In June, West Dunbartonshire workers took the decision to vote for strike action, should their working conditions fail to immediately improve.
SWAN Stands In
Solidarity With West Dunbartonshire’s Social Workers As They Vote To Strike
The needs and safety of vulnerable children and their
families are being jeopardised by the unsafe working conditions of their social
workers, say West Dunbartonshire’s Unison members. SWAN condemns the closure of
offices, forcing staff to work in inappropriate environments away from their
colleagues, away from support, and requiring long travel distances. SWAN
condemns high workloads that are preventing social workers from being able to
offer each child and family what they are entitled to from social care services
– and what we are legally obliged to provide.
Scotland is not sheltered from the UK Government’s waging of
war upon the most deprived people in our society. The decimation of public
sector funding and resources has resulted in fear, insecurity and anxiety for workers
and service users alike. Strike action and workers’ resistance is the key to
real change. It shines a light on the willingness of management to abandon
their responsibilities and leave staff to face the serious consequences. We
have seen, after the walkout of the homeless case workers and the successful
Equal Pay strike within Glasgow, that united disruptive action gets
SWAN offers our full support to the social workers who have
voted to strike in West Dunbartonshire, should significant changes fail to
materialise swiftly. Solidarity Meetings amongst our members are being
organised in response. We stand together against this dangerous erosion of good
By Clarissa Stevens, Fran Proctor, Amanda Boorman, Barbara
Rishworth, Abbie Unwin, Brid Featherstone, Andy Bilson
This article presents summaries of contributions made at the Rethinking Fostering
and Adoption: Achieving social justice in practice plenary during the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) conference on 6th
April 2019 at Liverpool Hope University. The session brought together speakers
with a range of lived experience including as an adoptee and Childhood Trauma Specialist (Fran), a birth
parent with experience of involvement in child protection proceedings/co-founder
of the ReFrame Collective (Clarissa), adoptive parent, campaigner for open
adoption reforms and founder of the Open Nest charity (Amanda), and social work
academic and co-author of the British Association of Social Work’s (BASW)
Adoption Enquiry (Brid). For this article,
further additional contributions come from Emeritus Professor of Social Work
(Andy) and co-founders of the ReFrame Collective (Barbara and Abbie).
The article combines brief summaries which give a
sense of the diversity of the conference contributions,
whilst reflecting a shared view that the current child protection and adoption
system requires radical transformation in
order to become more humane,
supportive and socially just. The first two sections of the article outline the
‘investigative turn’ in children’s services, and
key findings from the BASW Adoption Enquiry respectively. The third, fourth and
fifth sections make the case
for radical reforms of the child protection and adoption
systems from the perspectives of those who are most directly affected, adoptees
and birth families, offering a range of views on the need for support,
inclusion and the importance of preventing trauma.
All of the contributors are
active campaigners for reform of the child protection and
adoption systems, and their social media and contact
details are given to enable readers to find out more and get involved with these
The ‘investigative turn’ in children’s social care services – Professor Andy Bilson
In England and other English
speaking countries there has been an “investigative turn” with a huge
change in the way that children’s social care responds to concerns for the welfare
of children. There have been cuts in support for families and increases in
child protection investigations leading to more children separated from
parents. The number of section 47 investigations has increased every year since
2005. The graph below shows this trend between 2010 and 2018. Investigations
doubled because the proportion of referrals leading to an investigation
increased from 15% to 30%. One
in every 16 children were investigated before their fifth birthday in 2017.
As investigations increased they became much less likely to be
followed by a child protection plan. In 2010, 50% of investigations led to a
child protection plan, this fell to 35% in 2018. The 129,320 investigations not
followed by a plan in 2018 cause collateral
damage harming families and children who are unlikely to receive or accept
help even where they have difficulties.
Where plans are made there has been little or no change in the
numbers of those for physical or sexual abuse since 2010. All the increases
have been in neglect or emotional abuse. I
found that the increases in
emotional abuse plans varied depending on the local authorities with some
having very large and sudden increases whilst in others rates fell. These
patterns are unlikely to stem from differences in levels of abuse in the
The numbers separated
from parents have risen due to the increase in the number of children who
on any one day are adopted from care, and increases in long stays in care. The
graph shows how, despite the fall in new adoption placements since 2014, the
number of children under 18 in adoption or special guardianship placements on a
census date is now higher than the number in care despite this also having
risen since 2008.
graph also shows how the number of children in adoption and special
guardianship placements will continue to increase reaching 111,500, almost 1%
of those aged 0 to 17 in 2026 if the 2017 rate of placements continues until
Many children taken into care and those adopted have parents who
have been in the care system. In 2014-15 at least 32% of all adopted children
in Wales had one or both parents who were in care at age 16. Many more
children had parents who had been in care but left before being 16. Similarly,
40% of parents who had recurrent
care proceedings had been in care themselves.
I found that across England
where rates of adoption from care had increased
the numbers of children in care are also increasing
whilst in local authorities with lower rates the numbers are decreasing pointing to a ‘culture of
rescue’ in some areas. Also
where adoption rates before the age of 5 had risen most child protection
activity had increased by 96% compared with an average increase of 21%.
There were large differences in rates of children adopted not
explainable by levels of deprivation. The graph
below shows that 1.9% of all children in Southampton were adopted before
age 5, far higher than any of its statistical neighbours. Differences are due
both to rates of deprivation
and a culture of rescue in some agencies.
This data thus shows the rapidly increasing use of investigations in
response to families in difficulty alongside the increases in children removed
from parental care. The large differences between local authorities suggests
that these trends are affected by the decreasing support for families,
increasing deprivation and a growing local culture of rescue.
The role of the social worker in adoption: ethics and human rights – Professor Brid Featherstone
While historically adoption has been promoted across the political
spectrum and has often been attended by controversy, renewed concerns about
particular aspects of this policy became evident from 2010 onwards especially
in England. The push by policymakers to increase adoption numbers in the
context of austerity, the use of reduced court timescales, and the number of
adoptions that dispense with parental consent became the focus of attention
from a range of national and international commentators.
Such concerns became framed by the British Association of Social
Workers (BASW) as ethical and human rights issues and led it, in 2016, to
commission: ‘The role of the social
worker in adoption – ethics and human rights: An enquiry’
300 individuals and 13 organisations contributed to the Enquiry. Social workers
or managers with a social work background were the largest group (105),
followed by birth family members (56), adoptive parents (44), adopted people
(32), academics (24) and related professionals (24).
The key findings were:
The use of adoption needs to be
discussed in the context of wider social policies and the impact on already
disadvantaged families and communities.
The current model of adoption
fails to recognise multiple attachments and complex identities.
A rethink of contact
arrangements between adopted children and their families is needed.
There is little evidence of
human rights talk among social workers.
Social workers were, however,
concerned about the reduction in resources for birth families and the policy
emphasis on adoption in that context.
The need for radical transformation of the child protection system – Clarissa Stevens, Barbara Rishworth and Abbie Unwin (ReFrame Collective)
ReFrame is a collective of parents with experience of the child
protection (CP) system, professionals and academics. We are passionate about
seeing change in how we support parents and families who are at risk of
becoming, or are involved in care proceedings in relation to their own
children. We believe that the current CP system
requires radical transformation in order to become more humane, supportive and socially just, and that
parents should be centrally involved in this transformation. We recognise the need for
systemic change that acknowledges the political ideologies that underpin our
current social care and health systems. We aim to create opportunities to promote the social
inclusion of birth parents, while raising awareness of their experiences,
through direct support, co-produced projects and social action initiatives.
Austerity policies alongside a risk-averse context have led to the numbers of parents
involved in the CP system rising, with the number of babies removed from parents doubling
in the last 8 years. Local authorities are under immense
pressure to do more with less and to ‘keep children safe’ without frameworks
that address the fundamental underlying factors e.g. poverty, deprivation and
disability. Certain groups are disproportionately involved
in the system, e.g. those who have grown up in care are 66 times more likely to
have their children taken into care (Jackson & Simon, 2005), those exposed
to domestic violence (48.1%), and those who have experienced four or more
adverse childhood experiences (56%), yet contextual issues are overlooked with
social inequalities/socio-political contexts being translated into individual
problems and diagnoses (Broadhurst et al., 2017).
Dominant narratives held about
parents have resulted in their being positioned in limiting ways. Parents have described feeling marginalised by the
current system, talking of the scrutiny they faced rather than of receiving
support. For example, there are cases in which women in relationships
characterised by domestic violence are criminalised for failing to protect
their children from abusive partners, obscuring the complexities of such
situations. Women have described being unaware of the violent and abusive
nature of their relationships, fearing leaving or feeling that there is nowhere
else for them to go, and feeling caught in a ‘catch 22’ situation in which they
hide their relationship from professionals for fear of the repercussions. The positioning of parents within the current system often leaves
them without adequate or appropriate support (Broadhurst et al., 2017).
As a collective, ReFrame draws on
Liberation Psychology approaches and Community Psychology. These approaches
recognise the role of power and privilege in the health and wellbeing of a
community, and believe that people affected by a problem have unique knowledge
and skills to inform solutions. We feel it is
essential that the voices of parents, adoptees and those in care are placed at the
centre as a justice issue, in order that we can begin to understand the lived
experiences of people who have been involved in the CP system. Only then can we
begin to develop and transform services accordingly.
We aim to reframe dominant narratives
about parents by raising awareness of the contexts and inequalities involved in
the current CP system. We currently
provide co-produced training and consultation and are keen to collaborate with
parents and professionals on collective awareness raising projects. We hope to create a UK-wide network of organisations and individuals
advocating for wider systemic change.
Campaigning for radical reform of the adoption system – Amanda Boorman (founder of Open Nest)
The Open Nest charity has been campaigning for radical adoption reform
since it formed in 2013. Its trustees came together as a group of people all
affected by adoption from different perspectives (mostly either adoptees or
adopters) but all dismayed at the conservative governments ‘adoption drive’.
This drive towards adoption reform began with Michael Gove who shifted £150
million from the Early Intervention fund to adoption recruitment and reform.
This failed to put adopted people themselves at the forefront of development,
and removed support services such as family centres that helped parents.
Alongside the harsh politics of austerity the very worst aspects of
adoption were held up as positive including quicker removals of children, shortened
timescales for adoption placement, and contact with birth families made less
important and more difficult. Alongside this, the Adoption Support Fund turned
the loss and grief experienced by both children and adults in the adoptive
process into a condition for which government funded and private agencies could
create marketable products.
Adoption in the UK is currently set against a cultural and social
background where a women who has experienced being in care is 66 times more likely
to have a child removed than a woman who is not care experienced. Where living
in certain parts of the country means you are far more likely to have a child
removed than a family living elsewhere. Where a large proportion of learning
disabled women have children removed and where women who are victims of
domestic violence and abuse can lose their children forever.
Adoption currently fails to recognise that it cruelly ignores poverty,
inequality and injustice against women. Adoption recruitment takes place
outside affluent supermarkets and children are marketed on Twitter.
Open Nest have refused to accept or apply for government funding for the
work we do supporting those upon whom adoption has had negative and life
changing consequences as it would potentially silence our opinions.
We believe that this reform period will be looked back upon with shame
and a time when many social workers felt they were carrying out work in line
with policies they felt uncomfortable with.
Now is the time for adoption professionals to speak out and stand up for
family rights and in particular women’s rights in relation to adoption policy
Supporting Adoptees and Preventing Trauma – Fran Proctor (Adoptee and Childhood Trauma Specialist)
I believe in many situations open adoption can be an
appropriate intervention on behalf of children who need to keep important links
to their birth families and family history. However, and although being a
minority, there are children whose parents were abusive, violent and in some
cases have committed serious crimes.
My personal story of adoption and the care system is that my sister and
I were removed due to abuse. I was adopted and my sister was returned. My
sister was murdered at the age of 7. How this information was later delivered,
assessed and recorded created huge amounts of unnecessary secondary trauma for
me which impacted my life greatly.
Five things that I believe would have potentially prevented additional trauma
in my own life, and would reduce added trauma in the life of a child or young
person who has been removed due to abusive or an abusive biological parent,
Not encouraging the adoptee to identify with birth family culture unless
this comes from the individual themselves. Assuming that we would want the same
identity as an abuser or someone who has abused us can be really traumatising
and may leave us feeling like we will turn out the same or that we are
Searching for answers and asking questions about our past does not mean
we are asking for a relationship, and this assumption should never be made.
Therapeutic support should always be available though to make any informed
choices about the future and any contact if asked for.
Find healthy ways to help a child or a young person to make small steps
forward the best they can. Talking over and over about the past and any trauma
can put an individual in a place of re-traumatisation only to impact negatively
on mental health and wellbeing causing more problems in everyday life.
Being adopted/removed means that you live a parallel life to a greater
or lesser extent. New information that comes to light should be delivered in a
timely, age appropriate, safe and careful manner so that there are no huge shocks
that are so overwhelming that it makes it impossible to cope.
It can be assumed that once you are adopted/removed, and once you have a
different life everything is okay, you are okay. This is usually not the case,
and what a lot of children and young people need to hear is that it’s okay to
not be okay, and that the things that have happened are not their fault.
SWAN is pleased to publish a short paper that proposes a
campaign to make independent living, as defined by the United Nations,
the driving force for social care. This is timely. The evidence is making it
inarguable that the personalisation strategy, founded on notions of consumerism,
is failing and cannot succeed. It leaves an intellectual void – which way next?
More funding may bring short term relief, but more of the same excites no-one. The
failure of the personalisation strategy follows the failure of the community
care reforms twenty years before it. Neither made any impact on the fundamental
politics that continue to dominate social care.
SWAN will be seeking to develop a discourse between disabled
people, service users and social workers who seek a way to return to the
profession’s ethical roots. We must move from protest to action. We believe this
proposal will make a valuable contribution. We urge social workers to take the
time to read and reflect.
MAKING INDEPENDENT LIVING FOR ALL THE VISION FOR SOCIAL CARE
by Colin Salsberg
The system based on managers commandeering of practitioners’
assessments must be brought to an end. Management does so to deliver on the
fiscal imperative of ensuring spending matches budget whilst at the same time
deliver on the political objective of maintaining the pretence that there is no
gap between needs and resources. This is the nub of the eligibility based
system. It’s a system that forces social workers to compromise their
professional ethics, results in gross inequity of provision and worsens health
inequalities. Its focus on risk and deficit leads to failure to build on the
person’s strengths. It is an oppressive and dysfunctional system which
facilitates cuts and hides resource limitations. Whilst the public rhetoric of sector
leaders focusses on the importance of empowering service users, the eligibility
system infantilises them. It allows them only to have ‘wishes’ and ‘preferences’
but not the power to identify their own needs. To this empty rhetoric is added
the pretence of up-front allocations of money to enable ‘choice’ and thus
‘control’. However, up front allocations cannot and do not happen. The
smokescreen is given further impenetrability by the pretence of the service
being equitable through application of national eligibility criteria, but which
are quite meaningless.
A small number of service users and some practitioners have the
skills and strength to beat the system in order to secure better support. But
this is no solution. The eligibility system creates a zero sum game. If one
person succeeds in establishing more of their needs as ‘eligible’ it is paid
for by others who have less. Service users who achieved independent living through employing their own staff are now seeing
year on year erosion of their funding, and some cuts as large as 50%.
The eligibility system is a policy choice. It is neither the
legal requirement sector leaders claim it to be nor the inevitable consequence
of resources falling short of need. The eligibility system is a policy that
delivers short term, cynical but powerful political expedients.
This oppressive and destructive policy should be brought to an
end. In a society based on rights and decency the solution will be to guarantee
all the resources people require for the life that is right for them. However, there
is no likelihood of this happening in the foreseeable future. The cost is not
known. It is not knowable in advance. The highly individual nature of need and
lifestyle and the huge variability in the cost of meeting these means a
guarantee of funding could only be delivered without any budgetary
restrictions. Not even the NHS is funded without a budget.
Spending should cease to be controlled by controlling what
is deemed to be ‘need’. It should be controlled by decisions about which needs
can be afforded. Two major consequences will follow. First it will allow the
identification of authentic need. Secondly it will result in the honest and
transparent exposure of the gap between needs and resources.
Whilst the legislature through the Care Act has established wellbeing as the means to measure how
life should be, it has not set the standard
of wellbeing that people should expect. The
United Nations concept of Independent
Living should be adopted as the standard of wellbeing all should be
supported to aspire. The UN definition of Independent Living seeks only to ensure people have the kind of
life others take for granted, able to make ‘choices equal to others’ so they
can lead the lives they want without poverty or discrimination. It is the
least a modern, diverse and civilised society should expect for its citizens in
need of support. It applies to all in need of support, of all ages and all types
of impairment. Authenticity of need should be established in relation to the
support a person requires to experience independent living.
To make this possible, the following will be required from Government,
Councils and Social Workers.
Government must require practitioners, service
users and carers to establish each person’s unique support needs for independent living. Government must build this requirement into the Statutory Guidance to
the Care Act, replacing the misleading and ineffective guidance based on the
consumerist ideology of personal budgets through up-front allocations as the
means to personalise supports.
budget managers must be required to make transparent decisions about how much of
the required resources can be afforded for each individual. Government must build the revised approach
to resource allocation process into the Statutory Guidance. It must also amend
the Eligibility Regulations, restricting
the legal duty to meet need to a minimum guarantee of life and limb. This will
allow legal permission for the honesty required to acknowledge the level of
need that current resources cannot meet.
of all needs that cannot be met so each council will know the cost of all to experience
independent living. The Statutory Guidance must be amended to
require councils to record and aggregate all needs not met. This information
must be reported nationally in a consistent format. The Guidance must set out
how the information will be used by central and local government in budget
setting to ensure a). the funding gap is minimised and b). the equitable
distribution of current resources.
moving from a system designed to identify ‘eligible’ needs to one designed to
identify needs for independent living,
transitional arrangements will be required in relation to people in the system
at the time of the change. Some needs deemed ‘eligible’ under the previous
system may not be seen to be needs that promote independent living in the new system. However, there will also be some needs previously deemed
‘eligible’ that will also be seen as needs for independent living in the new system. There is a clear moral
argument that service users must not be punished by the transition. The Eligibility Regulations should make
clear that all needs previously deemed ‘eligible’ which are assessed as needs
for independent living should
continue to be met in perpetuity of the need.
is clear that the primary legislation allows councils to take unilateral action
ahead of changes to the Statutory Guidance, and by interpreting the Eligibility
Regulations in a particular way that will allow them to adopt Independent Living as the standard of
wellbeing for all assessments of need within their council and to replace eligibility of need with affordability of need as the means to
All councils should reflect on the evidence
of the dysfunctional and oppressive nature of the current system and exercise
their responsibility to their communities by making independent living
the standard of wellbeing for all assessments, ending the use of eligibility to
have felt powerless within the eligibility system. The frustration of those practitioners
who have retained their professional idealism is greatly compounded by the way
the system lays blame on them for all the system’s failings by stating that all
decisions are the result of practitioners’ professional judgements, whilst
ensuring the hand of management in shaping those decisions remains unseen.
All practitioners should study the evidence,
and if in agreement with the need for change, to then seek to raise debates
within their work place – with colleagues, operational managers, strategic
managers and, where possible, members – in order to raise awareness of the widespread
unmet need and limitation of people’s lifestyles and generate momentum for
change both locally and nationally.