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.
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.