Social workers call for improvements to frontline services

The Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) held a conference in Dublin on Friday 1 July calling for "comprehensive reform of the child protection and welfare system in Ireland to promote and protect the welfare of children".

At the conference, the IASW launched 'A Call for Change', a document framed by frontline social workers which outlines ways in which services to children and families can be improved. The IASW says 10 key measures must be addressed. These were outlined by Sharon Shields.

"Firstly, we call on social work departments to provide early intervention and preventative services alongside adequate community support services. At the moment social workers rarely get a chance to work with families in a preventive way. We spend most of our time dealing with crisis and fire fighting.

"We call for social workers to be able to prioritise the relationship-building and direct work with children and families which are vital to protecting children. It's often the direct work with the child which is lost in the paperwork, form-filling and administration that makes up most of our jobs as social workers. Without this direct approach with children, it can be very hard to intervene appropriately for both kids in care and kids at risk in the community.

"We call for the state to provide comprehensive supports for children in care. All children in care need an allocated social worker. Children in care need supports that suit their needs, not the needs of the carer.

"We call for a full and adequate aftercare service for all children leaving care. It is essential that aftercare be seen as a right, and that it be placed on a clear statutory footing.

"In some areas children at risk get an immediate response, while in others they might be on a waiting list for months before they would get support from a social worker. With that in mind we call for equitable levels of high quality service delivery by social work departments nationwide. One example of this s that national standards for social work practice be developed and introduced. It is important that these be based on research evidence, best practice and consultation with social workers.

"We call for child protection to be everyone's responsibility, and with this in mind we call for child protection training to be mandatory for all agencies working with children.

"We call for legislative and other legal change to ensure children's rights are adequately protected in Ireland. This is a topical issue at the moment, and we call on a referendum to be held to enshrine the rights of children in the Constitution.

"In some cases social workers only receive supervision every 3-4 months. With a busy and stressful case load, that is simply not enough. With that in mind we call for social workers to be adequately supervised and managed to ensure high quality and professional service provision.

"We call for consistency of social work staffing.

"Managers in the HSE do not appear to take on board any feedback from social workers in relation to proposed changes. With that in mind we call for a comprehensive, transparent and planned response to the child protection crisis.

Social worker Paul McCarthy said: "We need to bring young people into this debate, to ask them what they think of the service and what they want to change, because they are the ones on the receiving end of these services. We talk a lot about being inclusive but do we actually ask them what they think?"

Sharon Shields concluded: "In 2010, following the publication of the Ryan Report, the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen said: 'Everyone, including the general public, must reflect on what the report has stated about how vulnerable children were treated and resolve that, form this shame and evil, we will make Ireland a model of how to treat children.'

"Change, we believe, must have at its centre the views and experiences of social workers. I hope that the publication of this document will be the beginning of children and social workers making their voices heard."

IASW_Call for Change (FV July 2011)