Churning the Soil, caring professions (health, teaching and social care) and Madonna.


Last month I enjoyed the lecture of Durham University’s new social work lead Professor Carlene Firmin, on contextual safeguarding. I was particularly energized by the language of “spaces” and shifting the risk assessment paradigm from a myopic focus on families to variously friendship groups, streets and parks, or entire school years, and as investigative social workers exploring these rich untapped veins for solutions and real dangers for children.

Whilst energized however a second thought came over me like a groaning wave, (one familiar to all key workers) – PLEASE NOT ANOTHER…. new idea, review, reinvention, piece of legislation, policy, procedure, theory, research says, academic says, think tanks says, the news says, Daily Mail headline, in country X they, in local authority Y they, new computer system, new head of service, serious case review, act of parliament, DFE says………………………………..

Children’s social care is currently going through a major review, led amazingly by a non-social worker (Josh McAlister) whose current agenda has been developed variously through rehashing either ideas he had ten years ago, or elite teacher training models, whilst staring through a pair of Tory blue Etonian binoculars. Like many confidence tricks however the solution or outcome must be seen to be the idea of the “mark”, the “mark’ being the victim of the con. Josh has achieved this through the cynical way he has used people with lived experience from care experience in a similar way that McDonalds uses salad and its grassroots football sponsorship to promote itself as part of a healthy diet.

Josh and the Conservatives will seek to implement this review and once again our profession will be asked to march unquestioningly in a new direction.

However, is there any energy or resources left in our professions to turn from caterpillar to butterfly or do a Madonna (Like a Prayer-Dick Tracy-Frozen). Do we need to stand still and reflect, or must we lunge forward, must we radically change over and over and over? And in doing so what is the impact?

Whilst this link to relentless change in social work or other caring professions may seem loose, perhaps this strangely prescient quote from the material girl makes the case;

“49% of the time I was crying, usually from over-exhaustion. But there’s something about pushing yourself out there when it’s pouring rain or you’re freezing cold or you don’t feel well or something really crazy happened in the world like Hurricane Sandy.”

As teachers, carers and social workers we can’t solider for long or we slowly surrender our essence, our life force (I’m using the word ‘soldier’ here both in the army sense and the scientific management sense of Talyorism). There is a cruel juxtaposition of being drained, burnt out and chewed up while doing the job (the human part) we adore and helping people we are committed to and love working with. Every few months, or for bigger changes each few years, we are meant to leap on board an entirely new way of teaching, or safeguarding or treating, because someone sat well away from the classroom, frontline or ward says we should.

Each time we change direction and re focus we are giving up even more of our already depleted resources (however well-intentioned the changes are)

We are collectively the soil of our professions. (Nothing will grow without us)

  • Time for some amazing Soil facts.
  • It is essential for 95% of our food
  • It stores ten times more carbon than the worlds trees
  • It’s a living complex and sophisticated system passing nutrients
  • Darwin heralded the earth worm as the most important creature on earth.
  • It takes thousands of years to make an inch of new soil

How do we treat this most vital resource and what’s the link to our professions?

  • We over work the soil (overcropping) – (High caseloads, large classrooms, workload)
  • We spray chemicals (privatization, outsiders coming in to tell us how to do it better. Soil does not need much more than not to be harmed)
  • Man made floods rip it from the land, (Regular external threats tip the balance further against us – COVID, Austerity)
  • Two thirds of the worlds soil is lost. (High turnover rate in the caring professions, most don’t last more than 5 years with one third quitting (this example from teaching))
  • Global vampire capitalists own vast sways of farmland firms like Monsanto or McDonalds (Care Tech, Credit Suisse, KPMG all involved in the review and the ££care££sector££)

History tells us that the decline of the Roman, Aztec and Mesopotamian (fertile crescent) empires can be put down to exhausting soils nutrients through war and over and mono cropping. I feel the caring professions are in a similar set of dire straits. The main culprits who deplete our professions soil being OFSTED, the government, and the media.

Endless Change = Endless Depletion

As we are cajoled and pressured by the likes of OFSTED or the care review, our resources are drained and the quality of the soil is derogated, simply ask too much too often of soil and the crops will start to fail and fail permanently.

However how do we survive this agricultural abuse as practitioners because many of us strive to do so?

I would suggest there are 4 main damaging positions we occupy in the caring professions

These positions are extremes but many of you will have seen countless examples of them partly or fully formed in colleagues across the years. They are understandable hiding places we seek to occupy as we are repeatedly damaged by external factors in our professions.

My warning is that unless our professions resources are seen as a key part of any review or change from government inevitably it will just be another act of strip farming with our capacity depleted further and further.

To get the most out of the Soil we must allow the farmers who work and care for the land to be in charge. Left alone they will prosper. Interference from those far from the field who seek profit and success over partnership with the land will be ultimately catastrophic.

About the writer…..


George has been a social worker for 10 years working mainly in child protection and Early Help. He has lectured with Jamie Scorer at New College Durham, University of Sunderland and University of Northumbria in solution focused practice.

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