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Social Work as a profession is heavily influenced by political rhetoric and ideology albeit there has been a shift in governmental philosophy from the beginnings of the profession. Due to Neo-Liberal ideas commonly adopted by the main political parties in the United Kingdom, social work services are beginning to be based on free market principles. Social work and social care services have seen an increase in privatised quasi markets. The role of the social worker in all of this is one that can be contested and is certainly not static; it is a profession that I believe should attempt to be diverse and fluid. The aim of this essay is, to discuss too what extent there is a social work role beyond ‘the rationing of scarce services and managing of poor people’ (Ferguson and Lavalette 2013:108) This will be achieved by looking the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) policy and what it means for social workers in a statutory children’s and families team before drawing a conclusion. I intend to highlight the importance of early intervention as laid out in GIRFEC and what this means for social workers. GIRFEC also emphasises the importance of joint up working and I intend to highlight some of the failings of this and the tensions this creates for social workers on the front line. Finally, I will look at how GIRFEC is being put into practice by drawing on research from the Institute of Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS); Changing how we work: a case study in East Lothian. Firstly, however it is important to briefly explore the beginnings of policy implementation and how todays austerity measures effect policy being put into practice.
Social work services go back over one hundred and fifty years but it was during the late 1960s that it became apparent that a framework of legislation was needed. This resulted in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. The Kilbrandon report 1964 was a major driver in this act along with the white paper Social Work and the Community 1966. The Kilbrandon report called for the introduction of children’s hearings and ‘introduced a new way of dealing with what were described as children who were in need of compulsory care’. (Fabb and Guthrie 2007:150) Smith and White (2008:21) add that ‘the thinking of the Kilbrandon Committee was strongly educational, reflecting longstanding views that social wellbeing and social cohesion through education should be the ambition of the system.’ The Kilbrandon report is still one of the most significant policies in relation to social work practice.
Ferguson and Lavalette (2013) highlight how austerity measures and welfare reform mixed with the marketization of social work services is impacting on the social work task. Neoliberalism is an ideology now adopted by the main political parties in the United Kingdom and is a take on classic liberal beliefs such as ‘free trade and the free market’ (Hoffman and Graham 2009:) Neo-liberal theorists believe that the role of welfare should not lie with the state and they ‘question the need for the majority of publically funded, state delivered, or state regulated institutions that, taken together, comprise a welfare state.’ (Ellison 2012:) This can be seen in society today in many ways, for example, with the introduction of universal credit and benefit capping both making an attempt to reduce welfare costs. This could also explain the ever growing involvement and use of the voluntary or third sector in social work services.
GIRFEC: The aims of the policy
GIRFEC was introduced by the Scottish Government in 2008 in an attempt to improve the way in which work is undertaken by professionals working with children and their families. The policy was developed after a string of recommendations and reports surrounding child protection, one of which being It’s everyone’s job to make sure I’m alright Report of the Child Protection Audit and Review(2002: 1) which highlighted the importance of ‘a Scotland in which every child matters’. Another significant report was my turn to talk? (Scottish Executive 2006:), which highlighted that ‘child-related professionals and decision makers across Scotland have both moral and legal obligations to encourage and support children’s participation.’ I believe that this push for child participation will in turn promote active citizenship for children. From these reports and others it was clear that new policy guidance was necessary and so GIRFEC was adopted. GIRFEC aims to co-ordinate the services’ children receive as well as managing the consistency in the delivery of these services. The Scottish Governments guide to getting it right for every child (2012:6) states that ‘it is the bedrock for all children’s services’. Putting the child at the centre of the services they receive is high on the agenda throughout and the policy puts a high emphasis on multi-agency working and the importance of early intervention. The policy was created in respect to ten core components and has a strong set of values that were developed from the Children’s Charter 2004 which ‘reflects the voice of children and young people and what they feel they need, and should be able to expect, when they have problems or are in difficulty and need to be protected.’ (Scottish Government 2004)
The wellbeing wheel, my world triangle and resilience matrix, together known as the National practice model, are assessment tools used within GIRFEC to effectively manage and analyse the information required for a child’s plan. The wellbeing wheel consists of eight indicators of wellbeing that ‘are the basic requirements for all children and young people to grow and develop’ (Scottish Government 2012:10). These are: Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included. (SHANARRI). Deep rooted in this, is the four competences from the Curriculum of Excellence: a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. I consider the combination of well-being and the curriculum for excellence to be a strong indicator for the push for multi-agency work that is evident throughout the policy.
GIRFEC: A drive for early intervention and multi-agency working and the tensions these bring.
Early intervention is one of the key themes running throughout the policy. The Changing Lives Report of the 21st Century Social Worker Review illustrates a four tiered approach to early intervention, incorporating the social workers role. (Scottish Government 2006:31). It stresses how social workers are involved in the early stages of intervention and how as crisis situations develop, other universal services step back. I wonder how involved we really are at tiers 1 and 2 and believe this will vary between local authorities.
The Scottish Government(2006:31) state that, ‘social workers have a significant contribution to make at tiers 1 and 2, supporting and informing the delivery of services both within social work and across partner agencies.’ However, McGhee and Waterhouse (2011:1097) contradict this by arguing that:
‘for social work, early intervention has taken on a different meaning from that at tiers 1 and 2 … early intervention begins at tier 3 and concerns individuals who already present significant vulnerability and risk and who are beyond the remit and capacity of universal services.’
This points out that early intervention may frequently be the responsibility of health professionals and education. However, early intervention at tiers 1 and 2 is perhaps what social work should be about it with its professional values pushing towards social justice. The Highland ‘s children services practice guidance (2013:11)
‘emphasises the critical part played by health and education services in supporting the development of all children. Difficulties or concerns are identified at an early stage and steps taken to ensure that additional help is available when needed. Help is given as quickly as possible and in consultation with children and their families.’
This backs up what McGhee and Waterhouse argue early intervention is like for social workers; their idea that social workers are not involved at tier 1 and 2.
Another Key theme to shape GIRFEC is that of the importance of multi-agency working. Although GIRFEC calls for a push towards a better system of multi-agency working it is not something that is new to the literature. (Wilson et al 2011) Multi-agency became high on the political agenda after the death of Victoria Climbie who ‘was slowly tortured to death despite the involvement of four social service departments, three police child protection teams, health agencies and voluntary agencies.’ (Marinetto 2011:1164) An inquiry into Victoria’s death highlighted the breakdown between professional organisations and called for better co-ordination between services and organisations. With the importance of professionals working together and sharing information stressed here it is no wonder that it is such a key feature in policy documents. The principle behind multi-agency working sounds simple; ‘professionals with different backgrounds, from different intellectual disciplines and with different roles work together to provide care and support to service users and people around them.’ (Payne 2007:146)
However, for social workers there are tensions to be considered. Atkinson et al (2005) looks at research carried out into multi-agency working and highlights eight challenges; fiscal resources, roles and responsibilities, competing priorities, non-fiscal resources, communication, professional and agency cultures, management and training opportunities. Some of the problems identified within these areas were that there was no financial support and many workers did not know what was being asked of their individual role between them and the rest of the multi-agency team. There were often different primacies amongst the different professions leading to conflict. As a social worker it is imperative that I aim to overcome these tensions and difficulties. In regards to GIRFEC, I expect that the introduction of the named person will help coordinate the multi-agency approach although lack of funding and resources is something that is always going to be a threat to the smooth running of a statutory children and families team attempting to work alongside other professionals under the GIRFEC framework.
The Audit Commission (2009:3) states that ‘Effective joint workingneeds active leadership and purposeful relationship management.’ The report highlights how working together in multi-agency teams is not without risk and that difficulties can arise if the agencies have not developed effective relationships. Strong leadership seems to be a key theme throughout the literature. The Scottish Government (2010) states that ‘Partnership working requires leadership at all levels and across services. In order to make partnership working effective, leadership needs to be the responsibility of everyone.’ If this is adopted and everyone is clear on what their roles and responsibilities are it should enable an effective way of working.
How can we implement GIRFEC into practice?
In October 2012, IRISS worked alongside East Lothian Council to enable them to implement GIRFEC. The sub group working together involved social workers, police, child protection, the third sector, education and health. Collins (2013:) states that she had
‘initially conceptualised this project as a means to help an organisation reflect on and improve their use of evidence, however, as the project progressed it became evident that the lessons really centred around how a multi-disciplinary team can learn to work together well and change the way they work.’
So here we have a positive example promoting the practice of multi-agency working, however, arriving at this conclusion was not easy. The study points out that in the beginnings people were reluctant to the prospect of the group – ‘We don’t even have the same beliefs.’ (Collins 2013:5) The next problem to address was that when it came down to it, people didn’t fully understand the best way to comprehend GIRFEC- ‘The problem is interpretation of GIRFEC. Some people are putting ‘safe’ at the top of the pyramid. But safe is not the only thing. It doesn’t have to be the most important.’ (Collins 2013:7) These difficulties are only to name a few, but as the group moved onward planning strategies were implemented, based comprehensively on reflection which the group named ‘the action research cycle’ (Collins 2013:16), with successful results.
Going back to Ferguson and Lavalettes quote, it would be ethically undermining to say that social work is about rationing limited resources and welfare management and that the GIRFEC policy aims to tackle every aspect of a child’s well-being with a multi-agency approach. Although as previously highlighted, the importance of multi-agency working is not new to the literature, within GIRFEC there is a drive for a more effective method in which universal services can work together in partnership with a thrust towards early intervention, although it may be argued that social workers are being locked of this. To an extent, I agree with this and believe that austerity measures are influencing this and together with welfare reforms and an ever growing number of families living in poverty then at present social workers roles may be changing but I am uncertain at present as to say to what extent. What I am certain of is that the service users within a statutory children’s and families team will be effected whether it be through the ever increasing cost of living and proportion of them relying on low income wages or through local authorities having to cut funding to specialised services and protects.
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