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Suspicion or support

June 4, 2009

I’ve had some interesting replies to my article in yesterday’s Society Guardian where I questioned whether it is right to expect probation officers and social workers to have both a supportive and suspicious mindset at the same time.  Doesn’t this run contrary to how human beings naturally see the world? 

One comment was from the probation side, said the problem for probation officers was the enormous time spent on paperwork, directly impacting on the time they have to build relationships so that they can have a chance to be supportive.  From the social work side, I had a interesting reply suggesting that this tension between suspicion and support is a documented difficulty for social workers.  The human mind prefers and “either/or” situation, and trying to deliberately hold two opposing views at the same time needs maturity and training.  The question for him was whether we are building failure in the system by expecting very young (and quite low paid) social workers to meet this challenge.

It seems obvious to me this is something policy makers need to engage with more carefully.  It is futile to tear our hair when a child known to social workers is killed or someone on probation commits a horrible crime, and not ask these questions about what we are expecting professionals to do.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2009 5:39 pm

    I thank you for highlighting the dual mandate but it is something social workers have been talking about for some time and also present in relevant social work literature.However, it only gets attention if someone other than a social worker raises it as an issue. I would suggest it is not only what is expected of us in terms of public policy but child protection is also a societal question. How do the public want us to negotiate this risk and dual mandate in the social work profession. Also please note being young and low paid does not mean that you cannot do your job. Victoria Climbe SW was 29/30 and Baby P SW was in her late 30’s and experienced! I think you are missing the point which is the systemic errors and the fact that everyone is human and SW is a high risk job.

  2. June 5, 2009 9:44 pm

    I would never suggest being young or low paid means people can’t do their jobs! I was reflecting a comment someone from the social work profession suggested to me in response to my article – that given the level of difficulty involved, very young staff shouldn’t necessarily be expected to meet the challenge.

    More importantly – this discussion stemmed from the Sonnex and Farmer case (the tragic murder of two french students) and that probation officer was extremely new to the job. And though Baby P social workers weren’t young, they still failed to balance the tensions – as evidenced by the results of the investigation.

    The key point I think is the wider responsibilities throughout government, society and the political system – and awareness of issues like this. There will always be human error, but if there is an additional and significant challenge in balancing these tensions, it must be addressed by policy makers overtly, not just by people on the ground, trying to make it work.

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