A social worker once said to me: “As soon as I start thinking that I’ve seen this situation before, then it’s time to leave.” Wise words but they put me in a dilemma.
I agree that once a social worker stops seeing every person and every situation as unique, then they risk losing the family-centred and person-centred principles that underpin good social work. But in a recent debate with one group of social workers we were talking about the importance of evidence-based practice and decision-making. Put simply, this means being confident that a decision, for instance about bringing a child into care, is well-informed and grounded with the best and latest research and evidence.
This is important because of the sheer potential impact of such a decision and how it can affect lives forever.
Back to my dilemma then. How do we embrace the evidence-based approach but also keep it person-centred? We need to make sure that social workers have the space both to retain the freshness of seeing people and families as individuals, whilst at the same time benefitting from learning and development, reading and discussions about how best to support people.
And let’s hope that social worker I spoke to doesn’t feel that it’s time to leave. The Local Government Association have been running a ‘Come Back to Social Work’ campaign aimed at former social workers. Social work is my passion and I support the LGA’s attempts to entice former social workers back into the role.
At that recent debate we all agreed that if we were a recipient of social work care and support we’d surely want to be helped by a thoughtful social worker who does read the latest research, does talk to colleagues and does reflect and focus on their learning and development. We’d also want them to care about offering us a person-centred service. Sounds like a great and interesting job doesn’t it? And for those considering returning to the profession, I hope that it’s enough to entice them back. And that ten minutes after they return they know why they never really went away.
Tony Hunter, chief executive, Social Care Institute for Excellence