‘A game which compels you to jump through hoops’: a social worker’s experience of resource panels
A social worker writes about the work involved in presenting cases to resource panels, and how pointless it can often feel
In any average day in a children’s social work office there is the usual crisis management and mayhem taking place, but on one particular day of the week there seems to be a heightened sense of tension, and worry, which is visible on the faces of the workers.
It can only mean one thing; it’s the day when the access to resource panel is held.
Although I’m not fully au fait as to how this process is referred to in other local authorities, through a bit of intuitive research (phone calls to friends) it is also known as an ‘access panel’, ‘resource panel’ and ‘a bloody joke’ by some.
The overall notion of the access to resource panel is quite simple: it consists of a social worker presenting their case to the panel and making a request for the most appropriate resource, which may be a residential placement, specialist intervention, funding towards housing costs and so on.
However, this level of simplicity is so very far from the actual truth and most definitely should come with a warning sign to any worker walking into these panels naively.
Navigating the panel
The first step involves a case discussion with both the team manager and service manager, which seems simple enough but occurs only after you completed the case discussion form, received an agreement for the discussion, and navigated the complex calendar invites.
So once this is complete you’ve made it to the next exciting stage, which is to complete a panel form which requests the ‘basic details’ of the case. But under no circumstance be tempted to only provide the basic details, or it will be promptly filtered out for its lack of detail by the business support worker who holds the magic key to get you to the panel.
There are deadlines introduced at this stage to make the game (process) more exciting for all those involved. So by 1pm on the Wednesday before the next panel the form must be submitted to the magic key holder. But before this may happen you just need to make sure the team manager, service manager and IRO have completed their section of the form. On occasions I’ve been tempted to suggest that maybe one form will do for the whole process, but decided that this suggestion may not be embraced.
Because I’m not the most organised worker I’ve developed a ingenious tactic of befriending the magic key holder in an attempt to negotiate some leeway on the process. Despite our complete lack of similarities in our characters (organised lunch box vs bag of crisps, desk tidy system vs chewed up pen, neatly blown hair vs scruffy bun look) I have successfully managed to earn enough points through the subtle compliments to on occasions get a panel time before the form is complete.
Nerves and apprehension
Next you are allocated a specific time slot on the day of the panel which could be at any time they choose. At this stage any negotiations of time slots is not permitted and you are directed that you must wait outside the door prior to your time to ensure that the panel timetable remains prompt. So there you are with your manager, feeling nervous and apprehensive, waiting to be hollered in. However, the panel has never run on time and you could be expected to wait for hours, loitering around the building with others also waiting around asking ‘you in panel too?’.
In an endearing kind of way it feels that we are all in this together, awaiting our fate to be decided by the higher gods.
Once you make it into the panel room, you recognise a few familiar faces but some completely unknown ones too, although its quickly apparent that all parties hold a senior management position.
The atmosphere feels serious, with the usual jovial office characters struggling to even send a smile your way. The panel displays some similarities as to how Dragons Den may feel, but I truly feel that you may have much more success in there then than in this room.
Introductions then take place and you are asked to give an overview of the case by the panel lead. You manage to blurt out some random facts while all the time wondering why you are even doing this as all the information was provided in the panel report, but again, it’s probably not overly wise to mention this at this point.
For anyone familiar with the game show Countdown, the questioning begins fast and furious with even a timer helpfully introduced on special occasions to keep within the timescales. So quickly, under extreme pressure and in intimidating surroundings you are required to recall all the things you have done prior to coming to panel to address this situation and the justifications for your actions. For many workers who are dealing directly with the children and families, and presenting their case, this often becomes too much to bear with managers required to intervene in order to protect the emotional well-being of their worker.
If you are extremely lucky – or have presented a watertight case with no room for manoeuvre – you may actually be granted what you request. But this is a very rare occurrence, with many workers sent on their merry way to either explore other options or produce more evidence, with the kind offer to return to the start of the game the same time next week.
At the end you’re struck with how tiresome the whole experience is and how, for even the most experienced workers, it can leave you feeling undervalued and frustrated.
More so it’s a saddening fact that many less experienced workers have been seen to leave the panel in tears, with their confidence shattered and feeling incapable.
You can’t escape the feeling that any potential outcome for the panel was predetermined before you even walked in, and you feel like a pawn in some sort of game which compels workers to jump through impossible hoops to get decisions made while some of the most vulnerable children and families are left waiting longer for essential services.
There’s no doubting that services are strapped for cash and there is a need to stringently monitor their expenditure, but again this appears to be done to the detriment of the frontline workers already at their peak level of stress. In a service which should be working in the best interest of all individuals, the introduction of processes such as the access to resource panel continually evidences a clear lack of empathy, care and consideration towards its own workforce.
J. Afterthought is a pseuodnym, they are a children’s social worker.