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Social work: The view from the front line


"Over the past decade we have lost two generations of experienced social workers and that's a serious issue. Cuts in public spending, the academisation of the profession, target and blame culture are all contributing to the high numbers of jobs not filled.

This is partly about working conditions but it's also about budget cuts. Effectively people have taken pay cuts year after year to work in appalling conditions. I've got loads of colleagues who would happily work but they're too expensive.

I qualified in 1979 and I'm not ready to hang up my coat yet. I think it's a fine profession that does fantastic things, but we don't have adequate resources. There's a disconnect between the people available and the kind of skills that are needed. You've got lots of newly qualified social workers who just aren't ready.

In a similar way to nursing, they've made the training academic, which doesn't necessarily bring in people with the necessary resilience. What you need is life experience because you're dealing with some of the most troubled and troubling children; children who've been abused, children who've been neglected, and the long-term inter-generational problems of poverty.

People who go from school to university won't necessarily be able to deal with these sorts of problems. It's not surprising the burnout rate is phenomenal.

Nationally, we have to have a real improvement in the quality of senior management. Managers have got to move away from number crunching and think about vulnerable children. There's a real culture of anxiety and fear in the profession – and stress. You can't expect something to function if you've got to think about the number of cases that social workers have to think about.

Karen Goodman is an independent social worker and university lecturer from London