Computer says ‘NO’

I’ve often read s47 reports, core assessments and reg 38 assessments which find themselves in amongst my case papers and wondered what purpose they serve other than to obfuscate questions of risk.  Chatting the other week with a social worker confirms anecdotally at least that some social workers agree. These documents are ridiculously long and rather than being in a narrative form are a series of many standard questions in box format, many of which are simply not relevant to an individual case and the answers to which shed no light on anything in particular. My experience is that in reading a report one has to filter out the irrelevant data and often the key data is lost in ‘noise’. Not infrequently what should be an in depth assessment of risk is a series of reatedly cut and paste responses to unenlightening questions. 


In writing a report it seems that similar problems apply – in attempting to complete the required forms (a core assessment form in one local authority is 47 pages long before the social worker has even entered any data and also has additional ‘age appropriate’ questions which change according to the d.o.b. you enter) the focus is on the questions which are required to be answered, many of which are irrelevant, and sometimes the specific key issues are buried. Different questions, risks and issues apply to different cases and the process of standardisation to me is likely to encourage a tick box mentality and to dissuade social workers from in depth analysis of the case in the round or to appreciate the subtleties of any given case in the way that an old fashioned narrative report would. The social worker I spoke to most recently was describing the drive towards the paperless system and self-populating forms so that a question answered in relation to a case in a different report would be automatically entered into the same box on the new form. A shudder runs down my spine – great idea superficially but ‘data’ changes over time and this doesn’t encourage or ensure intellectual rigour or currency of information. It doesn’t even seem to save social workers time – the complaint is that the forms take them away from actual social work.

These are the tools social workers are required to use in order to assess risk to children. For what its worth my view is that standardisation of format and dogmatic use of new technologies in this way does not encourage the independent thought and application of skill and judgment to each individual set of facts and circumstances that each individual child deserves. Thoughts anyone?