To meet continuous demand pressures and to improve outcomes for some of the most vulnerable children in the country, social work practice with children and families will need to change over the next few years.
Innovation funding has gone to agencies who are fundamentally re-thinking the way social work is carried out. In Hertfordshire, multi-disciplinary teams for children and adults are being developed, in recognition of the facts that intimate partner violence, substance misuse and mental health problems in adults pose the greatest risks to children.
In Islington, the emphasis is on motivational interviewing to motivate families to behave differently and to promote strengths in families. All such funded programmes aim to help children and families more, rather than devote nearly all professional time to assessment and case recording.
Meeting the challenge
This is a challenge to us as well. About 50% of our professional time goes on report writing and case recording, partly as courts ask us for reports- that is our staple work. However, whilst courts require a good report or case analysis on which to base decisions about children with lifelong implications, we have to ensure that as budgets in the sector reduce, we spend enough time with children and families to firstly, understand what the child is experiencing, and, secondly, to use motivational interviewing within an inquisitorial framework, to try to persuade parents to behave differently in line with their child or children’s needs.
This is a particular challenge for us in telephone social work, which is our standard practice before the first hearing in private law cases, and in those private law cases where we will see the child and parents once, for purposes of gathering information for our case analysis.
But the challenge of doing more with less is one we have to meet. In the average public law case, we see children more, three times on average. In these cases too, we have to work hard to achieve better outcomes for children, particularly changes in care plans to make their life that much better.
There is a balance to be struck. Social workers do have to make sure their assessments are accurate and risks to children are assessed properly. But in the end, we will be judged by the difference we make to children’s lives and outcomes, not simply how well we comply with the important and necessary processes in our work.