Thursday 14 May 2015

Truth, Lies and Social Workers

A twitter conversation drew me into thinking about the murky world of the information that we are given as adopters. It reminded me of a lesson we had at the beginning of out journey.

Mrs C and I were allocated our very own Independent Social Worker. The BBC* had commissioned her to just look after us and make sure that we negotiated the adoption process without mishap. It was a rather interesting experience; she had no managers breathing down her neck; no hoops to jump through; no gates to keep or agenda other than supporting us through the process. We would ask questions and she’d give us answers, no ducking, diving, flannel or patter.

It became a little more interesting when we then asked our assessing Social Workers (yes, we had two at the same time) the same questions. What we discovered was that there was an interesting difference between the actual Regulations and Guidance and the policies and practices of our assessing authority. They weren’t massive differences but enough highlight the influences that Social Workers are subject to. What was more interesting was that practice and policy wasn't described as such more that it was the 'law'.
The Law that unquestionable entity that just 'is'.

The question I asked on Twitter this week was quite simple.

"Has anyone requested an Assessment of Need prior to the introduction of the Adoption Support Fund?"

I was surprised by the range of responses that I got when I asked the question:

Some told of Social Workers having never heard of it or having the assessment but never receiving the paperwork for a year after it or waiting up to 18 months for the assessment to start. Adopters being sent on courses as a substitute for the assessment and then being told they were anxious parents. Others of having the assessment but to no effect or others describing having to strong arm the LA into carrying it out. The conversations spiralled and danced around the topic touching on adopter's parenting capacity being questioned and  having asked for an assessment resulting in delayed Adoption Orders.

Though assessments of support needs have been a duty of local authorities since 2005** knowledge of them has not been passed wide and far. I ask you how many adopters sit of an evening and think "I know I'll brush up on some legislative frameworks". It seems that only now, due to the introduction of the ASF, is its existence being widely publicised and is entering into the general knowledge of the adoption community.

Culture, practice, policy, pressure from managers, budgets and the foibles and quirks of their employers have huge implications for the quality of the service that Social Workers can and do give. But also the information that they are given and then pass on to service users. Often they are the bearers of bad news, unhelpful policies or decisions born out of budget restraints rather than good practice. It's crap to be given bad news by a Social Worker I assure you it's crap giving bad news too.

Until now how much have we asked of Adoption Support Services? Many have just given up asking. But now at the very least the ASF has made us aware of their duty* to assess our needs and at this point we are seeing services that may be struggling or may be adapting to this requirement. Infuriating and heartbreaking for parents, equally so for the Social Worker that has to manage our requests and expectations against the directions and decisions of their managers and employers.

Reflecting on the implications of all of this my suspicion is that any weaknesses, mishaps and bureaucratic failings of the Adoption Support Fund are going to wash up at the door of Social Workers. Maybe some of that is deserved, maybe not. Perhaps our anger and difficult questions should be directed at those higher up the ladder, maybe right to the top.

One of Noam Chomsky's theories of manipulation, the problem-reaction-solution model, describes the idea of creating problems through neglect then offering solutions in the guise of privatisation of public services. Perhaps this will be the future of adoption support.
Perhaps not, it's just a thought.

The lesson I learnt from my BBC Social Worker was that we should not accept all that is told to us, to look closer and get good and impartial advice.

The lesson I learnt from questioning/interrogating my children is only ask them questions I know the answer to.

*The BBC followed us through the adoption process from 1998 to 2002 for a 6 part documentary on adopters and adoption.

**The Adoption Support Service Regulations 2005 -  Section 13 & 14 (click link)


  1. I'm pleased that it isn't just Eve and I who know that social workers lie pretty much all the time. When I look back to the Children's Home we lived on a diet of lies and half-truths.

    1. Thank you for commenting. It's hard when SWs share information with us that then turns out to be versions of the truth or has been wrapped up in a form of words. No excuses for lies though.

  2. Why do you think it is lies? Agencies routinely implement policy and practice differently, they will all have a slightly different way of working. Social workers have no choice about working to law, regs, guidance and local policy/practice. They are in fact puppets of the state, local government (who run CYPS) and have very little autonomy. I would not hesitate to say some get stuff wrong but that is usually because a senior manger has given direction. When you get stuff wrong does everyone say you lied? Hopefully not. Transparency would be useful but consistency doesn't exist in the public or private sector.

    1. My reference to lies was our experience of policy and procedure being described as being the law. Clearly that's a big difference, policy and procedure can be fluid and discussed the law is the law. Often it was used by the SW as a way of ending the conversation and is disempowering. I believe the best of Social Workers and the blog title was a little sensationalist, but listening to a significant number of service users and they often feel lied to or not told the truth. That may be their perception and not the truth of the situation but it is still powerful.
      Social Workers are in a difficult position, they manage expectations, hopes and aspirations of the people they are allocated but have limited control on the machinery of the system they work for. At times they disagree with the decisions that they have to break to their service users (a horrible phrase).
      Decisions made in budget and policy meetings have massive impacts on people's lives but they are made so far away from living rooms and interview rooms and Social Workers are the face they see. My hope is that with the ASF that Social Workers will not bear the brunt of any systemic failures but I fear they will.
      Thanks for commenting.