1.2 Measuring outcomes
It is unrealistic to suggest that all service-user harm or death in adult or children’s services can be prevented and all risks managed. It is also very difficult to measure the extent to which early intervention to address low levels of risk is effective. There is never as much scrutiny given to what is successful. Practitioners can always learn from what goes wrong and work towards better services to support those children and adults most at risk. They can also build their own awareness of indicators that suggest a need for decisive action to safeguard adults and children.
However, social workers rely heavily on evidence from medical practitioners, the police and lawyers, and need the support of the public. It is therefore not helpful when public confidence in social workers is eroded. It is also not appropriate to blame individuals unless there is evidence of misconduct. It can be argued that cuts to funding and resources imposed by governments affect outcomes and cause harm as much as individual actions. Pritchard and Williams point out how difficult it is to measure the success of child protection services:
… if the abuse was prevented, how can this be measured? Thus, we reverse the question and measure the extremes of failure instead, namely a child’s death, to determine the extent of whether there are more or less of what we have designated ‘child abuse-related deaths’.
This argument applies in adult services too, where much work is focused on identifying and working with early signs of concern. It remains a difficulty for social workers in all agencies that the successes of their preventive actions are not easily measured and that public outcry follows when something goes wrong. Day-to-day preventative actions are difficult to quantify.