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FRONT LINE FIRST-SOCIAL SERVICES

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In this ever-changing climate of social care, could we just slow down for a minute to consider the position of the ...
In this ever-changing climate of social care, could we just slow down for a minute to consider the position of the thousands of front-line staff?

For these staff the pace of change is probably the one constant in their working lives.

The daily experience of front-line staff and their service users is of perpetual change. Many councils are struggling to implement changes which were published two years ago and yet new initiatives roll off the press every day. Most staff can only just keep up with the titles of the documents, let alone the content.

As agents of social change themselves, social workers are well placed to advise on how to manage change. They know that to be able to assess the impact of any change, it is essential to change one component at a time. It is necessary to allow a period of consolidation after a change before assessing impact, to ensure that one does not overreact to transitional effects. Finally, one should never seek to change everything at once.

The pace of change driven by modernisation does not follow any of these most basic rules. It is so fast and furious it leaves a sense of increasing uncertainty and insecurity among staff and service users alike. Small wonder staff are leaving in significant numbers and many are choosing a career as an agency worker. Although previously viewed as insecure, now they feel they have greater control over the pressures of work.

Starting this autumn, the Department of Health is sponsoring a recruitment drive in social work and social care aimed at addressing the chronic shortfall of staff. Many councils are running with permanent vacancy levels of above 30% and are reliant upon the services of agency staff to plug the gaps. In some councils whole teams consist of short-term contract or agency staff. This can lead to lack of continuity, not to mention confusion for service users.

There needs to be something very attractive on offer to appeal to those staff who have already left public social care services and might return, or attract those who are presently undecided about career options.

This is not just a matter of remuneration, although the ability to afford a reasonable lifestyle is an

issue. Achievable workloads and a

sense that those driving the changes

have some appreciation of the

experience on the front line are just as important.

We need to put the front line first to ensure we rebuild the confidence of the workforce and service users. If we fail to do that, the rest is silence.

Gail C. Tucker

Chair, British Association of Social Workers.

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