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.