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Reclaiming Social Work is an initiative which set out to achieve high quality social care for vulnerable children and families in Hackney.

It has been in place for approximately two and half years and has involved extensive changes in structure and practice. Many of these changes are aimed at reducing risk in a field where adverse events have consequences that go beyond the financial or mundane into the area of human tragedy.

Central to the changes at Hackney has been the creation of Social Work Units. In this system, social workers function within a small multiskilled team.

The report here the findings of our independent evaluation of Reclaiming Social Work, carried out over a two year period by consultants from Human Reliability Associates and the London School of Economics. In this evaluation, we addressed three key areas.

Organisations have their own character – a synthesis of assumptions, values and historical practices – that determines performance, so we measured changes in organisational culture. We measured changes in social work processes, drawing on the evidence base on effective practices and the stated aims of the RSW initiative.

Finally, we evaluated the concrete outcomes which are affected by culture and process, so we assessed the changes for children, for families and for the organisation itself. To carry this out, we used survey tools, interviews, observations and data analysis. We compared Social Work Units with traditional social work practice, we compared Hackney with national indicators and we assessed the sustainability of these changes through a longitudinal study.

Reclaiming Social Work set out to bring about substantive changes in Hackney. We have assessed the value of these changes through a study of the culture within which the changes have been made, the processes of social care and concrete outcome measures. In each of these areas we have identified significant positive changes. These changes are evidenced by strong numerical indicators, significant differences between traditional practice and new social work units, and positive changes in the underlying organisational culture. On this basis, we have concluded that Reclaiming Social Work has had a positive impact and that the results of this study support and endorse the value of the programme.

by Alex Bateman

Additional Notes:

Eileen Munro is a Prof of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and is a prolific producer of academic papers in the child protection area.

Professor Munro qualified and then practised as a social worker for several years and has since gone on to gain a wide range of research experience in child protection; mental health risk assessment; and building professional expertise in child abuse.

She completed her PhD in ‘The role of scientific methods in social work’ and undertook a study of child abuse inquiries. This work was taken up by many child protection services in several countries. She has also written and published extensively on child protection including Learning Together to Safeguard Children[1][1], Learning to reduce risk in child protection[2][2] and co –authored a report on Children’s Databases: Safety and Privacy among others.

Prof Munro has also had a number of comment pieces on issues related to child protection and safeguarding children published in the Guardian and Independent newspapers in the past:

Lessons learnt, boxes ticked, families ignored 

Beyond the blame culture

When families become enemies of state