The value of social work

Charlotte Ramsden
Friday, July 2, 2021

As a director of children's services (DCS), being a qualified social worker is not part of the essential criteria and I know plenty of brilliant DCS colleagues who have found their role though a different route.

However, I am proud of my social work background, am still registered as a social worker and still use the skills I learnt. The recent debates about the role and value of social work have called to my roots and caused me to reflect on my time in front line practice and the essential and hugely valuable work our social workers do every day.

Meeting the needs of children and keeping them safe and nurtured, ideally at home, is at the heart of social work and a burning desire to do this led me into the role. Partnership working is crucial and none of us can do this alone, we are a team and all partners matter! A safeguarding focus on the child kept me calm knocking on the door for many a first visit to a family where concerns had been raised. That first meeting is a step into the unknown. It could lead to relief all round and closure of the concern, or the immediate removal of a child. Finely honed skills to manage and assess the situation are essential. Do we assess too much? Unknown families where concerns are not followed up could lead to harm being missed.

Whether the worker is a family support worker offering early support, or a social worker working with a family where there is a high level of concern, I learnt that assessment is a crucial element to plan and deliver the work needed. A skilled assessment can be a therapeutic process which enables the family to discover more about themselves as an agent for change. No-one, whatever their role, is protected from the responsibility of acting to safeguard a child if circumstances require it, and “professional curiosity” is part of working with children at all levels of need. Safeguarding is, and always will be, everyone’s business. Building meaningful relationships, despite those challenges, is central to social work, as it is to all those working with children. For me, any potential divide is a false one and fraught with risk.

My biggest fear was always that a child would come to harm on my watch and we have only to look at the Jenga blocks of our system outlined in the current Case for Change; laws and regulations, court judgments, Ofsted inspections, government reports and the judgments of the press and social media, to realise my fear was well founded. My fear, however, was not how others would judge me but that I would fail a child. To know that a wrong judgment could impact on the safety, or even life of a child, is pressure indeed. Our social workers live with these risks every day. Thank goodness for a clear expectation of the need for supervision, support and partnership working to provide reflection and challenge for the difficult decisions, and we need this for all our workers. We are proud to be one of the safest children’s services in the world, but we don’t get it right all the time.

In this time of review and potential change, there is plenty to reflect on. What is our appetite for shifting the Jenga blocks to live with greater managed risk? Which children would see benefit from this shift and which ones might suffer? How do we apply the wealth of good practice available as widely as possible? Social workers are living in a grey area of conflicting expectations which are managed every day. Despite that, our children matter. There are stories abound of those who work with children going the extra mile because children matter so much, but sadly these are rarely the ones we hear about. Do we love those in our care? When a child in care I loved died of natural causes, my grief was overwhelming. As someone said to me then, “you really identified with her didn’t you”. Wherever the current review takes us, the huge value of social work is clear.

Charlotte Ramsden is 2021/22 president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and DCS at Salford City Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website


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