Many of the findings of this social work review can be applied to disability services in Australia.
Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, Professor Eileen Munro, spoke on the ABC’s “7:30 Vic”, on Friday 9 December 2011, about Victoria’s ongoing child protection problems.
Professor Munro considered there was too much red-tape. There was too much focus on compliance with the state’s gigantic set of regulations, rather than focus on the needs of the child
The professor's first report on children’s social work, released in October 2010, explains that social workers are hindered by an over-emphasis on complying with rules and regulations, limited time with service users, and a target-driven culture.
Professor Munro stated that previous attempts at reform led to social workers spending less time with vulnerable children and families, and thus their needs are not being met. The key observations put forward include:
• There is an over-emphasis on complying with rules and regulations.
• As a result, less time is spent actually assessing the needs of children.
• Too much time is spent on administrative tasks and completing documentation.
• A target-driven culture is stopping staff from exercising professional judgement.
• Delays in the family court system have had a negative impact on children.
• Social workers are often blamed when children are harmed.
The first four dot points can be equally applied to disability services, especially government direct care services – Group homes, for example.
Direct care staff in many DHS group home are overloaded with rules and regulations (red-tape). A very large percentage of staff time is spent on paperwork and domestic work - frequently most - often all.
In comparison, little time is spent with the residents on developmental interaction – person centred active support and positive behaviour support. That which frequently has a positive influence on reducing negative behaviours - improving the person’s quality of life and social acceptability.
Professor Munro suggests bureaucratic forces have come together to create a defensive system that puts so much emphasis on procedures and recording that insufficient attention is given to developing and supporting the expertise to work effectively with children, young people and families.
The level of increased prescription for social workers, while intended to improve the quality of practice, has created an imbalance. Complying with prescription and keeping records to demonstrate compliance has become too dominant. The centrality of forming relationships with children and families to understand and help them has become obscured.
Reform of the social work profession should significantly improve outcomes for children and young people by making best use of available evidence about what helps to resolve the problems in children’s lives.
There is an urgent need for a similar review into disability services in Australia, not just rely on the potential for ISPs (Independent Support Packages), money in the consumer’s pocket, to drive service quality.
Purchasing services for those with complex needs, is far removed from choosing or swapping ones telephone provider.
The Munro Final Report