To describe the last few years in the world of social services as turbulent would be an understatement. Fundamental policy shifts by government coupled with changes in the social and demographic profile of the country have altered the structure of the social services profession and the role of the social worker.
The concept of care in the community, the arrival of the care manager and the purchaser/provider split, local government reorganisation, a change of government, privatisation, erratic headcounts and, not least, the seemingly endless stream of often sensational stories in the media have all made a mark.
These elements combined, serve to make the situation even more complex and confusing and erode the image of the profession. Perhaps nowhere is this confusion more evident than amongst those outside the profession - particularly members of the general public.
Accordingly, Scott Edgar has conducted a survey amongst ADSS members. The principal objective of this research is to provide insight into members' views on the issues surrounding the image of social services in the United Kingdom.
WHO WE TALKED TO
Our sample was drawn from the full current membership of the Association of Directors of Social Services taken from the ADSS database. A total of 174 members were canvassed and to date 91 forms have been returned - a gross attainment rate of 52.3%. This report is concerned with the views expressed in 85 completed forms returned by October 5th 1998.
The full range of authorities is represented in our sample with unitary authorities - 32.2% - and county councils - 27.4% - accounting for well over half of the sample.
In the following pages we provide details of the main findings from the survey. Our primary objective was to provide insight into individual opinions and perceptions of the image of local authority personal social services departments amongst key groups - from users through to other professional groups and the community at both local and national level.
The picture that emerges is of a profession that is confident that it enjoys considerable standing amongst those it serves and interacts with in a professional capacity. The consensus is that other members of the caring professions, those concerned with law and order and also those who rely on the social services for help and support are more than satisfied with the quality of service and commitment of their local social services department.
However, several key groups are seen as not sharing this positive view. The public in general and more specifically, members of minority groups are seen as holding social services in low regard. Further, those who might be in a position to influence or alter this negative perception - the media, teachers and careers advisers are also seen as having a low opinion of the profession.
Similarly, when viewed on a wider plain in the context of generic Social Services, most of the confidence that there is evaporates. The ADSS members taking part in this survey have very real concerns that social services has a poor image, is misunderstood and crucially, can be exposed to misinterpretation at the hands of the lay person.
Social services directors are the first to admit that the blame for much of this image problem and misunderstanding is of their own making, and the overwhelming majority are behind the moves to set the situation right - through a planned promotional programme of education and information activities for key target audiences.
- Local social services departments seen as highly regarded amongst those that have dealings with them - but public face is seen as far from good
- Over 8 in 10 say police, health & legal specialists have highest regard for social services - and two-thirds say users would agree
- Members of the public in general, and minority groups in particular, as well as the media are all seen as holding social services in low regard
- Those who influence career choice in schools & colleges seen as having negative view of social services
- National image of local authority social services seen as universally low - positive ratings for local services halved when viewed in national context
- 6 in 10 say image with the media is poor at national level and another 4 say its no better than fair and 9 in 10 feel central government has a low regard for local authority social services
- ADDS members think the public see them above all as caring but also as interfering and to lesser extent as idealistic, disorganised and reactive
- Nearly half of ADSS members responding are far from satisfied with their Department's communications activities - but many feel the public are not interested anyway - or rather, there is little interest in the good news about social services
- High levels of concern over possible negative effect on image from lay interpretation of joint review findings at national level - only a quarter don't see it as a problem
- Less than a fifth of overall local authority PR and communications budgets are devoted to social services issues in the majority of authorities
- A quarter say they tend to have contact with their PR dept only when there's bad news to deal with - but most don't agree
- Virtually unanimous agreement that promoting social services' image at national level would be worth the money
For a copy of the full report or enquiries about this research
- contact Scott Edgar's Research Department on 0171-831 2981
- see LGCnet `ADSS CONFERENCE: DIRECTORS CALL FOR BOOST TO SOCIAL CARE IMAGE'