo Granda

    Readers, think more logically and don’t always fall for the official blarney.
    G.B. is the 5th largest economy in the world. We are one of the wealthiest countries.
    Our Gross Domestic product shows percentage growth EVERY year , our wealth increases proportionately.
    Every year, there is a national harvest which supplies God-given wealth and every year we are taxed on the wealth achieved by everyone of us through productive work.
    This goes on and on year after year never-ending thus it cannot be said the Government do not have resource to a money-tree. An endless supply of revenue.
    The Capital is in the pockets of the Government and its top priority is to defend our human rights against foreign despots AND against our own home-grown ones. Our defences and the protection of citizens human rights by an adequate judicial system have to be the top priority of any government above any other expenditure ( even the NHS in my opinion).
    The Judges have to force the Authorities to spend on these priorities rather than fritter our wealth away elsewhere.
    Next time anyone asks you where all the money is to come from, you now have your answer !

    All comments welcome.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Tell me how much of this ‘surplus’ money is now dedicated to Brexit Bollocks.

  8. Angelo Granda

    When I wrote our capital is in the pocket of the Government,I was using a metaphore meaning it is controlled by it.
    Any surplus you speak of is in the bank accounts of its wealthy sponsors both domestic and the multinationals.
    I don’t believe for one moment that the majority of the electorate vote for inhumanity and even those who aren’t too keen on paying higher taxes themselves,would,in my opinion,welcome it were the Government to exact more from those who make these massive profits.
    They will not do so ,will not even borrow it from the banks and they will continue to divert the best part of the existing social work principal ( budget) into the hands of these private care profiteers by political preference until and when the Judiciary bites the bullet, accepts what is transpiring and stops issuing care orders which sanction permanent removal.Judges should set a marker and sanction only those care-plans which preservefamilies.

    The authorities will continue to come up with excuse after excuse and can always argue the ends justify the means and act unlawfully ignoring the real legitimate aim of the Children IF the Courts allow them to.
    I am no financial expert or politician,Sarah,I am an ordinary parent,but even I can see that Brexit or current politics is of little relevance to the injustices imposed upon citizens ( the little children). The culture of institutional abuse(of power),exploitation ,people trafficking etc. existed long before the referendum and even before the E.U.was founded.
    As I said before,lawyers must ignore such illogical excuses and forget about here -today – gone – tomorrow politicians and politics. It is the task of the judiciary to enact the law….all the checks and safeguards which are in place to stop the Authorities abusing citizens.Not to support them.
    Anyway,Sarah,I gather from the tweets on these pages this week that Dr.Lauren Devine is still trying to get her research on risk assessments to trickle down TWO years after CPR conference 2016.
    Before that conference,I suggested note radical reforms and I am repeating it now!
    It’s no good tinkering with a system which has inhumanity and malpractice so deeply embedded at its very core. It has to be taken apart,reassembled and even renamed.

    The worst thing reformers like your good self and Lord Munby can do ,the last thing, is to discount as soft-headed,self-catharctic or invented narrative what you are told by ordinary members of the public.Ordinary citizens particularly victims of inhumanity will be telling the truth.
    Look at the history books ( generally catalogues of institutional misuses of power)
    and ACCEPT who it is that is most likely to falsify evidence ,alter witness reports etc?
    Answer,the Authorities especially when they are in trouble having been caught with their trousers down a LA Hillsborough.They will commit every dirty trick in the book to cover-up the real truth.
    When they take children away unlawfully whether for sexual exploitation or for non- malicious reasons, they must be stopped and the Law must be enforced strictly not with bias.Their actions are not bona- fide full stop.
    Victims are absolutely at the mercy of the judiciary at the moment due to the outrageous protocol of anonymity and closed proceedings.Think about it ,at least the Hillsborough families were able to unite and expose the crimes against humanity eventually ( even if it took 23 years).
    Families victim to child- protection miscarriages of justice and institutional abuse can’t even do that.


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