Solidarity With West Dunbartonshire

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 results. 

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 practice.

SWAN Steering Committee

Rethinking Child Protection & Adoption: Achieving Social Justice in Practice

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 initiatives.

The ‘investigative turn’ in children’s social care servicesProfessor 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 community.

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.

The 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 then.

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.

Further information: or @Andy_Bilson

The role of the social worker in adoption: ethics and human rightsProfessor 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’

In total 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 Enquiry report is available at

Further information: @Acsocialwork

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.

If you would like to get in touch you can follow ReFrame on twitter @re_frame_ or email us at

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 and practice.  

Further information: and @TheOpenNest or @BoormanAmanda

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, are: ​

  1. 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 inherently flawed.​
  2. 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.​
  3. 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. ​
  4. 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.​
  5. 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. ​

Further information: @Fran_Proctor, or

Independent Living For All!

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.


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.[1]

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.

Central Government

  1. 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.
  2. Council 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.
  3. Aggregation 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.
  4. In 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.

Local Government

It 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 control spending.

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 control spending.


Practitioners 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.

Practitioners should study guidance published by SWAN that addresses ethical and lawful practice within the current system. They should think through the extent to which the guidance might influence how they balance their commitment to social work’s ethics with their obligations as an employee. The guidance can be found here

[1] For an account of the evidence, see Ethical and lawful practice in assessment and support planning – the case for action, Critical and Radical Social Work, Vol 7.1 pp 111-117