One of our greatest bug-bears in the system is the fact that every day, hundreds of organisations inside the sector brush bad behaviour and poor work under the carpet.
This activity can range in scope, from front-line staff ignoring issues they can see are problematic or have been flagged up by others to attacking and destroying evidence and reports which show very clearly that something is not right. But how do we monitor this activity, in a system that’s so large, not even it can keep a track of all the agencies at any one time? That is a huge worry, and once again, the highly informative Community Care tackles this issue in the field of social work.
In their latest string of articles, Community Care focus on whistlebowing in social work and in a very interesting piece, where they asked 30 social workers to tell them about their experiences in whistleblowing, the answers given were shocking, but not a surprise by any means for those who work and live inside the system.
These are the quotes published in the article this morning:
“Senior managers tried to brush it under the carpet, but I insisted it be taken forward. It did me no good in the career stakes, but I didn’t care as I was only interested in being the best social worker I could be.”
“At my last job, I told inspectors that I had been given a child protection case the morning of the inspection and told to pretend it was mine and that I had been working on it. My career with that local authority was ended within months.”
“I once blew the whistle on a colleague who did something illegal. This person was quite dominant in the office and I was worried about reprisals from her and her friends. […] It was dealt with informally – and that person is now a manager within the same organisation.”
“Years ago, when I was a social work student, I did a placement where I witnessed what I considered to be abuse of an elderly woman. […] I took it to my work colleagues, practice teacher, university lecturer, etc, but there seemed to be an apathy and acceptance of ‘that’s what happens’.”
This encouraging comment was also added:
“I highlighted dangerous practice after going on a home visit and suggested ways to improve things. My ideas were taken on board and now the process has been changed.”
But Community Care don’t stop there. They also published a piece called “Guide to Whistleblowing for social workers and care staff”, which we also think is filled with excellent advice and well worth a read. It can even be lifted and translated to other organisations and the relevant bodies and legislation, too.
At a meeting only last week in Islington, Fiona Harrow, who is currently Deputy Director of the Child Protection and Safeguarding Division at the Department of Education spoke about the Department’s focus on trying to remove this kind of practice and ensure that problems are addressed healthily and without the huge stigma currently attached.
We hope very much the Department will keep this in mind, as it’s crippling the sector’s ability to deliver a good service and protect those who are truly competent and passionate about their work and who are, at the end of the day, ensuring that the sector runs at its best. The implications of that in terms of service delivery and government kudos are obvious.
In a system where fear is rife at every level, (fear of whistleblowing amongst front-line staff and fear of high impact reprisals for management if poor practice comes to light), there is very little incentive to make progress. The government must take steps now, to protect those people in the system who raise concerns.
A final thought. Community Care continues to be a brilliantly balanced and informative website; we hope that if any awards for this kind of work arise in the future, they scoop a batch of them. Excellent stuff.