Working in a busy and demanding frontline Child Protection team it has become clear that there is a haze around what Child Protection is; what is the responsibility around safeguarding and what is the Family Courts’ System role. It is not hard to understand how this has happened, when programmes like Panorama ‘I want my child back’ blur the complex and interesting debates together, making social work look like the evil big brother in a far bigger debate needed about safeguarding children.
Social Work is not the one single agency that has exclusivity in safeguarding children; “Safeguarding children-the action we take to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm – is everyone’s responsibility. Everyone who comes into contact with children and families has a role to play.” (Working Together, 2013) and it is important to remember that ‘No single professional can have a full picture of a child’s needs and circumstances and, if children and families are to receive the right help at the right time, everyone who comes into contact with them has a role to play in identifying concerns, sharing information and taking prompt action’. (Working Together, 2013)
I have, however, seen a rise in the number of referrals I have to deal with on a daily basis since Serious Case Reviews about high-profile cases have become available for everyone to view. That the other key agencies’ involved with working with children, have become more cautious about the support they offer and how. Preferring instead to refer to children’s social care for early intervention, it is this intervention that creates tensions in the relationships between families and social services. Shaking off the image that the only role social work has ‘is to remove children’ is not an easy one, especially when it is so badly misunderstood,
Like many people in society – until I studied in social work and worked in a variety of settings with children – I did not fully understand, appreciate or want to believe that children could be harmed. However, as a Child Protection social worker, understanding what is ‘actual’ harm or the ‘likelihood’ of harm is extremely important in what is Child Protection; when the referral is received deciding whether there is an immediate need to protect and act, to investigate whether there is a Child Protection concern or whether the child is “in need.” As defined by the Children Act 1989.
I have found that it is becoming increasingly common that this social work task is becoming harder and harder. Professional anxiety around ‘what if’ and ‘this reminds me of X case!’ leaves the complex task of gathering the information and analysis even more difficult.
As a social worker being presented with a picture of events, it is important to be able to see the entire picture to understand the situation. For example, a four-year old girl at nursery with a bruise on her arm and a statement of ‘Daddy did it’ raises anxieties. However, there are many dimensions that could make this statement either far more serious or far less sinister. It is very easy to be criticised for being overly cautious or overly zealous in an approach taken when you do not have the entire facts to help make this decision.
It is for this reason ‘safeguarding’ is so important for all those involved in a child’s life. It is also for this reason that sometimes an answer cannot be gained to explain and identify harm and why, sometimes, decisions have to be made based on risk and probability. It is these decisions that often do not have an immediate positive outcome other than preventing possible serious harm to children – Where social workers are ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. But even then social work is not about removing children; in the most, social work is about engaging families and making positive changes and is successful in doing this.