Friday, 28 August 2009

The Fear

Every so often, usually as a "friendly" Alsatian leaps towards your jugular, someone, the owner, will utter "don't be afraid they can smell fear." If dogs can really smell fear then a Social Services office will turn the most docile lapdog into a snarling frenzy, whizzing round in an incoherent blur like the Tasmanian Devil in a town centre after a night on the Stella.

Social Services offices operate on pure fear. Social Workers fear that they're one mistake, one bad call, one lapse of memory away from putting a client at risk. Unqualified staff are terrified of getting out of their depth and being swept away by swift currents of disciplinaries and HR procedures. Even admin staff carry the fear that their mistakes will result in them being told to clear their desks.

For anyone facing a disciplinary and losing your job is a terrifying prospect. For Social Workers removal of their registration means they are left to wander the barren wilderness outside the high walls of the profession they worked so hard to enter. A loss of livelihood at the very least. If your mistake has put someone at risk or worse your livelihood will be the least of your concerns. Most people in Social Services take things home with them; We reflect on where we went wrong, where we could have done more, where we failed and usually what we will do better next time. For the condemned, stripped of their previous honours, judged to have been found wanting in the course of their duties, there is no next time. Only regret.

It is of course essential that the professionals who we rely on are up to the job. It is right that those who are unsuitable, reckless, untrustworthy or negligent should be removed from their posts. The great problem however is that in a climate of underfunding it is difficult to see where blame should lie. Should the individual Tommy take the blame for failure to reach their muddy objective, was it their poor handling of their rifle which led to their comrades perishing, or was it the plan devised by the officers that was flawed, poor training, poor equipment or a combination of factors.

It is accepted wisdom that mistakes take place in environments where there is poor leadership, scarcity of resources and high caseloads. When an individual is under pressure they are more likely to make the mistake which costs them their job. Often managers are keen to delegate blame to individuals. To admit a system is at fault is to admit they are at least partly at fault.

In the meantime the fallen are shrouded in secrecy; not to be spoken of. The remaining staff are told not to contact their colleague during proceedings. When a final decision is taken they are told the individual is 'no longer with the authority.' They no longer exist.

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