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How directors can really help social workers

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A guest briefing by Blair McPherson, former director, Lancashire CC


Many social workers would be surprised to find out it is a priority to make their jobs easier.

A director’s job includes many things. Among other things they must direct resources, balance the budget, hit performance targets, devise strategies, ask the right questions and second-guess members.

They must also avoid tragedies, present the directorate in the best light, and know when to stick to the plan, who to listen to and when they are being told only what they want to hear. Above all else they must be positive even when they don’t feel so.

So where does helping social workers be their best rank in such a list? Because according to a recent advert placed by Luton BC that is what the job is about.

It certainly makes the social workers sound important. But in my experience most social workers would be sceptical if they heard their director claim that was their aim.

Both as a social worker and director, I found there was often disagreement about what social workers should be doing. Social workers want to help people, but managers want to close cases and ration resources.

In adult social care senior managers put the emphasis on assessment, yet social workers want more face time to build up a relationship and do the job as they think it should be done.

The senior management team, led by the director, comes up with the budget plan that every year has involved cuts. Whether that is closing day centres, reducing funds for voluntary groups or imposing tighter eligibility criteria, it is difficult to see this making the social workers’ job easier or enabling them to do their best.

I doubt social workers tasked with re-assessing existing clients against the new tighter eligibility criteria – with a view to reducing or removing the existing care – feel that managers are helping them help clients.

As budget cuts reduce the number of social work posts and replace them with unqualified workers, caseloads continue to grow, and pressure to get patents out of hospital intensifies, it’s hard to imagine that social workers think the senior management is trying to make it easier for them to do a good job.

The distinct views stem from the fact social workers are focused on individuals whereas the director’s job is to look at the bigger picture. They must try to resolve some tension between available resources and increased demand, all within a politically sensitive environment.

Perhaps the issue is what is meant by “enabling”. Theoretically directors could find ways to invest in mentoring and coaching, with a renewed emphasis on professional supervision.

Likewise, they could find a way to fund more admin posts, freeing social workers to do social work and spend less time sitting at a computer. It might also be possible to introduce some whizzy new technology that does the same thing.

Alternatively, the director could persuade members to buck the trend and employ more social workers, reduce caseloads and make funds available for preventative services. That would be evidence of enabling social workers to be the best they can be.


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