Friday, 30 November 2012

Why the Truth Behind Rotherham Makes the Council's Public Behaviour Even more Deplorable

Earlier last night there was an article published on Guardian website which revealed that there was a great deal more to the Ukip fostering story than the couple's membership of Ukip. A number of tweeters are now using this as justification for why it was not right to condemn the intial decision. In fact, many people replied to my original blog post and tweets with a similar view. I had apparently taken a view based on limited information while they chose to refrain from judgements based on their trust of fellow social workers to make sound judgements. No doubt they now think that my views in my earlier blog are now refuted.
Well, I actually feel even more justified than before for my original blog and I think the truth which is emerging makes me feel even more justified in my anger about how Rotherham has handled this. If you want to know what the bigger picture is then read the Guardian article before what follows.

1. Saying that we should trust council officials to make sound judgements without scrutiny and oversight flies in the face of many experiences where people int he public trust made very unsound judgements. It was public officials who gave Jimmy Saville ( an entertainer) a set of keys to Broadmoor and unlimited access to children's hospitals. It was public officials who lied about the victims of the Hillsborough disaster to cover their own bad practice. These are not isolated incidents. Anyone on the public service needs to be accountable and should always tell the truth or as much of it as they can to the press which is a legitimate vehicle for public discussion in a democracy. This is the only way we can ensure oversight, accountability and good practice.
I suspected that there would be other reasons for the Rotherham decision. However, I made my judgement about their practice based on what answers they gave to the media because that is the only way I, or anyione else could form a judgement. I accept that I can't know all the details of private matters but I should at least be told that the type of factors which would have influenced the decision.

2. It is important to note that the foster parent couple are partners of the council in their care of children. As such they should be treated with respect. I think if they had been told that the decision was to made due to cultural sensitivities with the community and as a result of fears that the placement was not secure then they would have probably accepted what the council said and not gone to the media.

3. Accepting that the issue had gone into the public domain, it is important that the public are given enough of the real story that they can form a judgment about he validity of the decision. The Guardian has now published enough details of the story to help the public form a judgement without betraying confidentiality or risking the children. The council could easily have done the same and in the process informed the public about fostering and it's complexity.

4. Some commentators have complained about 'political interference in social work decisions' or that the story has been spun for political purposes. These are often the very same people who normally argue that social work is a political activity and that social workers should pursue political goals in their work.
Social work is a political activity, but I think that should be pursued within openness, and with respect for the public and the democratic processes of this country. An important tool the political debate is the media. Social workers need to communicate what they do and how they do it in a non- elitist way which accepts that ordinary people CAN engage with complex ideas if given the opportunity to do so. Some people think it is about them enforcing their idea of what the right politics are on other people and closing down access to debates. Using jargon and saying that issues are too complicated is patronising and excluding of ordinary people.

5. Social work only exists as a paid activity because politicians were convinced that this was worthwhile and the public has supported the idea. It's continued existence as a state activity is dependent on the public accepting that social workers do a worthwhile job in a fair and transparent way. The profession would do well to remember that.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Stop Defending the Indefensible


I have been a social worker for over 20 years. Over the years I hear my colleagues complaining about the bad media image which social work  has. I almost never agree with these views. I take the view that it is up to social work to put forward a positive image. The ‘media’(or at least the quality media) is not made up of people who have it in for social work. It is made up if people who have to fill column inches with stories which are of legitimate public interest. They can only give two sides of a story of they are given two sides. Even the much vilified banking industry can get its act together to put forward a positive spin. Often apologists for the poor image presence of the profession will say that social work departments cannot reply to adverse accusations in the media because of ‘confidentiality’. This is a lame excuse. It is always possible to reply to a story in general terms of reply and state general principles. If people have gone to the media then it is at the very least possible to refute false statements that people have made. In fact, it is essential that this is done from the point of view of accountability and public interest. Imagine a situation where members of the public made untrue accusations about  being falsely arrested or held without trial by the Police. If the Police refused to respond to these accusations then the public trust in them would be undermined.

Social work services including fostering are public services paid for through taxes. It is entirely appropriate that the public should have an interest in how and why decisions relating to how services are provided. If we cant defend our practice then the public will make judgements in the informaation which they have and the democratic process will translate these judgements into policies and law.

Case in point the Rotherham fostering case. Some social work tweeters have made comments such as ‘They can’t respond because of confidentiality’ or ‘There must be more to it than that’. A few people have even said to me that they think  that UKIP members shouldn’t foster because the party is against multiculturalism.


Lets examine these ideas:

1. Ukip is against multi-culturalism. This does not automatically mean that everyone in the party takes this view. I have yet to meet a member of the Labour party who agrees with the decision to invade Iraq. Membership of the labour party does not automatically indicate that someone is in favour of carrying out illegal wars on trumped up reasons or joining in a neoconservative crusade in the middle east. I imagine the couple were asked about their views in their fostering assessment.

2. The story has been invented by the media. The Rotherham head of childrens services was interviewed by The Sunday Times and other media. She herself said that the decision to remove the children was based on the couples membership of UKIP. Unless she was hypnotised to say this by Rupert Murdoch then it is difficult to see how the story has been trumped up by the media.

3. There are other reasons and they council cant reveal them without compromising confidentiality. If this was the case then why tell the media a reason that is not true or at least only partially true without saying that there are other reasons. If there are good reasons for the decision then why mention one that is spurious. It would have been better to say nothing at all or say that they are prevented from speaking at this time.

4. The council cant respond to what the couple is saying. Nonsense. They can at the very least say that couple is not telling the truth if the reasons the couple is giving to the media are incorrect. In fact they have done the opposite and verified the couple’s version on the media- quite unashamedly I think.

5. The couple are bigoted. I have just seen them on BBC News saying that they joined UKIP because they disliked sovereignty being ceded to Europe. I tend to believe them. I think that is probably the case for many members of this party-thats why its called UK Independence party. Why could the council not just have checked this out with them.

This is a major faux pas for social work. The public have heard social work representatives in the media saying that someone can be prevented from  fostering eastern European children just because they belong to a certain political party. Whatever Guardian reading social workers might think this is not a fair reasonable point of view in the minds of most members of the public. It does not seem fair or reasonable to me as someone who believes in freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Foster parents should be evaluated on the quality of their care and on their stated values and beliefs in so far as these are pertinent to the role. They should not be judged on assumptions about what they think or on mindreading. I have recently consulted service users about what they want from social workers. They are interested in the values and behaviours of workers- not on who they vote for.

Rotherham has made us all look ridiculous. They have let the profession down. They are either incompetent as a fostering authority or incompetent at PR or most likely both. The winners in this will be UKIP. The losers will be social work. The profession has handed its enemies another reason to exclude them from decisions about fostering and adoption policy. Yesterday's Times claimed that the situation will lead to a change in the law.

Stop defending the indefensible.  If you value the profession stand up for fairness and common sense.