Social Workers And Mission Drift – What Is Their Job?

A new and very interesting piece of research spanning 15 years, looks at the social work profession from a skills angle and asks whether social workers are routinely going beyond their professional borders.

The paper was published on 5th January, 2018 in the Journal of Evidence Informed Social Work. Entitled, Should social workers be engaged in these practices?” it was written by Gary Holden, Professor at the New York University Silver School of Social Work, and Kathleen Barker, Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York. 

Outlined in the article are a list of jobs social workers seem to be carrying out as part of their social work role, or carrying with them as previously acquired skills. The authors tell us:

“Some of the entries…. are specic interventions, some indicate previous training of the provider (e.g., certications or degrees), some specify oers of training for others, others are guiding philosophies or conceptualizations and still others refer to equipment.”

The list of skills and courses involved seem to be heavily skewed towards holistic disciplines, as well as religious and spiritual ones like rebirthing, Feng Shui and herbology. A significant number of entries for counselling and therapy can be seen, as well as some medical courses and qualifications.

Holden and Barker say the list they have compiled is unfinished and raw, but urge us to think about how the profession is evolving and whether it is staying true to its original mission:

Mission Drift

As the professors point out, the definition and boundaries of social work are a little fuzzy, which we can see for ourselves in England and Wales with our own definition of social work, which is presented as a global one:

“The following definition was approved by the IFSW General Meeting and the IASSW General Assembly  in July 2014:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.

The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels.”

The BASW’s Advice Note on the roles and responsibilities of social workers is also worth a read.

Ultimately, the researchers want us to think about whether this kind of mission creep is actually a good thing for the social work profession, allowing greater knowledge and by implication better support for vulnerable individuals, or whether the skills presented are not really effective ones for the purposes of helping those in need and building strong communities.

The professors, and Researching Reform would love to know what you think.



Schools Given Almost Unlimited Rights To Search Students.

Welcome to another week.

The government is giving schools almost unfettered rights to search school pupils without consent, after it updated guidelines last week to reflect the move.

The changes allow school staff to search without consent for “any item banned by the school rules which has been identified in the rules as an item which may be searched for.” We tried to find this guidance online, but could not spot it.

The guidance was exposed in a Schools Week article on 19th January, which focused on the issue of energy soft drinks as a child protection issue, after schools around the country had imposed bans on the drinks on school property, with some searching students’ bags in order to enforce the policy.

The article comes after a public health nutritionist, government behaviour tsar and celebrity chef expressed concerns about the way these drinks affect children’s behaviour and health, and have called on the government to make it illegal to sell energy drinks to anyone under the age of 16.

Parents have reacted angrily to the new search policy, whilst schools have defended the move, saying that they have a right to confiscate anything they deem contraband.

The search policy, and the idea that energy drinks are a child protection issue raise several important questions:

  • Is the current search and seize guideline within the law?
  • What can schools constitute as ‘banned items’ and are there any human rights concerns surrounding this discretion?
  • Will banning energy drinks in schools and making it illegal to sell them to anyone under the age of 16 be effective ways to encourage positive eating habits?
  • Should the government ever be allowed to try to socially engineer food choices?

Our question this week then, is just this: what do you think?





New FOI Request: Damages Awarded To Families Because Of Council Failings

As the government appears to be busy with Brexit and other things, we thought it would be good to remind it that child welfare matters aren’t going away any time soon. Our latest Freedom Of Information Request asks for a breakdown of damages awarded to families, by council. 

After coming across this archived post we wrote in 2012 predicting a surge in damages being paid out to families failed by local authorities, we decided to find out if these kinds of awards were on the rise. The request though, is unlikely to offer a definitive answer.

We already know that local authorities’ insurance companies have a vested interest in making complaints go away. The thinking is that the more complaints make it through, the more damages the council may have to pay, which effectively means the more money insurance companies have to shell out. As a result, insurance companies have an inbuilt incentive to prevent claims like these making it out into the open.

The nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has also promised to look into the way insurance companies handle these kinds of claims and the extent of their conduct in obstructing investigations relating to child protection failings at councils across the country.

In what may be an attempt at shutting the floodgates and preventing councils from collapsing completely, Judges are now interpreting the law in an exclusive, rather than inclusive way, as this recent case shows. The justices in this case took the view that survivors would not be able to sue councils for abuse they suffered as children, if they had not been placed in the full-time care of the State. The impact of this ruling, for now, is likely to destroy a significant number of claims.

And whilst this FOI request looks at damages awarded, it won’t cover those claims in which compensation was not given. Cases where families have received an apology or have been promised a review of their case by a government body won’t be detailed unless the case resulted in the award of damages, further narrowing this request.

So, any information stemming from our latest Freedom Of Information request may not be the best indicator of how many families have been affected by council failings, but it will offer a picture of what the damages landscape looks like and how much the sector is costing the government whilst it runs on inadequate training and at almost zero capacity.

Will the data show a surge in payments? What kinds of payments will it reveal? And, most importantly, are some councils more prone to claims, and paying out compensation than others?

We will have to see.

In the meantime, here is a sample of cases which have been made public:

FOI Damages

Coroner: Baby Poppi Sexually Abused By Father Just Before She Died

A senior coroner has concluded that baby Poppi Worthington was sexually assaulted by her father, just hours before her death.

Poppi died of horrific injuries in 2012. Her story hit the headlines when it was revealed that a serious catalog of failings by social services and police meant that the person responsible for her death would most likely never be charged.

Ministers became so concerned by the case that in 2016, politicians held a meeting in the House of Commons to call for an inquiry into Poppi’s death.

It was widely believed that Poppi’s father inflicted her fatal injuries, which included sexual assault. Two fact-finding judgments by a high court family judge in 2014 and 2016 found that Paul Worthington had abused his daughter shortly before her death.

David Roberts, senior coroner for Cumbria, said that the 13 month old baby had most likely been sexually abused in the early hours of 12th December, 2012. Poppi then suffocated to death.

The Crown Prosecution has received the coroner’s judgment and will be considering the evidence alongside Cumbria’s police force.





Trends In Child Protection

2018 is set to be another interesting year for child welfare.

If last year was about government understanding how children impact the economy and society from the ground up, this year will be about a broader awareness of how government can empower under resourced services by looking at the ingenious ways in which families have begun to access information.

The first trend policy makers and stakeholders will need to watch is the growing use of social media, by both families and professionals. Parents and children have been using social media for several years now, primarily for support and advice purposes. Social workers are taking to sites like Facebook and Twitter to contact hard to reach families, and to gain some insight into their service users. Like all internet activity, it can be a force for good when used properly, but there are still some important concerns surrounding child professionals’ use of the net to gather information about service users, which center around privacy.

For some thoughts on how this trend has been developing, these articles below offer information and the latest guidance in this area:

Our advice to service users: if you don’t wish to have you information accessed by anyone other than friends and family, make your accounts online private, using the settings provided on each platform. Vet friend requests as well.

Our advice to professionals: don’t break the law. Privacy is real, and it’s protected by statute and regulation. Make sure that you know the rules in this area and if you don’t, take the initiative and access guidelines for yourself, and your team.

Another trend to watch is the rise of the informed parent across medical matters. This phenomenon was first highlighted by the Ashya King case, where the parents disagreed with doctors about how to treat their son’s cancer and fled abroad to get the treatment they wanted for Ashya. In this case, the parents had done their own, meticulous, research. The treatment Ashya received abroad worked, and he made a full recovery, despite the original doctors saying it wouldn’t and threatening to remove Ashya from his parents in the process. The latest case on this issue was reported last week, with parents rejecting a hospital’s care plan because the family believe the recommendations are detrimental to their daughter. They have also been threatened with the removal of their daughter if they don’t comply, but they’re not giving up. The links on this trend are below:

Access to information will be a major topic over the next 12 months. We predict some child welfare organisations will try to restrict that access, and others will try to infiltrate social platforms to offer their own advice and support with a view to engaging service users and winning clients. We predict this will be the big race in 2018.

Let us know what you think.


Question it!

Welcome to another week.

The police have criticised the nation’s child abuse inquiry (IICSA) for what they’re calling poor quality allegations, which the force are finding hard to investigate due to a lack of evidence and the anonymous nature of the complaints.

The cost of investigating these cases is at the centre of the row, with police departments around the country saying that they don’t have the resources to process the vast volume of allegations and requests for information. In 2017, around 2,300 referrals were made to Operation Hydrant via the inquiry.

The police are now asking inquiry staff to reduce the number of requests they make for information.

The inquiry now finds itself in a very difficult position. It is for allegation purposes no different to an individual who wishes to lodge details about a potential crime with the police, so the organisation is within its rights to refer cases without being held to a different submission standard. It is also entitled to refer cases anonymously. 

Nevertheless, given the vast amount of alleged victims that have come forward, the inquiry’s powers to access information which go beyond an ordinary individual’s, the police’s limited resources, and its large budget,  the IICSA could be considered to have a greater responsibility to help police forces put information together for each case.

Our question this week then, is just this: Do you think the Inquiry should have a more robust process in place to send on allegations to the police, or is it just fine for an investigative body to refer cases like an individual? 


Social Worker (Wrongly) Accuses Mum Of Impersonating Complaints Ombudsman – And It’s Hilarious.

One of the things that frustrates us the most about current social work practice is the bloody minded way in which professionals refuse to correct records when mistakes are made. But this latest case is not without its funny moments.

An ongoing child protection complaint involving a mother who has been routinely denied access to her children’s records, has taken a bizarre turn.

Trying desperately to access information held by the local authority in question, and having made several complaints about the way she and her family have been treated by the council, the mother decided to enlist the help of complaints ombudsman, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).


The case was accepted, and so the professional for the HCPC made a telephone call to the relevant social worker at the council to collect details about the child protection professional the mother had lodged a complaint against. The council then wrote to the mother about the conversation.

Stay with us. This is where it gets silly.

In the letter, the local authority social worker tells the mother she is lying about the ongoing investigation, and then accuses her of impersonating the HCPC professional:

Webb Letter 1

The mother, confused and a little upset by the accusation, decides to email the HCPC professional to ask her to confirm the investigation and that it was the HCPC who called, and not her. The HCPC professional then sends the mother a reply:

Webb Letter 2

Without any confirmation that it was in fact an HCPC professional who called, the mother may now be faced with an uncooperative council at best, and at worst, a bias which may affect the outcome of her complaint.

So, what can we take away from this story (other than the importance of correcting errors when they’re made)? Well, as it’s a Friday, we think it might be appropriate to point out the obvious difficulty the social worker had in identifying an HCPC professional, and to offer the mother a glass of wine and tell her that she’ll live to fight another day.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend,

Researching Reform

Ministers And Children’s Policy – Who’s Who In 2018

The government has had yet another cabinet reshuffle – here’s who’s who, as of January 2018:

Home Office:

Ministry Of Justice:

Department For Education:

Department Of Health:

Department For Work & Pensions:

Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport:

  • Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock MP

Department For Communities And Local Government – This department no longer exists.

Several ministerial positions have been removed or had their remit altered, and whilst some ministers are new appointees, others have just been shuffled around. You can compare and contrast the changes using our last cabinet reshuffle guide from August, 2017.

For a full breakdown of departments and which ministers head them, click here. 

Child Welfare in 2018A Government Department Breakdown#WhosWho (2)