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‘Doing more of the same wont work’ (Changing Lives: 21st Century Review of Social Work, Scottish Executive 2006) Why is this? Discuss with reference to some of the challenges that face social work in Scotland today. The role of a social worker has become a ‘grey area’ and subsequently undergone necessary scrutiny to establish what needs to be done to improve the use of a social workers time, the relationships built between the service users and providers, and how to adapt to and cater to the service users complex and challenging needs. It became particularly relevant in 2004, when Scottish Ministers registered the need for change, and put together a ‘challenging brief’ asking William Roe to chair the 21st Century Social Work Review. This review asked those involved to question all aspects of social work, and to examine what could be done to fundamentally change, and improve the work of the social worker, and the successive result that had on the service users. It became apparent that as we are living in an ever changing society, ‘social work itself needs to change so that it can match our country’s expectations for high quality, accessible, responsive and personalised services.’
There were many factors that instigated the need for change, and reasons why this review came to fruition. The demands for change are now so important partly due to the media coverage that has show major gaps and careless work from social workers. In some cases, social workers have stood by, acting only when an incident occurs, instead of preventing it from happening. This becomes clear in the case of Miss X, as it highlights that ‘Caseloads for social workers in community care in the two offices concerned with the Ms X case were all over 70, while one had a caseload of over 100, and another had more than 120 cases.’ It also states that ‘A study by the Scottish Executive last year had revealed that Scottish Borders Council social workers had the highest caseloads of any authority in Scotland.’ The case of Baby P, know known to be Peter Connelly, is another example of what some might call neglect by the social services. Interestingly Peter had lived in an area of London that was under the same child care authorities as Victoria Climbie, another child of a failed case. The services involved with these cases have been widely criticised, and enquiries have been made. It has been said in an article in the guardian ‘Social workers believed Baby P’s mother was a “caring but inadequate” parent who just needed support.’ This quote highlights the lack of attention given to the case from the social worker, due to rigour and lack of time given. Although excellent work was being carried out in other areas of social work, just these few examples are enough to show that there was much need for change in the social services, and the 21st Century Social Work Review discusses what these changes are.
It became clear when putting together Changing Lives: 21st Century Review of Social Work, that ‘doing more of the same’ wouldn’t work. The problems within the social care sector were deeper and in need of more attention than simply ‘doing more of the same work’. It has been stated by the Users and Carers panel that ‘this is an unsustainable direction for social work services and that simply pouring ever more public resources into a service based on welfare models rather than the promotion of individual wellbeing will not, in itself, achieve a sustainable future’ Needless to say, there have been numerous examples of success with service users, where the social worker has provided an excellent service and transformed the lives of people in need, but the evidence for the need for improvement has outweighed the evidence for the somewhat limited outstanding work. Therefore the Review looks at the challenges to tackle, as well as the strengths that can be built upon and improved further.
Looking at the major issues and challenges that faced social workers, we can see a trend emerging that suggests a huge lack of confidence, and this is due to the lack of clarity within their field of work. Unreasonable expectations of what, and how much a social worker can do also provides problems, as these expectations clearly cannot be met, and then a sense of failure kicks in, that subsequently has an effect on other work that is being carried out, creating a negative cycle. Risk is another factor that social workers need to carefully consider. This again has a negative cycle effect; the social worker takes fewer risks, as they feel the need to protect themselves from media and political criticism, but this then leads to a less focused and in depth relationship with the service user. It must also be noted, that previously social workers that are fully qualified and skilled had been doing work that didn’t in fact require that level of knowledge and expertise. This is partly due to lack of staff in the service care sector, but also with bad organisation, and not using these skilled workers to the best of their abilities. These social workers are not being put to the best of their ability. Finance is an issue within social work, as without the funds, the service cannot be provided. A social worker has posted their concerns on a discussion group on the internet, and this reads as follows; ‘Lack of funding is by far the biggest challenge in social work today. Many social service agencies are currently experiencing hiring freezes. This leads to larger case loads and less time being given to each client. This is true regardless of the population that is being served. Unfortunately, due to our poor economy, more and more people need the assistance of social workers. Financial hardship causes homelessness, child abuse, and a multitude of other issues, but there is no funding available to assist existing clients, much less new clients that are being affected by the recession.’ This really highlights the urgency for funding, and is further emphasised within the Review by the User and Carer Panel, ‘there are fewer taxpayers and more people needing services, so there is not enough money to fund these services.’ Another problem that has faced social work is the discrepancy between care and control. This leads to an ambiguous relationship between the provider and the user, which needs to be addressed in order for the user to feel comfortable enough to make the most of the service. The Users and Carers Panel have stated, “Services should meet the needs of people. People shouldn’t have to fit services. Social workers should be allowed the time to get to know their clients really well, so that they really understand the different needs of each individual.’
Changes in context and society are other reasons that the role of a social worker needed to be examined, ‘demographic, socio-economic and political trends have driven significant change in social work services since landmark legislation that underpins social work today.’ There are a number of major trends that are expected to affect how the social care services are delivered in the future. Some of these include; an ageing population, this is particularly important as the number of people over 75 years of age has risen an enormous amount and it is thought to have increased by 60% by 2028, therefore 25% of the U.K population will be over 60. The increase being due to advances in science and medicine actually puts forward a huge challenge for social services, as these 25% of people, 60% of which are predicted to have long term conditions, will be handed over to the care of the social services. Children in need remain a significant proportion of those requiring the care of the social services, especially as they become older and leave care. It is stated in the review that ‘60% leave school with no qualification and a similar proportion don’t enter employment, education or training and as many as 20% become homeless within a year.’ As this is know a known and accepted problem, it can be addressed and concentrated on by social workers in the child sector. As well as Children, those suffering from disabilities, stress, anxiety and depression are in need of care and support from social workers, and the demand is only increasing as medical advances allow for disabled individuals to live longer than they may have been able to in the past. Other society related problems that demand a change in the social sector are fractured relationships, social polarisation and shrinking workforce. All the issues touched upon here are inextricably linked to the latter, shrinking workforce, and if this is to continue, the ideas and hopes for the future will be unable to take affect.
The most important factors when considering the new direction for the future of social work are capacity and effective use of resources. In all areas capacity needs to be built upon to achieve the required results. If the capacity is increased, the social worker can deliver personalised services and sustainable change. Both of the latter are extremely important for the future of social work, as said in chapter 5 of the review, ‘personalising the delivery of public services is an explicit goal of Scottish policy’, and this is even more relevant today as ‘we live in a time of great choice and opportunity. Increasingly this means that we want and expect personalised services.’ It is so important to encourage the strengths of the individual and to ‘work with them through the use of a therapeutic approach to make changes and regain their independence’. This then links to the very important factor, giving service users a sense of independence and self assurance. This is made clear in Kieron Hatton’s book ‘New Directions in Social work Practice’, as he refers to the discussion of the ‘common third’. This is essentially a practice ‘in which neither (the service user or provider) is the expert and in which each makes an equal contribution the purpose is to develop the self-esteem and self-confidence of the person using the service so that they can take that new self belief forward into other areas of their lives and become fully empowered citizens.’ This shows a vibrant new idea that will help social workers deal with their service users in hand, rather than maintaining them. This idea is further highlighted by the Users and Carers panel from the Changing Lives, 21st Century Social Work Review stating ‘there needs to be a power shift away from the people who commission and provide services to service users and carers’
When considering all of the factors mentioned, it becomes clear that Social Work demanded a change or a new outlook. However, it could be argued that if there was an increase in workforce, who then released the extraordinary work loads of under pressure social workers more service users would be helped, and more successful outcomes would come about. Yet, it cannot be denied that even if this was a possibility, which unfortunately it is not due to a lack of new workers, the 21st Century demands more interaction, hence forming better relationships, more funding, and a bigger workforce, all of which contribute to the fact that ‘doing more of the same wont work,’ and the challenges and changes put forward by the Changing Lives review are positive suggestions for new directions that will change peoples life and make a difference.
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