First the good news. Most social workers are not members of Unison. Or the British Association of Social Workers. Or the College of Social Workers. Such groups engage in unseemly squabbling for money and power. Meanwhile most social workers find more sensible ways to spend their money than on subs to such outfits.
This is an encouraging sign of independence of thought among the 84,000 social workers in England. It is an indication of resistance to "group think". Let's remember that not all are social workers are deferential to the more discredited orthodoxies of their profession.
Of course a membership group for social workers could have a practical benefit. For instance social workers I have spoken to are frustrated by the volume of
paperwork they face. Yet the organisations that supposedly represent them have
proved ineffective in addressing this problem. So the reluctance of social workers to sign up strikes me as rational.
The bad news is that while the Education Secretary Michael Gove and other Ministers are seeking to encourage new thinking in social work they are pouring vast public subsidies into the groups defending the old thinking.
The College of Social Work for instance is being given £5 million from the taxpayer. Listening to its representatives evidence to the Education Committee the Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie says she was "struck" by their slogan "run by our members for our members". She contrasted that approach with Royal Colleges in the medical profession she had spoken to whose basis is, to paraphrase, "We are run by our members for our patients." Miss Leslie thought that "quite an interesting distinction." Indeed.
This CSW has teams of policy officers, press officers, lobbyists and so on.
In a recent submission to the House of Lords Adoption Committee the CSW was, despite some notional protestations to the contrary, strongly anti adoption. It explicitly opposed government plans for a six month time limit for care proceedings in all but the most exceptional cases. The Family Justice Review concluded that current average of 56 weeks was "far too long." The CSW seems to take a different view.
The CSW also oppose Ofsted's planned new inspection regime which will deny the top rating to any council that takes longer than a year, on average, to place children for adoption.
Rather than making a decision for adoption on what is in the best interests of the child, in terms of the balance of probabilities, the CSW supports the current arrangement. This means that a child in care shunted back and forth from foster carers to their biological family. This can carry on while abuse and neglect are repeated if the social worker feels it is "a realistic possibility" that the biological family might be able to "care adequately" at some stage.
The CSW deny that "excessive emphasis" is currently put on an ethnic match. Yet the facts show black children have a much lower chance of adoption than white children.
Often court orders that children in care maintain "contact" meetings with their biological family are very damaging. The Government is considering modestly easing such requirements. But the CSW says that social workers "must be certain" that the biological family might not recover to able to care for the child again. Certain? If certainty is the threshold then no adoption at all would take place. All children in care would be kept in limbo until their 18th birthday – just on the offchance that their mother really manages to stay off heroin no matter how many previous attempted "reconciliations" had failed. Sometimes she does come off heroin but usually she doesn't.
The current reality makes a cruel mockery of supposed rule that the interests of the child are paramount. The difference in outcomes between children adopted and continually returned to their birth parent(s) could not be more stark. Yet the evidence is ignored by the social work establishment.
While the CSW claims to speak for social workers their own survey shows strong backing from social workers for some of the Gove reforms.
- 90% agreed that the "average of two years and seven months it now takes for a child coming into care to be adopted is too long and is damaging too many children."
- 54% agreed that the Government's proposed legislation "to remove adoption delays caused by ‘excessive emphasis’ on an ethnic match between child and adoptive parents is right."
- 67% said the government’s ‘Fostering for Adoption’ scheme was a good idea.
- 61% said contact arrangements were not generally driven by the child’s best interests, while 57% agreed that courts should be empowered to issue ‘no contact’ orders to birth
The survey also found substantial majorities unhappy with the current content of social work degrees. They want more content to be of practical use – 82% wanted more on adoption. More on relevant research from neuroscience, more on child development. More training in writing court reports. Not asked in the survey – but implicit – is that rather less time would be taken up on other matters such as Marxist dogma.
While the social workers have moved on from the 1970s their "leaders" have not.
If the Government has a spare £5 million to spend on child protection I can think of all sorts of ways it coould be effectively spent. There is a shortage of foster carers – if they were better paid it would help. Or money could be spent on the family courts to reduce delay with adoption cases. Setting up a "College" to lobby against Government policies, even when most social workers support the policies, seems a curious priority for using taxpayer's money.