Turning the ship around: reflections on changing a nation’s social work practice system in the interests of children and families

Publication Date18 Sep 2017
AuthorIsabelle Trowler
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Children's services,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Children/youth,Parents,Education,Early childhood education,Home culture,Social/physical development
Turning the ship around: reflections on
changing a nations social work
practice system in the interests of
children and families
Isabelle Trowler
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to reflect on progress and lessons in improving the social work
system in England in the interests of children and families.
Design/methodology/approach Based on an interview with the author by Michael Little (one of the Guest
Editors of this edition).
Findings Social work is best placed to lead the child protection system given its ability to manage risks in a
challenging social and political environment. However, there is a need to address common concerns about
the system, for instance to give social workers more autonomy, and to improve the quality in the workforce,
especially at the senior level. The best authorities are practice focused, led by practitioners who are part of a
stable team, and do well at a systems level.
Originality/value Offers the perspective of the Chief Social Worker for Children in England on the process
of reforming the social work system for children and families.
Keywords Families, Children, Practice, Social work, Systems, Reclaiming Social Work
Paper type Viewpoint
My position on the role of social work in childrens social care has evolved over a good 20 plus
years working in the childrens sector, mainly in local government and childrens social care.
Over those years I have observed everyone and everything and learnt much. I have changed my
mind about some things but I am still completely sure that if we want to improve things for those
children and families caught up in the statutory net we need to focus on just two things.
First, we must address the longstanding concerns about the practice system itself, of which
children and families themselves are highly critical, and which generates too much mediocrity
and too little positive impact for the people to whom we provide services. Professional judgement
has been ousted and replaced by a mechanistic, conveyer belt approach to practice; creativity is
stifled as risk aversion reigns. Current local authority practice, with thankfully a growing handful of
exceptions, is dominated by excessive paperwork, endless ineffective managerial process, rigid
rules with no room for the individual, a post code lottery of care and protection, high staff
turnover, poor retention, low morale and a pathological fear of inspection. A Judge from Received 6 September 2017
Accepted 6 September 2017
Isabelle Trowler is the Chief
Social Worker for Children at
the Department for Education,
London, UK.
DOI 10.1108/JCS-09-2017-0039 VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 197-201, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660
PAG E 19 7

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